From Apple II to the Big Screen: The Oregon Trail

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - 09:42 AM

Sure, YouTube is great for kitten videos, but one of its most consistent sweet spots is fake movie trailers. Viral video fans take note -- the western epic The Oregon Trail is 'coming soon' to a theater near you.

To the delight of millions of American twenty- and thirty-somethings, this trailer parodies the computer game of the same name created by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium.  The object of the game?  Getting your virtual 19th-century frontier family successfully settled in the West.  In just two and a half minutes, the trailer (produced by Half Day Today!) touches on the game's most memorable elements.  Characters get ridiculous names like 'Poop Face' or 'Mac'n'Cheese'?  Check.  Shooting 1400 pounds of buffalo but only being able to carry 100 pounds back to the wagon?  Check.  And someone coming down with dysentery? Check, of course.  Miraculously, the family in the 'movie' makes it to Oregon entirely intact, an ending I could never achieve -- somebody was almost certain to die of the measles or getting swept away by a river after inadvisably choosing 'caulk the wagon and float.'

The Oregon Trail's ubiquity in elementary schools in the 1980s and '90s has resulted in dozens of nostalgic references to the game in today's pop culture: t-shirts, comics, music, and you can even buy an Oregon Trail iPhone app.  But this trailer -- complete with an arrangement of the theme music from The Oregon Trail II -- certainly tops them all.

Which gets me thinking: what are the chances that an awesome educational computer game from our childhoods could actually be converted into a (likely terrible) movie?  Some (I'm looking at you, Number Munchers) might be a bit of a stretch, but it seems to me that the world of floppy disk games is ripe for Hollywood's picking.  Could we be seeing a film adaptation of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  If  Tron Legacy is any indication, Hollywood knows how to cash in on the pop culture nostalgia of Gen X and Y -- so there's still hope a film adaptation of The Oregon Trail might actually materialize.  But for now, we'll have to get our elementary school computer time fix by playing the game online (8-bit sound effects included!).

-- Becky Sullivan

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