Computer Legacies | Video Reviews

8-Bit Generation: Commodore Wars. 104+ min. Davide E. Agosta & Tomaso Walliser, dist. by Kino Lorber, 2017. DVD UPC 738329214098. $29.95. Closed-captioned. TECH

Ask someone who grew up in the 1980s about which computer they remember the most and you’ll likely get the answer the Commodore 64. This documentary tells the tale of how Commodore started out, how it pivoted from calculators to personal computers (PCs), and its incredible success and pioneering engineering, as well as the business decision that ultimately sank the firm. Jack Tramiel (1928–2012) started Commodore and ran his business with a ruthless, Machiavellian design. Innovation within the company, including the development of the microprocessor used by most PCs for seven years, helped launch its products into the mainstream. Interviews with major players who worked at Commodore (including Tramiel, Chuck Peddle, Al Charpentier, and Michael Tomczyk) add that personal touch. Narrator Bil Herd was employed there, too, and his sarcastic bent fits the story well. Bonus features include the trailer and ­Tramiel’s son Leonard’s TEDx Talk. ­VERDICT This DVD is recommended for fans of similar PC documentaries such as Silicon Cowboys and Triumph of the Nerds.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI

Viva Amiga. 62+ min. Dave Hayme, dist. by Kino Lorber, 2017. DVD UPC 738329216894. $29.95. Closed-captioned. TECH

Thirty years ago, when personal computers were first becoming popular but before PCs and Apples came to dominate the market, there were many promising device competitors in the field. Among them was the Amiga, with graphics and sound capabilities years ahead of its time. This program describes how Commodore acquired that company and its technology and through poor marketing and mismanagement went bankrupt, leaving behind a bereft group of Amiga enthusiasts. Interviews with members of that fraternity demonstrate the depth of their feelings. Though in the en­suing years software and hardware advances have been provided for this niche audience by a number of smaller, dedicated tech firms, it is doubtful that the original will be resurrected, a dream its fans still harbor. VERDICT A fascinating history of a technical success but commercial failure in early computer technology.—Harold D. Shane, Professor of ­Mathematics Emeritus, Baruch Coll., CUNY

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