Gamer

  • Reviewed by: Dr Adam Jahnke
  • Review Date: Jan 18, 2010
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor

Release Date(s)

2009 (January 19, 2010)

Studio(s)

Lionsgate

Review

When the filmmaking team of Neveldine/Taylor burst onto the scene with Crank back in 2006, I wasn’t sure what to think.  Crank was a hyperkinetic, loud, aggressively stupid action movie that made The Transporter look like Three Days Of The Condor.  But you can’t criticize it for being any of those things.  That’s the whole point of the movie.  There’s no need to think, so you either strap yourself in and enjoy the ride or you feel visually and aurally assaulted by the experience.  There isn’t a lot of middle ground.

Gamer is instantly recognizable as a Neveldine/Taylor joint.  The first fifteen minutes alone have so much visual information that you half expect to see pictures leaking out the sides of your television.  But while the entire premise of Crank can be summed up in a 60-second Dwight Yoakam monologue, Gamer’s story is a bit more complex.

In the not-too-distant future, the most popular video games on Earth allow users to control actual human beings as avatars.  One game, Society, is the natural progression of games like The Sims and Second Life.  The other one, Slayers, gives users control of death-row inmates who fight to the death.  Win thirty games and the inmate is allegedly freed, although nobody’s ever come close.  Gerard Butler is Kable, an inmate with 27 wins under his ammo belt.  Dexter’s Michael C. Hall is Ken Castle, the gazillionaire creator of the game who has no intention of letting Kable win.

The basic premise of Gamer isn’t all that original.  It’s essentially a video game riff on Death Race 2000 and The Running Man.  But to their credit, Neveldine and Taylor have put a lot of thought into creating this world, the rules of the games and how the games work.  In fact, the movie is so densely packed with action and information that it’s easy to get lost, especially in the first half hour or so.  But eventually the story gets a bit clearer and you’re able to enjoy the movie for what it is (although certain plot points, like Kable’s plan to escape from prison by downing a bottle of vodka, continue to make precious little sense).

Neveldine and Taylor certainly know how to make a movie and there are enough original touches to keep you engaged.  Gerard Butler is OK, although he always seems a bit too serious whenever he’s in action-hero mode.  Michael C. Hall, on the other hand, is particularly good and his megalomaniacal master plan is worthy of James Bond.

On Blu-ray, Gamer really shines.  The movie was shot using the high-definition Red Digital Camera and it looks absolutely spectacular.  The image is beautifully detailed and the vibrant colors of Society really pop off the screen.  The soundtrack is a booming 7.1 DTS-HD extravaganza and it too is phenomenal.  The sound is all around you from the get-go.  If you want to impress your friends and annoy your neighbors with your awesome sound system, you couldn’t ask for a much better demo disk than this one.

Gamer is packed with extras, all of which are genuinely interesting.  Inside The Game is a lengthy, detailed making-of documentary that covers all aspects of the production.  First Person Shooter: The Evolution of Red delves into the camera itself and it’s no mere promo piece for the technology.  It goes into some detail about technical specs, development and use of the camera.  One of the coolest features is iCon Mode, an audio-visual commentary by Neveldine and Taylor allowing them to occasionally enter the picture, pause the film, highlight things on-screen and intercut behind-the-scenes footage.  For even more detail, you can turn on Cheat Codes.  With this on, a clickable icon appears on-screen that takes you to specialized commentaries by additional crew members.

If all this sounds like a lot of information, it is and some folks probably won’t feel the need to plow through all of it.  But if you’re genuinely interested in filmmaking, you should check this stuff out, even if you don’t like the movie itself.  I guarantee you will learn something about the process you didn’t know before.  The disc also includes a more traditional audio commentary with Neveldine, Taylor, and actors Amber Valletta, Alison Lohman and Terry Crews, two trailers (including one that was never used), and a fistful of cutting-edge Blu-ray enhancements like D-Box Motion Control, BD Touch, and BD-Live.

I’m not about to claim that Gamer is a great film.  At best, it’s a reasonably entertaining sci-fi action flick best enjoyed with a large bowl of heavily buttered popcorn and a beer or two. But Neveldine and Taylor are the real deal.  They know what they’re doing and can stretch a budget better than just about anybody else out there.  They could compromise and make a more mainstream, mega-budget blockbuster or they might be perfectly content making wild, economical B-movies for the rest of their careers.  Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what they do next.

- Dr. Adam Jahnke

 

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