Updated: Feb 8
Decades before the Nintendo Wii, the NES hosted the motion-based Power Glove controller from Mattel. The excitement fizzled fast. But who could forget that commercial? If you ever saw it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Not since Apple's "1984" Super Bowl spot had an ad been so epic. You had the Power-Gloved Tom Cruise wannabe striding through a dystopian warehouse, up to an enormous TV, and instantly delivering a knockout blow on Mike Tyson's Punchout!!. When I saw that commercial as a kid in 1989, I thought I had backed the wrong horse with my Sega Master System.
Also, Mattel's Power Glove played a big role in 1989's The Wizard, the kid-centric road trip film where pretty much every stop along the way had some sort of Nintendo product. Starring child phenom Fred Savage, the glove debuted in the movie, as did Super Mario Bros. 3. When Lucas Barton's silver box was opened to reveal Nintendo's cybernetic gauntlet, every kid in every theater knew they needed one.
And when Freddy Kreuger drops your name, you know you've got street cred. Here he is rocking his Power Glove knockoff in 1991's Freddy' Dead: The Final Nightmare. (This is my second-favorite Elm Street film, after Dream Warriors.)
The Power of Glove is an excellent documentary from Georgia-based Command International Pictures, headed by Adam Ward and Andrew Austin. I stumbled across this movie by random Web surfing, and asked the guys if they would mail a DVD to be featured on Retro Injection. Spoiler alert: They did.
The film tells the tale of the most misunderstood video game controller of all time: From its origins as NASA technology to the promise of bringing VR to the living room... a promise understandably marred by slashing $10,000 tech down to $75 retail.
But as The Power of Glove testifies, the controller's legacy doesn't stop with its one exclusive cartridge, Super Glove Ball. Nor is the Power Glove's legend tarnished by its awkward controls of all official Nintendo cartridges up to its release. No, the Power Glove has become a pop culture icon due to its inherit kitsch and still-futuristic design, inspired by Robocop. While the Power Glove sat tucked away in the back of closets, it became the punchline for decades of jokes. Mattel's controller was too far ahead of the game.
Meanwhile, times were catching up to the glove's potential. As I learned from the movie, Power Glove-wearing kids grew up to become tech nerds, and the infamous controllers came out of storage to be given new lives: light suits for raves, drone remotes, musical instruments, current-gen video game controllers and more. The Power of Glove also spotlights Nintendo superfan Isaiah "Triforce" Johnson, whose trademark fashion accessory is the beloved Power Glove. (He's got a stack of them, which he's dubbed "Glove Mountain.")
Weighing in at an hour and five minutes, The Power of Glove took five years to realize. This film will resonate with anyone who lived through the console wars of the late '80s, and/or has an appreciation for gaming history. Through interviews with the Power Glove's developers, marketers and even with The Wizard director Todd Holland, the documentary holds your attention with its tight pacing and impressive production values, including animation that's reminiscent of 8-bit graphics.
My favorite part of the movie deals with Mattel's strained relations with Nintendo: How a total fluke in playtesting resulted in Nintendo greenlighting the glove and how Mattel struggled to obtain the official Nintendo Seal of Quality. This stamp of approval was crucial for an NES peripheral to be taken seriously, and a $75 toy was no small purchase back in '89! The original Power Glove crew (who lived like rock stars during the marketing process) goes into detail about last-minute, white knuckle negotiations with the Big N to get the glove on the shelves of toy stores everywhere. I won't spoil the jumped-through hoops; you've got to see The Power of Glove!
Adam Ward and Andrew Austin graciously answered a few questions about their groundbreaking film.
What prompted you to make a Power Glove documentary?
We were first drawn to the story of the Power Glove because of its redemption aspect. In the modern internet age, it’s all too easy to be snarky about the toys & technology of the past, and there was certainly a lot of snarkiness going around about how the Power Glove didn’t live up to its promises, and how it should only be regarded as a failed gimmick. But once we looked past that cynicism, we found that there were lots of people who still embraced the Power Glove despite its shortcomings, and who clung to the technological optimism of the 1980s by repurposing the Power Glove for their own contemporary visions. The Power Glove’s appeal obviously runs deeper than pure nostalgia, because people aren’t merely romanticizing the past in repurposing the Power Glove, but rather they are modernizing the appeal of the Power Glove itself — they’re keeping its dream alive. And in that sense, the Power Glove’s story has a universal appeal in that it questions the idea of how we should define failure.
Also, when we first started making The Power of Glove in 2012, there was barely any reliable information about the Power Glove’s backstory on the internet, so the “uncharted territory” aspect of the story very much appealed to the nerdy historian parts of our personalities. Even though the developers & engineers of the Power Glove had inspired an entire generation of gamers, their stories hadn’t been fully or properly told, so we loved the idea of giving those people a voice for the first time.
What is your number one piece of advice to an aspiring filmmaker?
It’s hard to answer this without sounding cliché, but when you’re making a passion project like this, it’s really important to stick to the mantra of: “make a film you would actually want to watch.” Throughout the course of making The Power of Glove, we were often tempted to go on tangents that didn’t actually interest us but would perhaps broaden the audience of the film, but that’s a quick recipe to get jaded.
What were your experiences with the Power Glove (if any)?
We were too young to really experience the Power Glove firsthand when it came out in 1989, but as big gaming fans in the 90s, we were familiar with Power Glove’s sordid history as if it was the stuff of legend. We only managed to play with the Power Glove after we purchased a few for the film’s initial fact-finding, and our experiences with the Glove were pretty typical. We found that the Power Glove is terrible as a controller for standard Nintendo games, save a few exceptions like Rad Racer. This came as no surprise given the reputation of the Power Glove, but we also learned that the Power Glove is impressively responsive at playing the game Super Glove Ball, a game that was designed specifically for use with the Glove. Once we could actually feel for ourselves that the Power Glove wasn’t as bad as everyone liked to joke around about, we knew we had to use that as a jumping-off point for the journey through the rest of the film.
Why do you feel this accessory has such enduring appeal?
The Power Glove has such a lasting appeal for a few reasons. Firstly, the marketing was so spot on; it was lightning in a bottle. Literal LIGHTNING and maybe not so much bottle, though. It captured the imagination of kids in a way that’s rarely seen in the toy industry. The marketing was a double-edged sword, however, as the mantra of “It’s so bad” quickly shifted from cool catchphrase to mark of death. Those three words have followed the Power Glove like an unholy shadowy terror to this day. Secondly, the design of the glove is so freakin’ cool! Just look at it. Who wouldn’t want to own something as totally radical as the Power Glove? You put it on and suddenly you’re a super cool cyborg ready to take on the world!
That sort of lightning-blast and cyborgian excitement isn’t something you easily forget, and on a deeper level, the Power Glove’s appeal is so enduring because a lot of people didn’t dismiss their dreams of the Power Glove just because the product itself didn’t live up to its hype. In other words, a lot of people chose to celebrate its promise and its vision rather than its actual functionality.
The Power of Glove was funded with Kickstarter. Any tips for working with the platform?
This has been said many times, but running a Kickstarter campaign is really a full-time job, so you should be prepared to treat it as such. Also, use the “pi rule” when estimating how long a project will take you to complete. So: estimate how long you think it’ll take you to complete a project, multiply that estimate by 3.141592653589793238462643, and that’s about how long it will actually take you. We learned that one the hard way.
Aside from the Power Glove, what did you love most about The Wizard?
The Wizard is a great kids movie in that it leads you to believe that children go on unsupervised adventures all the time. Like a lot of good 80s movies, it really appeals to the independent & adventurous longings of childhood — it feels like a more modern universe of “The Little Rascals” in that kids can do anything. It was empowering to our young adolescent minds.
Tell us about Command International Pictures. What are your proudest achievements? What upcoming releases have you the most excited?
We’re both big fans of Roger Corman and American International Pictures, so when we were brainstorming ideas for our production company name, we knew we wanted something that would pay homage to AIP, and we also wanted it to sound really commanding. So uh… yeah I guess we went with the most obvious choice to achieve those goals.
As for our proudest achievement, this might be a little predictable, but it has to be making a film that we’re happy with. This goes back to our whole “make a film you would actually want to watch” mantra. In an alternate universe where we didn’t make this film, but rather we were handed a finished DVD from an interdimensional traveller, we could totally see ourselves being engaged with the story, and that’s something to be proud of.
From a broader perspective, it’s also really rewarding when we hear compliments from people who aren’t necessarily gamers or nostalgia fiends like ourselves. We set out to make a movie that showed the universal appeal of the Power Glove’s story, so it’s immensely gratifying when we see evidence that we’ve achieved that for some people. For instance, one time we showed the film at the TreeFort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho, and during the film’s post-screening Q&A, an elderly woman raised her hand and said, “I hate video games and I barely know how to use a computer, but I thought your film was thoroughly entertaining.” Compliments like those really make it worth all the blood, sweat, and Power Gloves we put into this film.
As for the future of Command International Pictures, even we aren’t sure of what the future holds. Ever since the pandemic hit, we’ve put any ideas of traveling & filming new projects on hold, so we’ve mainly been concentrating on fun personal projects. For instance, Adam has been participating in game development competitions, and Andrew has made a dumb little video about a Civil War alien general, plus he was in Cobra Kai as Bartender Brett. Once things calm down and this pandemic is in the rearview, however, we’ll be back out there making documentaries with a vengeance. We’ll keep you posted!
Mad props go out to Mr. Austin and Mr. Ward for their ambassadorship of the Power Glove. Order The Power of Glove DVD here!