Review: "Ashens and the Quest for the GameChild (UK DVD Release)": The Long Awaited Vindication of Louis Le Prince
Ashens And The Quest For The GameChild! Available on DVD and Blu-ray. Collect them all!
Ok, let’s stop this. Clearly I am not a brown sofa patch on the man himself, nor is this a video review (though I am British and live in a house in East Anglia with too much plastic tat).
For those unfamiliar, Dr Stuart Ashen (a genuine title, not a street name) rose to Internet fame posting videos to YouTube under the alias of Ashens. Said videos are nearly all reviews of various horrible plastic toys, obsolete gaming devices and cheap foodstuffs delivered with snarky dark wit. In 2013, Ashens launched a partly-crowd funded effort to make a professionally produced movie of his YouTube channel. This project itself was partly spun off from his involvement with the ARG ‘The Proxy’ for Alienware computers. The crowd funding was successful, with his fans donating $23,690 over the aimed for $50,000 target.
I myself am aware of this fact because I’m happy to say I was one of said fans who pitched in and indeed you can find me listed on the massive ‘Page of Excellence’ chronicling all who did likewise (I swear, that’s me and not one of the five other Grant Whites that Google insists are kicking about).
In keeping with Ashens’ internet roots the film was released for free on YouTube last summer and the only way to receive a disc copy was to have been one of the donators. However, seemingly due to YouTube pulling its support of the channels that provided the majority of the budget, the film has now been negotiated for a retail release thanks to Anchor Bay/Manga Entertainment.
The story casts the good doctor as a fictionalised version of his online self, an awkward loner whose life is only full of searching for the most worthless plastic tat barely known to man. His holy grail is the GameChild, a knock off of Nintendo’s famous handheld that was mysteriously recalled soon after release. Not only is it his obscure obsession but also a scathing reminder of his constant losses to his lifelong rival, Nemesis. A mysterious postal delivery and a prophetic dream convince Ashens that the time has come to dedicate himself to the task of finding the GameChild once and for all. Aided by the down on his luck Chef Geoff Excellence, the two set out on a journey (please don’t call it a quest) to locate the rarest of tat and become drawn into sinister, insane plans…
Given Ashens partial affiliation with ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com, I admit I was mildly worried with the idea of turning his self-aware short YouTube videos into an extended narrative. TGWTG contributors tend to dabble in including storylines, from ongoing arcs in personal series to the massive anniversary crossover story events that unite as many of the contributors as possible. I have to say that for a variety of issues I’m really not a fan of said efforts, generally feeling that those involved overestimate their abilities and the resulting productions come off as cheap and self-indulgent.
Quest For The Game Child thankfully avoids this though I’ll be honest and say I don’t think the script is quite as sharp as one might expect. Co-written by Ashen and director Riyad Barmania, it feels like it could have used a bit more tightening up. A good example is the role of Chef Excellence, played by Dan Tomlinson (one half of comedy duo Guksack). Chef Excellence began as the dodgy mascot on a likewise dodgy brand of reviewed food bags before swiftly evolving into a puppet character/meme in many of Ashens’ videos. The obvious legal ramifications explain why he had to become a more distinct human-portrayed character for this film, and indeed Tomlinson is a great and funny guy. But the script itself primarily uses the character as a vehicle for exposition, more than once having him pester Ashens for details. His pestering for the details of the GameChild start the adventure, and in turn his pestering yields the details on several characters from Ashens’ past that they encounter. As such, Chef Excellence at various points comes off less as a character and more like a narrative construct to keep the story moving.
A majority of brief cameos are played by fellow British YouTubers. I’ll admit I’m not a viewer of all who appear but the ones I am got at the very least a smile out of me (it’s always welcome to see Ashens and Guru Larry team up). The brief appearance of KnightHood & Decoy is a treat and there’s even some involvement from fan favourite the Silver Skull, played by Stuart’s real life nephew Ryan Livermore. Robert Llewellyn and Warwick Davis also appear, the former as Ashens’ jaded former mentor and the latter….well, that’s among one of the brilliant jokes the movie offers that I really don’t want to spoil. Some of the cameos seem to bring the story to a halt briefly but generally they work and show Ashens has high respect for his contemporaries.
The film plays out as an homage to the kind of 1980s style family adventure movies which nowadays seem to fill the Sunday TV schedule. Indeed, movies such as The Goonies are given brief nods but this feels like a natural extension of the pop culture commentary seen in the originating video reviews and not something ridiculously lazy and ripped off such as the woeful “(Insert Adjective Here) Movie” series of comedy failures.
On the animation side, the very James Bond style opening titles are animated by Oli Putland with an opening song written by Harry Partridge and sung in showstopper glory by his sister Holly (Harry gets to give his rendition over the end credits). The aforementioned prophetic dream is brought to life by the claymations of Lee Hardcastle.
Video and sound quality are both superb. The film was produced in HD quality and it really does show. Being a YouTube derived effort, you might fear the movie would be something cheap filmed on a retail digital camera, but it’s professionally handled in all aspects. All of the humble but effective budget clearly went into creating what you see on-screen, resulting in a truly cinematic production. Audio options consist of 2.0 stereo and 5.1 Dolby.
There’s a fair number of extras available, though most are featurettes and trailers that were released online to promote the original YouTube release of the film. The Deleted Scenes extra stands out to me due to a minor confusing issue. Promotion of the retail release refers to it being an extended cut compared to the one released online/published for crowd source backers. Despite this, nothing in the version of the film released in this version stands out to me as being extended. I briefly wondered if the deleted scenes (which are well worth watching for the extra jokes) were the extension, but as they clearly show unfinished effects work that surely can’t be the case. This is where the largest extra, a commentary track with Ashens and Barmania, comes in handy as it directly highlights the new content in addition to providing some interesting food for thought. I gained a new appreciation for areas of the film after listening to it.
In turn, the isolated deleted scenes (along with the majority of the extras) were also on the original exclusive release. For those interested, the only extras from said release that haven’t been ported to this one are a featurette on Nemesis, the first episode of the Putland animated The Chef Excellence Mysteries, the video review of the real life GameChild, a seemingly longer outtakes reel and a thank you message from Ashens. Given that most of these are on YouTube anyway, I do wish some more could have been held back as even video quality is lower on the backer release.
The big question when it comes to recommending Ashens And The Quest For The GameChild is “Does it work for the non-initiated?” There’s no doubt a lot of the in-jokes and cameos are aimed at Ashens’ long- time fans, but I feel the film does eschew resting on such a lockout to create something that is mostly intended to be taken at face value, even by those who know nothing of the Thousand Year Egg or a certain God Monster. I admit to being somewhat lukewarm when I initially watched the film when it premiered but watching it again for this review has made me appreciate it more. There’s talk that a sequel could now be possible if the retail release sells well, so I hope that’s the case. The film has some awkward patches but with the clear overall care put in I think we can take it as a learning curve (speaking personally, I’d advise being a bit more considerate with how cameos actually progress the story if there’s a sequel). Well recommended to purchase for your DVD Shelf of Interesting Items.