Directed by: Michael Dowse
Premise: Set in 1988 Chicago, a preteen boy (Winslow Fegley) wants a Nintendo video game system and he schemes to get one for Christmas.
What Works: 8-Bit Christmas is designed to appeal to Generation X and older Millennial viewers and to capitalize on the present nostalgia for culture and media of the 1980s. The film contains plenty of references to the time period and does so in a way that acknowledges how some values have changed. But nostalgia necessarily views the past through an idealized lens and much like Stranger Things, 8-Bit Christmas sanitizes the past to make it more palatable. The kids who lead 8-Bit Christmas are a likable bunch. Winslow Fegley is cast in the lead role and Fegley captures the character’s passion for video games. He also has an effective relationship with his sister played by Bellaluna Resnick. The two of them are introduced in an adversarial way but this gradually softens into something more affectionate and the sibling relationship is one of the more organic and credible parts of the movie.
What Doesn’t: 8-Bit Christmas struggles with its time period. The movie often feels artificial; it comes across like contemporary people pretending to be in a John Hughes movie instead of characters living in their own time and place. The sets and costumes look a little too clean and art directed. The illusion is also injured by the filmmaking choices. 8-Bit Christmas was shot digitally and the clean look of the film is out of place with its time period. The movie would have benefitted from being shot on film (or even better yet VHS). Viewers who know their holiday movies will probably recognize the similarities between the premise of 8-Bit Christmas and 1983’s A Christmas Story, another nostalgic holiday tale of a boy pining for a specific Christmas gift. But the comparisons between 8-Bit Christmas and A Christmas Story don’t stop at the premise. The filmmakers of 8-Bit Christmas blatantly rip off sequences and characters from Bob Clark’s movie but don’t do them nearly as well. A Christmas Story became a holiday staple because of its personality and organic qualities; 8-Bit Christmas files off any rough edges and it comes across plastic. That’s especially a problem in the ending. 8-Bit Christmas is about a boy coveting a specific Christmas gift but in its final minutes the filmmakers switch gears and make a push for sentimentality. This comes across forced and disingenuous.
DVD extras: Available on HBO Max.
Bottom Line: 8-Bit Christmas never overcomes its artifice. All movies are manufactured but the successful ones disguise their seams. Too much of 8-Bit Christmas feels artificial in a way that is antithetical to the retro appeal that it’s trying to create.
Episode: #884 (December 26, 2021)