8-Bit Christmas

Directed By Michael Dowse

Starring – June Diane Raphael, Steve Zahn, Neil Patrick Harris

The Plot – In 1980s Chicago, a ten-year-old (Winslow Fegley) sets out on a quest to get the Christmas gift of his generation – the latest and greatest video game system.

Rated PG for rude humor and some mild violence, adult language and suggestive references

8-Bit Christmas | Official Trailer | HBO Max – YouTube


– Personal connection. Considering that I was a child during the time when the Nintendo craze gave way to a generation of consoles and 8-bit escapism, the events depicted in the film bare more than a striking resemblance for the particular timeframe, bringing with it an abundance of timely social commentary that writer Kevin Jakubowski supplants in the familiarity of the film’s material. In fact, there’s a distinct relatability that audiences can easily interpret in the aspects and assessments that range anywhere from the faults of the Power Glove, to Billy Ripken’s infamous error card, to even the Spaghetti-o’s sickness, that the film deposits cleverly among its on-going narrative, instead of instances where the film’s momentum halts to point out something inconsequential to the story it blesses. It’s slightly pandering to such a generation, and won’t effectively translate as well to children of the 90’s or following, but does prove that Kevin did his homework in seamlessly conjuring up as much of the decade as possible, ultimately cementing a love-letter to all things Nintendo that succeeds in establishing the importance of such, but doesn’t necessarily use it as a crutch of convenience to reach the depth of unnecessary fan service.

– Sincerely sweet. With this being a film surrounding the quest for a Nintendo, I expected much of it to transpire with an air of materialism that shamefully soiled the Christmas spirit. Thankfully, Dowse doesn’t let such an opportunity slip away from his grasp, instead imparting many nourishing lessons and morals to current generations that I desperately hope they take to heart with the experience, all the while deviating from a familiar formula that it homages, instead of completely rips off. I’m talking about the structure of “A Christmas Story”, and while “8-Bit Christmas bares more than a striking resemblance to such a film, it deviates in the moments that are most defining for its personality. This aspect of the film’s creativity not only brought a few late third act surprises than I was initially forecasting, but also delivered on a surprising amount of profoundness in meaning that worked cohesively with the aspect of its seasonal release date, cementing an engagement that offers something freshly unique for the entire family brought up on these types of films.

– Transformative production. It’s clear that “8 Bit Christmas” was mostly made on a shoe-string budget, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t able to attain merit and believability in the corresponding visuals, which transport us to a simpler time. In particular, the combination of interior designs, various fashion trends, and consistency in automobiles, lends itself to a complimentary faithful dominance over some of the more questionable aspects (Modern mall, polished cinematography) of the movie’s production, and in turn allows its focus to remain imbedded to the material itself, without using it as a gimmick of intention for nostalgia porn of the most meandering kind. It contains a particular visual identity that plays cohesively towards the various recollections of the protagonist’s perspective, all the while never feeling hindered by the transparency of its limitations, and instead embracing it as visual evidence of the family’s middle class lifestyle serving as the biggest obstacle in attaining the high price cost of the gift their son wants most.

– Quirky score. While the soundtrack of collective artists from the 80’s ranging between Steely Dan, to Bonnie Tyler, to even Black Sabbath, felt chaotic in the boundaries of the seasonal depths the film constantly prescribes, the musical score composed entirely of synth-heavy tracks from Joseph Trapanese was right on target for echoing much of the integrity of the 80’s aspect, but from the perspective of its boxed prize. Because of such, we’re not only given a score that is produced entirely from an 8-bit encompassing, complete with fuzzy emphasis in the obscuring of its familiarity, but also in the video game sounds are also incorporated to sequences with a faint volume rendering, to convey persistence on the mind of its challenged protagonist. The usages themselves never condemn the film to cartoonish captivity during such tense sequences, instead supplanting them with an endearing innocence that further feeds into the aforementioned lightheartedness of the film’s infectious personality.

– Magnified personalities. As a result of the movie’s self-awareness with regards to its overzealousness in personality, the actors are called upon to be intentionally over the top, to which they answer with unbridled enthusiasm in the opportunity. Steve Zahn is the show stealer here, as the hard-working, weathered father of our main character. Zahn’s bountiful personality feels gift-wrapped for a film of this magnitude, affording him an opportunity where he can get as eager and enthusiastic as possible, and the scene transpires all the more effectively because of such. Winslow Fegley is also a breath of fresh air, especially for a kid actor. Considering he’s the only one of the youthful cast to receive ample characterization, Fegley equally rises to the occasion, offering a snarky, goofy registry that not only fleshes out the anguish of the character, but also articulates the occasional selfishness of the age that sometimes causes what’s truly important to be undervalued as a result. Neil Patrick Harris also cements an endearing charm to the narration, giving his audible captivity moments of longing, pride, and especially sentimentality for the years he looks back on with internal fondness, even during moments of self-humility for the character, which are as often as 97 minutes will allow.

– Authenticity. Where the film works best is in its depiction of obsessiveness, and the necessity to seek out that one gift each year that becomes a mental hurdle for the children it continuously burdens. In this aspect, the film pushes our child characters through loops of logic and monumental feats that they otherwise wouldn’t attempt, outlining their beckoning passion and inescapable urgency with a value for the plot device itself, which feels like an epic quest in the childlike eyes that seek it out. It’s not documented as universally chaotic as something like “Jingle All the Way”, especially considering the film takes place in 1988, nearing the end of the 8-bit version of Nintendo’s model, but it does outline community as a contributor to the pandemonium that sweeps up all of the children in a dust cloud of materialism. It isn’t always pleasant to endure, but it is at its very least honest in its depiction, making “8-bit Christmas” one of those quintessential films surrounding our childhoods that absorbs all of the feelings and emotions for an objective that almost unanimously always gets the better of us.



– Weak humor. To be fair, there were a couple of times throughout the film that brought a laugh here or there, but because the entirety of the engagement is cloaked in this ball of exaggerated instances, the attempt at a reaction is all the more humiliating during the majority of times it doesn’t land. For my money, the moments that were best here were the nuanced aspects, whether it be the after effect of a reaction, or the dryness of a delivery. When the material is geared up to eleven, with the intent of being wholeheartedly hilarious, it often overshoots its landing spot, leaning towards accommodating more of the child audience than the adult ones who grew up with the depicted situations. I say that because there’s also an unnecessary dependency on gross-out humor that the film shamelessly capitalizes on, time and time again, which often works against the sentimentality of its engagement, while indulging in the material of films far more desperate than one of its depth should be subscribing to.

– Audible steering. I can get behind the idea that the adult version of Jake is looking back on his memories, similar to the brilliance of the narration read by Jean Shepherd during “A Christmas Story”, but this film can’t attain the same level of spontaneity that allowed its predecessor the ability to let the story transpire on the work of the actors. This certainly leads to moments of exposition and internal feelings being conveyed to us audibly instead of emotionally, but beyond that it underscores the unpredictability of these moments in ways that completely makes them transparent, long before the resolution materializes. I can’t fully say that the narration doesn’t serve a purpose, because it’s a framing for the storytelling itself. I just wish the moments of Neil Patrick Harris audible inclusions were spent introducing a scene, instead of walking us the whole way through it.

– Brisk pacing. If the intention was to properly flesh out the urgency in Jake’s situation, in his race to the Nintendo, they succeeded, but at the cost of characterization and dynamics that could’ve enhanced the emotionality of the powerful ending. Considering this film clocks in at 97 minutes, and wastes very little time along the way on the non-essentials, it leaves much of the character motivations and explanations ambiguous in their interpretation, resulting in thinly written one-dimensional characters that feed more into the embodiment of their one sentenced summarizations, instead of feeling like fleshed out living, breathing entities like Jake. Because this is Jake’s story, I can certainly understand the intention to keep the focus on him throughout the entirety, but I don’t think it would’ve hurt the film’s prominence by leveling out some of the family dynamics, especially the adult Jake and his wife, considering there’s some meticulous dialogue between them that hints at a bigger sense of purpose in their meaning. With fifteen more minutes of exposition to an already smooth, free-flowing occasion, it could’ve prescribed meaning to more of the utility pieces, and afforded us more time with the reflection of adult Jake in the current day narrative, which I definitely could’ve used more time with.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

One thought on “8-Bit Christmas

  1. To be completely honest, when I saw the ads online, it looked kind of dumb to me. So I’m happily surprised to see that it actually sounds pretty solid for the most part despite your criticisms. It sounds like the nostalgia of the film carries it already pretty far while also having a good heart and amusing personality. The weak humor is a bit of a disappointment since it sounds like it has so much energy and charm which makes the inconsistent quality of the jokes even more noticeable. Not sure if I’ll have the time to check it out this year, but I’m glad that you ended up enjoying it as much as you did. Hopefully some people give it a shot due to your expert analysis. Excellent work!

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