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Atari's Missile Command, a potential Hollywood franchise

February 18, 2010 |  5:27 pm

Can squiggly lines be the new movie stars?

Not the ones on the face of an aging, plastic-surgeried celebrity, but those that threaten the the base cities in the vintage video game Missile Command. That's because Atari, which has been increasing its efforts to mine its video game library in Hollywood, has tapped Missile Command as a property ripe for a theatrical film.

The company is in active discussions with studios to acquire the title for development, with Fox and Peter Chernin's new production company the likely venue at which the property will end up.

The 1980 game was both of a product of and reflected Cold War anxieties. Players were asked to defend six cities from an onslaught of ballistic missiles (represented by the sort-of squiggly lines) with the help of anti-missile weapons  (represented by flashing cursors) fired from alongside said cities. Basically, you kept trying to line up shots to explode the squiggly lines and stop them from from coming, over and over again until it got so fast you could stop them no more.

The game first appeared on the Atari 2600 -- cue nostalgic memories of the family rec room -- and was subsequently developed for other consoles and handheld platforms. Atari is also said to be developing a multi-player remake of the game.

There are traces of science-fiction elements to the game (the story is putatively set in another galaxy) as well as military overtones. And the film would likely be shot in 3D, tapping into the current vogue. But how a studio could turn Missile Command into a full-fledged action movie  remains a question. Both the look and story behind Missile Command were, as they were with so many titles from the so-called golden age of video games, spare to say the least, though a manual did offer some detail: players were defending cities on Zardon from the invading armies of Krytol (aren't you glad we told you that?).

Then again, while video games with rich back stories can be more cinematic, a spartan vintage game can offer its own appeal, if only because it can be molded by an enterprising screenwriter into just about anything.

There's been a gold rush of late on video games generally. Back in the summer, an auction erupted over another Atari property, Asteroids, which Universal and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura ended up winning. And plenty of contemporary games are on the path to the big screen, including the upcoming "Prince of Persia" and the still-in-development "Shadow of the Colossus."

Avid'80s fans, or just casual browsers of Wikipedia, will know that Missile Command's cheeky "The End" screen was used in the final-credit scene of "Fast Times Ridgemont High." If Atari has its way, the game could go from a big screen pun to a full-fledged film.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Times staff writer Ben Fritz contributed to this report.

Photo: Missile Command. Credit: Atari

Comments () | Archives (9)

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Missile Command's first incarnation was actually as an arcade game and then it moved to the 2600 and subsequently the 5200. The image show in this piece definitely looks like the 2600 version as the arcade version had superior graphics.

Missile Command's "The End" screen was also used as a visual gag/foreshadowing in 'Terminator 2'. John Connor is playing the game right before the T-1000 finds him in the arcade.

geez... it was an arcade game first, not an original title to the 2600!

geez another studio movie based on a video game. It is probably going to be another dreadful movie with light fluff stories. I am sick of theses movies. I want the old golden age Hollywood back again with real movie stars, directors and writers! What ever happen to us?

Yet again with the current struggle with the economy here in U.S., maybe this is something the audience want right now, a mindless, fun movies that takes people back to the their fond memories, and away from their problems. Just like the Hollywood movies they produced back in the 1930's Great Depression.

Wasn't Missile Command a cabinet game in the arcades before it was made for the Atari 2600?

What is next, Pong? PacMan? Galaga? Tetris? Well, a Tetris movie could be sort of fun for the fans of psychedelic recreational pharmaceuticals, I suppose - but I don't want to see it.

How about a competently done Half-Life based-movie, instead?

But Space Invaders? Seriously, WTF?

Hmmm...why don't they do a movie based upon the Tron video game?

The game was an Arcade game, that was ported to the lowly 2600 home console. It did not appear on the console first.

Missile Command was an arcade game released in 1980 B.D.K. (Before Donkey Kong). Missile Command for the 2600 home console was released in 1981.

The backstory and other BS were added to make the story more exciting to home console players and to overlook the fact that Earth could actually be destroyed by nuclear weapons. It was an attempt by Atari marketing to not make the game 'so scary'. Arcade players did not know, or care about the Zardon vs Krytol angle.

Anyhow, this sounds lame.......


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