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Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) has revolutionized the gaming industry with self-replicating nanites that colonize in the human brain, gradually replacing the existing brain cells and allowing full motor function control by a third party. The technology is first used for a SIMS-like game called ‘Society’, where real people are paid to act as living surrogates. Even more popular is Castle’s newest creation—‘Slayers’, a game in which death row inmates are ‘played’ in violent battle situations. Any inmate who lives through thirty matches wins a full pardon. Slayers is broadcast live, and is a massive money maker on Pay-Per-View. The most popular inmate is code-named Kable (Gerard Butler), who is played by a popular player named Simon (Logan Lerman), and who is on his way to freedom with twenty-seven wins.

Gamer was not a film I expected to have anything to say about. The only interest I had in the film had to do with my affection towards writer/director team Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank films, but the plot presented by the trailers did not induce excitement. I expected to find myself struggling to gather more than a handful of words expressing my apathy; instead I’m presented with an oddly intriguing mess of a movie. My initial gut-feeling is that the people the advertisements were tailored towards, those expecting mindless, exciting action violence, will be very disappointed. Gamer is a surprising, and sincerely subversive little film, and the writer/directors have no qualms letting lose their artistic impulses, aggressive though they may be. The battle scenes are exciting enough, kind of like music video, Cliff’s Notes versions of Children of Men’s final battle sequence, but they numb, and grow confusing very quickly, which leaves audiences only with the film’s ideas and sick sense of humour to latch onto. And the ideas take up the vast majority of the runtime. This is, like the Crank films, a vainglorious art film disguised as a dumb action film. I don’t necessarily like this particular brand of art that much (it’s a bit to ‘Frat Boy Chic’), but I really must recognize it for what it is—downright experimental. I hesitantly compare the film to the art-house horror/sci-fi hybrids that came out of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, specifically those of an un-American origin, like Stephen Norrington’s Death Machine, or Richard Stanley’s Hardware and Dust Devil.

The basic plot is unoriginal, lowest common denominator junk for the most part. The value of the story, what little there is, is found in the treatment of the utter clichés. The philosophical and moral implications are heavy-handed, and have been handled much better in many other films, but they’re still treated in an at least interesting fashion. The ‘SIMS’ element is almost interesting, where the Running Man criminal elements are same-old, same-old. There are already plenty of fun movies out there that make a point against violence using entertaining violence (the ‘80s are practically definable as an era of subversive action epics). The mind control and avatar human stuff has also been done before, and better, in movies like Strange Days, The Matrix, and most recently the television series Dollhouse, which this film shares a lot in common with (unfortunately, actually, as Dollhouse eventually figured out how to do it well). But these obvious shortcomings are reasonably balanced by Neveldine/Taylor’s obvious artistic merits, and the shortcomings often come out of obvious homage paid to other subversive sci-fi actioneers. There are some visually pointed sci-fi homage throughout, including Kable’s wife’s wardrobe (which includes bits of Blade Runner, The Running Man and The Fifth Element). The homage is fun, but does end up adding to the overall mess, which is the film’s lasting legacy.



Gamer is yet another Neveldine/Taylor low-budgeter (well, lowish, certainly by Hollywood standards) that looks better than many big budget releases, thanks to the directors’ knowledge of the cheap digital HD format, and the new Red brand digital cameras, which are, according to the extras, the bee’s knees. The film features just about every kind of photography you could want to see on your hi-def set, from extremely detailed close-ups, to wide shots with hundreds of digital augmentations. You’ll find grainy shots, dark shots, crystalline shots, deep focus shots, shallow focus shots, monochromatic shots, mega-colourful shots, and not shot is free of post-production meddling. It’s a visual over-load that doesn’t quite serve the story, but the random yet perfect nature makes for a great, mindless chunk of reference quality. The real world and the Slayers world are both beautifully grimy, swimming in dirty, dark details, and sharp, high contrast edges, while the Society scenes are swimming with candy coated and black light endowed colours. Despite all the styles, the quality based on style limitations is incredibly consistent, and at their best these images will give your set a rough and tumble workout. Some of the solid colours blend rather awkwardly, in sections rather than a steady stream, but I’m having trouble finding anything genuinely bad to say about the transfer.



The Gamer sound design matches the visual information overload, and this DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is one to be reckoned with. Anything that can make noise will make noise, and nothing is too obscure to not be accompanied by an aggressive flash of aural attack. The battle scenes are the clear spot to start if you’re looking for reference material. These scenes include both traditional blow-up noise, and the strange glitches of the video game environment. The mixes most interesting addition is the use of dialogue effects, which change channel location regularly. The coolest example of this is the kid’s voice during Kable’s P.O.V. shots, which is moved into the rear channels, to exact the effect of hearing a voice in your own head. The Society scenes are a bit more cartoonish, and poppy. For these scenes abstract effects, such as the roars of big cats, are added into the mix, along with amplified versions of real set sounds. The musical soundtrack is a punchy mix of pop, metal, and more traditional classical score, that definitely works for the film’s style, and definitely fills out the soundtrack with sheer noise levels. The track scores extra points for having such a thick LFE channel. Even during the bassier songs things never warble or vibrate in an abrasive manner.



Gamer isn’t a great film, but Neveldine and Taylor are really into interaction with their audiences, so this Blu-ray is pretty darn loaded with extras. The first of three viewing modes is the I-Con Mode visual commentary (which lasts a solid two hours and twelve minutes). This is similar to the visual commentary they did for Crank 2, just more extensive. The directors both look a little awkward talking to us, but it’s a good commentary (I love learning ways to save money), the behind the scenes extras are pretty good in this context, and their use of the rewind option is usually amusing. The inclusion of deleted snippets is an original enough touch for the format. There’s also a traditional audio commentary featuring the directors, and actors Amber Valletta, Alison Lohman, and Terry Crews, which can be watched with the ‘Cheat Code’ mode, which links you too various specialized commentaries (cinematographer, stunt coordinator, production designer, editors and composers), and behind the scenes featurettes. The commentary covers a lot of similar ground with the I-Con commentary, but the actors are around to make a few comments and laugh at the director’s jokes, and the Cheat Codes are plentiful and informative. For time’s sake I ended up having to stop short of watching everything here, but what I got was solid.

But it doesn’t stop with ‘in-movie’ extras. Next up is ‘Inside the Game: Controlling Gamer’ (80:00, HD), an extensive three-part documentary on the making of the film. This doc covers pretty much every base, from every stage of production, cinematography, casting, and acting, but is most interesting when the directors are talking about their creative freedom, which came at the cost of a bigger budget, or the crew is talking about the film’s bizarre look. Apparently the film was intended as a 3D release, but the budget worked against it. This doc is so interesting, and so informative (this is the only time I’ve seen a documentary spend more than a minute to discuss the visual advantages of 1.85 vs. 2.35:1) it makes me want to like the film more than I do, and makes me want to keep this team making their own brand of weird action films. Next up is ‘First Person Shooter: The Evolution of Red’ (16:50, HD), a look at the production’s digital HD cameras, the new Red Digital models. This featurette explains the camera system’s advantages without talking down to the audience. It’s kind of an elongated ad, but a very interesting one. The extensive extras are wrapped up with two trailers, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.



In the end I find Gamer much more interesting than I expected based on the commercials, but it’s still not a genuinely good movie. I recommend a rental to sci-fi fans, and recommend avoidance for anyone expecting Hollywood style violence. Any movie featuring a villainous Michael C. Hall dancing soft shoe in silhouette while puppeteering a line of hardened criminals with his mind can’t be all bad. The good news is the disc looks and sounds freaking fantastic. We’re talking reference level stuff all around. And the extras are some of the best, most inclusive, and well produced I’ve seen in a while. There’s enough stuff here to make disbelievers want to like the film more than they do, especially the feature length, three part making-of documentary. At the very least you’re going to get your money’s worth out of this disc.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.