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Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball
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by brianorndorf

"Pinball ain't's just sleepin'"
4 stars

The year was 1999, and pinball was dying. After celebrating years of arcade domination and surviving the great video game explosion of the 1980s, pinball had fallen on hard times, unable to find a clear pathway to success that once came so effortlessly. The industry needed a change, and the fine folks at Williams thought they had the answer. It was entitled “Revenge From Mars.”

“Tilt” is a documentary probing the final effort to sustain pinball, with Williams putting everything they had into a videogame/pinball hybrid that would shock the industry. Filmmaker Greg Maletic doesn’t have much in the way of running time (60 minutes), but his selection of subject cannot be beat, especially if you’re any fan of the pastime.

“Tilt” is all sorts of fun, and even in the face of cultural sadness Maletic is able to pinpoint the joy of the game. Starting with a brief historical backstory of the Williams company and pinball itself (where we learn the origin dates back to 1871!), “Tilt” soon settles into the golden era of the game: the 1970s and 80s. With companies from all corners rushing to the market with the latest advancements and licenses, “Tilt” appeals to the flipper fanboy with footage of all those wonderful titles, such as “Space Shuttle” and “High Speed,” leading to more powerful technology and powerhouse hits such as “Addams Family” (the biggest title in pinball’s history). Time is short, however, and soon the film sprints to the topic at hand: the battle to resuscitate a dying company.

The solution to swat away low sales and interest gamers again was to merge the visuals of a video game with the fluidity and chance of pinball. Interviewing developers close to the process (including legends such as George Gomez and Pat Lawlor), “Tilt” traces the creation of the “Revenge” game (a sequel to the hit “Attack From Mars”), the birth of the “Pinball 2000” brand, and how the change in the technological tide strained relationships all around the company. The tension was thick and the hope for true innovation was nerve-wracking, but the hard work resulted in a genuine hit, reverberating through the industry as a game of unique execution and sweeping appeal.

Turning the fortunes of Williams around, “Mars” soon paved the way for the second “Pinball 2000” title, “Star Wars: Episode One.” This is where “Tilt” becomes invaluable as a tool for witnessing the vulnerability of the creative process. Following the elaborate construction of the machine, the documentary reveals the frustrations of dreaming up inventive gameplay, fighting the demands of management, and dealing with a fiercely protective licensee in Lucasfilm, who went to great lengths to keep story elements under wraps, alienating several Williams employees.

“Tilt” is humble, but it has the details down pat, showing the viewer the birth of a game and the agony of release. Maletic has a terrific subject in Williams, and their story provides the kind of prototypical portrait of corporate greed; the company eventually sacrificing its expensive pinball production line to lead the charge making slot machines – because the world needs plenty of those boring, spirit-crushing monsters, right?

It breaks the heart to see the rise and rapid fall of pinball like this, yet “Tilt” is a sublime document of an industry that appeared to request death, only to be reborn again in a smaller arena where creativity is rewarded and expectations are more easily managed. “Tilt” is a wonderful, all-too-brief journey of the unsung jewel of arcade culture, and yet another delightful homegrown documentary feature this year that puts its more sophisticated brothers to shame.

For more information on “Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball,” please visit

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originally posted: 09/12/07 16:27:49
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  27-Jun-2007 (NR)
  DVD: 27-Jun-2007



Directed by
  Greg Maletic

Written by

  George Gomez
  Pay Lawlor
  Larry DeMar
  Tom Uban
  Cameron Silver
  Duncan Brown

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