– Summary –
Director : Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : Gerard Butler, Michael C Hall, Logan Lerman, Amber Valetta, Ludacris, Terry Crews, Kyra Sedgewick
Approx Running Time : 95 Minutes
Synopsis: In the future, death-row prisoners are controlled by outside players into participating in a live-or-die battle to survive a Doom-style shooter scenario. One man, seemingly framed for murder and sentenced to hard time, find himself on the precipice of escaping the game by beating the odds. However, forces are at play that make his battle not consigned only to the prison system. So he must take the battle to the outside world.
What we think : Genuinely cool premise, directed by the guys who made the Crank films, begins interestingly, swaggers through some half-baked plot twists, and then comes undone with a decidedly stupid ending. Butler again proves why he is such a dynamic leading man, with a magnificent physical presence giving this film the punch it needs. Great use of camerawork gives this film the vibrancy and energy the script demands, and goes some way to overcoming the scripts largish faults.
Okay, I’ll bite. I’m not a major computer game player. I dabbled a little with Doom, Quake and more recently some of the Halo products, but I’ve never been “into” games like many are: those addicted to the screen, the lives they inhabit online and on their computers seems to be a little insane to me. Nothing wrong with a rainy day third-person shooter to get you through the boredom, but to spend 24 hours a day on level 5 isn’t conducive to a normal social life. Plus, the wife gets a little testy with an hour or so in front of the screen on a weekend.
So it was with great interest that I approached Gamer, a film based on the most extreme of TPS games. Starring Gerard Butler, the “this is SPARTA” guy, Gamer is set in the not-to-distant future, where simulation games and real TPS games have infiltrated society in an enormous way, almost to saturation point. Ken Castle (Dexter‘s Michael C Hall) is the Bill Gates-esque entrepreneur who has invented a game that has changed human interactivity, Society. Society is a mix of games like SimFamily and Second Life, where people plug into their machines and enter the fantasy world of the computer, allowing them to be anyone and anything they desire. It’s an addictive lifestyle, but one that ostensibly remains fairly harmless. On the flipside, Castle has also invented Slayers, a game involving death-row prisoners who battle, Halo-like, against obstacles to get to the safe zone and, after success in 30 missions, freedom. Each “character” in Slayers is a real person, controlled by somebody on the outside using a nanotechnology which allows a high level form of mind control. John “Kable” Tillman (Butler) is the most famous of all Slayers‘ participants, having survived 27 missions at the time the film opens. He’s the closest anybody has gotten to successfully completing 30 missions and obtaining his freedom.
Kables “controller” on the outside is 17 year old Simon (Logan Lerman), a cocky young gaming whizz who is living the high life thanks to his success controlling Kable. Also involved is sensationalist talk-show host Gina Parker Smith (Kyra Sedgewick), who sees more to the Castle/Kable relationship than most, and a woman determined to uncover any dirty little secrets the famous game inventor may have. Not only this, but a group of rebellious freedom fighters called Humanz, who believe the insidious spread of Society and Slayers is an attempt at controlling humanity, make Kable a target for their cause, attempting to free him from his incarceration by letting him loose from the confines of the “game”. Kable has a persistent memory of his wife and child, whom he will do everything to return to in the outside world.
I went into this film with pretty low expectations, at least on a narrative level, due mainly to the penchant for chaotic violence and action the Neveldine/Taylor directorial combo had given us in two fabulously freaky Crank films. I am pleased to say I was majorly impressed, with Gamer being a lot more emotionally developed, as well as a superior central conceit. That’s not to say Gamer is a smart film, because it’s not. But the lads have given Kable, his wife Angie, and even Castle a fair amount of emotional conviction, even if it exists only on the most soap-opera level. In much the same way Crank’s Chev Chellios has an emotional level. Gamer’s aesthetic is one of sweeping camera shots and frenetic editing, the digital zoom and slash-cut still the order of the day more often than not. The “game” footage, in which Slayers comes across as an amped up Halo, with explosions, body parts and gunfire filling the screen and soundtrack, is extremely well done. It’s chaotic, frenetic and discombobulating; which is exactly what battle must be like. Butler struts across the screen like a pro, his chiselled features and gritty, rumbling vocal performance giving him the full blown action star appeal.
Michael C Hall, known to Aussie audiences as Dexter the serial killer, is wonderfully slimy as Slayers inventor Castle, a far cry from the reserved and inwardly emotional character he normally plays. Halls eccentric inventor is by far the most entertaining character here, alongside Terry Crews’ hulking Hackman, a muscle-bound thug sent into the game with one mission: to kill Kable. Crews is a riot as the enormous Hackman, and this return to tough-guy status is welcome after the kneecapping he took with appearing in Everybody Hates Chris. Amber Valetta, who looks surprisingly like Malin Ackerman from Watchmen, does a pretty good job as Angie Tillman, a woman struggling to make ends meet since her husband is imprisoned and her daughter is removed from her custody. She plays an avatar in Society, her mind and body controlled by a fat slob in an apartment block who is content to put her into as many sexually disgusting situations as possible. Angie is desperate to get her daughter back, but seems unable to get through the bureaucracy keeping her away. Sharp eyed viewers will also spot appearances by New Zealander stunt-woman Zoë Bell (from Deathproof), Keith David (as a federal agent who interrogates gamer Simon after his arrest), Matchstick Men’s Alison Lohman, and Heroes‘ Milo Ventimiglia as Rick Rape, a fellow avatar in Society.
Gamer moves along like a freight train, the editing furiously keeping us from thinking too much about the ludicrous script; Neveldine & Taylor do a fantastic job with the pacing on the film. The swooping, swinging, stomach-churning camera moves are hard to endure on a large screen, invoking a sense of low level nausea in this viewer as I watched. They can’t keep their camera still, intent on generating cinematic frenzy with whizz-bang tracking shots, dollys and some fantastic steadycam footage. Much like Crank, Gamer isn’t a subtle film in any sense of the word; it’s abusive to the audience with it’s staggering number of edits and crazy camera moves. I’ll admit that the initial 20 minutes of this film had my eyes trying to bleed with it’s voracious appetite for movement, but by the end, I’d grown accustomed to it.
So far I’ve given Gamer a fairly positive review, considering the type of film this is. Gamer does have one major caveat, however, and it’s the conclusion. Gamers final act is such a let down I felt ripped off. The story generates so much heat and bile towards the main villain, although the end result doesn’t give us the satisfaction of a decent conclusion. The final confrontation between Kable and Castle isn’t so much a knock-out smackdown as a dance routine interspersed with some fighting, and even then, it’s a far cry from what’s come before. Where Kable should have laid the smack on Castle, gotten his hands dirty with some villainous blood, it’s is a talkfest, a clichéd explanatory sequence where the Castle unloads his master-plan to all and sundry…. the kind of thing Austin Powers made fun of. Considering the class of the preceding 80 minutes, this final act is so unexpectedly “what the..?” that you have to rewind and watch it again to get the point.
One of the major story points Gamer managed to avoid in the main, however, was the fact that humanity seems more content to exist in a fabricated world than the real one: an issue highlighted in sci-fi fare like Avatar and Surrogates [We’re currently in the process of writing our review of Surrogates, so stay tuned!] where humans plug into alternative bodies to exist, leaving the ‘real” world behind like a bad dream. This concept makes for great science fiction fodder, a social impact statement of sorts, if you will, and I think often filmmakers skirt this issue as little more than a great idea, but never embrace it as a genuine prospect. The fact that humanity seems to be falling into this kind of lifestyle faster and faster, with increasing internet usage and connectivity making our world smaller each day, is what gives Gamer its thematic weight. But with Gamer, Neveldine & Taylor eschew the more intellectual debate of this issue in favour of a more pornographic look: style over substance where a little substance might have been welcome.
If you enjoyed the vacuously cool Crank, then Gamer will be right up your alley. It’s fast paced, filled with cool action scenes (although sometimes they happen so fast you miss the really cool stuff!) and definitely give the intended audience a real buzz of adrenaline. Filmed on a $US50m budget, you’d never think it for what Neveldine and Taylor achieve. Gung-ho, ballsy and bloody, Gamer is a spectacularly violent action thriller, which, except for its final act, does everything right by this viewer.
Mini Blu Ray Review
Gamer’s video presentation on BluRay is nothing short of sensational. The film’s 1.85:1 transfer looks razor sharp and well defined, with no visible edge enhancement, and excellent shadow and black definition. I was most impressed with the clarity of the image: I am still falling in love with modern BluRay presentations of new releases.
Gamer slams onto BluRay with a stunning DTS-HD 5.1 track. Fidelity is fantastic, the surrounds coming into full use at almost every single opportunity. Bass levels are full blooded and constant, especially the vibrant battle sequences. Dialogue is well placed in the centre channel, easy to discern and audible. Every ping and rattle of gunfire and explosions is jaw-dropping in its accuracy, the spatial definition on this soundtrack is astonishing.
The “making of” documentary on Gamer is a better than average affair, with Neveldine and Taylor prepared to give you their honest opinion on the filmmaking process, rather than a studio-stifled one. The doco is pretty decent stuff.