What is it about movies in the future that take advantage of death row inmates to harness entertainment for the masses? Mostly recently it was the horrible remake of a film called Death Race and now it’s Gamer, which somehow managed to rope in Golden Globe winner Michael C. Hall and…well, after his recent string of mediocre films I guess Gerard Butler being the star is no real surprise. Still, it was a film that ultimately was a disappointment to critics, although it did triple its budget in box office receipts worldwide so it was far from a failure. While the talent involved was by no means poor, the overall execution of this film left something to be desired.
Featuring an all-star cast including Gerard Butler (300), three-time Emmy® nominee Michael C. Hall (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, “Dexter,” 2008 & 2009; “Six Feet Under,” 2002), with Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges (Crash) and Golden Globe® winner Kyra Sedgwick (Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama, “The Closer,” 2007), Gamer is a high-concept action thriller set in a near future when gaming and entertainment have evolved into an exhilarating yet terrifying new hybrid. Available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD January 19, 2010, Gamer contains bonus materials that include audio commentary with the filmmakers and cast, a “making-of” documentary, plus a featurette looking at the groundbreaking camera work completed on the film. In addition, the Blu-ray Disc features I-Con Mode with expanded visual commentary, interactive scene-specific crew commentaries accessible throughout the film and a never-before seen theatrical trailer that was deemed too radical for audiences.
I knew just from the trailer for this film that the quality of it would be questionable. I still wanted to see it, however, as I’m a fan of both of the main actors in the film. Sadly the film turned out to be a giant mishap, full of unconvincing technology (complete with the requisite jargon to “sell” it) and annoying codenamed individuals who went by the group name “Humanz” (because they weren’t “infected” with the nanites that Hall’s character created). Of course this group was lead by Ludacris, who seems to pop up in far too many films lately (not that he’s a bad actor, the films just end up being horrible…ala the recent Max Payne).
There are things about this film to enjoy, of course. It’s full of action (and even references Crank, another pure action oriented film from Lionsgate) and the action is almost all good. It’s violent and brutal, plus there’s the action movie staple of nudity and foul language as well. It’s not an unsurprising mixture, but still entertaining on a basic level. It’s certainly not enough to warrant a repeat viewing, of course, but if you shut your brain off it’s a decent enough time waster.
But if you have any hope of getting into the story itself…then good luck. It’s really almost identical in plot structure to Death Race. Man wrongly accused of murdering someone is put on death row but he can win his freedom by participating in a game. Only he won’t be freed even if he does win because that’s just stupid! It makes your head hurt to try and understand the technology it presents you with. I’m a computer technician and network major currently and perhaps it’s because of that that I have a hard time swallowing most of the stuff this film shoves into your throat. I get that this takes place in the “future” and whatever, but it’s still irksome. Sure, we’re heading towards a Skynet world eventually, but even this nanite mind control stuff is just…really out there. I can swallow it when it’s packaged into a Superman cartoon, but when it’s done in a real-world situation like this I can only cock my head and go “Say whaaaaat?”
As fun as the action is in this film (and it is very fun…and very noisy what with the DTS-HD MA 7.1 track…but I’ll get to that later), it just isn’t enough to really make you want to revisit this film ever again. The ultimate villain death in the end was so horribly executed, as you’d think such a brilliant man would have a failsafe against such a stupid turn of events…but oh well. He had to die somehow, I suppose. Overall this is a movie action junkies will find worth a Rental. Butler’s entertaining in it, but it’s just too unbelievable and too pandering to its audience (although the dual cameo of Psych actors as news casters was entertaining to me). It seemingly wants to testify against gamers and violence, yet that’s all the film shows us is excessive violence. Which honestly is fine with me, but confusing in terms of the movie itself.
Lionsgate releases Gamer on Blu-ray in a standard two-disc Elite Blu-ray case. Included inside are the discs (one for the film, one for the digital copy) and the usual array of inserts. There’s no fancy slipcover or anything on the outside to sell it, just a hunkered down Butler carrying a big ol’ gun. It knows how it sell itself at least.
RedOne digital camera, meet AVC encoded 1080p brilliance. This film is absolutely spectacular to lay your eyes on, as it boasts a ridiculous amount of clarity and extremely pleasing color levels. There are dark elements to the film but they’re so pristine and gorgeous to look at that even when the film is lit only in shadows it’s a wonder to behold. Not to mention it’s a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, so the pure digital recording fills up nearly the entirety of your 16×9 TV set, forcing even more digital goodness into your eyes. Without a doubt this is one of the prettiest films this year on Blu-ray…which is also a bit of a shame since it’s also one of the worst in terms of story.
Audio? Yeah, it’s awesome. A DTS-HD MA 7.1 track is the only way this film should be watched. Not only are the surrounds utilized in almost every way imaginable, the subwoofer output is just absolutely deafening. Every bullet fired and casing dropped rattles and echoes throughout the room and just writing about it gives me goose bumps as I think about some of the mixtures of the music and audio effects and how effectively it all made the film a much more enjoyable experience. It’s still a very mediocre film, don’t get me wrong, but it’s certainly a sonic experience that shouldn’t be missed if you have the setup to witness it. Lionsgate has always delivered some of the best A/V experiences on both DVD and Blu-ray and Gamer is, without a doubt, demo material.
• I-Con Mode: Go deep behind the scenes with this interactive time-shifting multi-dimensional exploration into the making of Gamer
• Gamer Cheat Codes: interactive specialized scene-specific audio and video commentary accessible throughout the film
• Audio commentary with the writer/directors Mark Neveldine and BrianTaylor and actors Amber Valletta, Alison Lohman and Terry Crews
• “Inside the Game: Controlling Gamer” – “making of” documentary (1:19:42, 1080p)
• “First Person Shooter: The Evolution of Red” featurette (16:45, 1080p)
• Theatrical trailer (2:33, 1080p)
• Never-Before-Seen Theatrical trailer (2:33, 1080p)
• Lionsgate Live ™* (requires profile 2.0 player)
• BD-Touch and Metamenu Remote™ enabled
• Enhanced for D-Box™ Motion Control Systems
Obviously the major thing here is the audio commentary…which actually turns out to be the most boring of all of the extras. It’s just a bit too specific and the directors dominate the track so there’s little room for the actors to speak up. The real entertaining bit is the “I-Con Mode,” which acts almost identical to Warner Bros. “Maximum Movie Mode” (debuted on Watchmen). There’s a lot more content to sift through here and it’s also a lot more engaging to watch, as there are frequent pauses/stops that actually pad an extra half hour onto the films run time. Sounds horrible, I know, but it’s actually quite interesting as this film had some really technical things going on with it…and the fact it was made for under $10 million is rather impressive.
The remaining extras…well, there isn’t much, actually. The documentary on the Red One camera was cool (although it seems that every time a film uses that there’s a piece on the Blu-ray about it being used…not that I mind, it’s a bad ass camera), but the biggest thing was Lionsgate wasn’t happy with just the I-Con mode…no, there’s a nearly hour and a half long documentary that is surprisingly very candid about the production of this film. It helped give me a bit more respect for the film itself, although I still find its concepts a little hokey.
Overall? A Recommended release. I’m sorry, I know the film is pretty much rubbish but the A/V presentation is just absolutely stunning. Add in the entertaining (and lengthy) batch of special features and you’d be hard pressed to find a more rounded out Blu-ray offering so far this year. Of course if you don’t like the film to begin with then it won’t be worth keeping…but trust me, the AVC encoded transfer and DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio is well worth checking out.
Gamer is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.