Gamer is a high-concept action thriller set in a near future when gaming and entertainment have evolved into a terrifying new hybrid. Humans control other humans in mass-scale, multi-player online games: people play people... for keeps. Mind-control technology is widespread, and at the heart of the controversial games is its creator, reclusive billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). His latest brainchild, the first-person shooter game "Slayers," allows millions to act out their most savage fantasies online in front of a global audience, using real prisoners as avatars with whom they fight to the death.
Kable (Gerard Butler) is the superstar and cult hero of the ultraviolent "Slayers." Kable is controlled by Simon, a young gamer with rock star status who continues to defy all odds by guiding Kable to victory each week. Taken from his family, imprisoned and forced to fight against his will, the modern day gladiator must survive long enough to escape the game to free his family, regain his identity and to save mankind from Castle's ruthless technology.
Some years from this exact moment...
'Star Wars!'...OK, not really. As much as it pains me to say, I'm not as much a gamer as I was in my youth. I grew up with a console at my side, from the Atari, which taught me how to button mash before I could even ride a bike, to the Nintendo Entertainment System, the SNES and Genesis, countless Gameboys, Playstations, you name it, other than the Virtual Boy, I had it. I still find myself lured into the gaming world in different ways, now more interested in blowing random PSN network users to shards with RPG-7s than level up a character in an RPG, though finding time to relax and lose myself in a different world becomes harder and harder with each passing calendar year.
'Gamer' is the kind of film that should appeal to my sensibilities as an FPS (first person shooter) fan. Loads of high tech weapons that I'm familiar with "controlling," loads of explosions, gunfire whizzing past my head (thank you, video games in surround sound!), enemies around every corner, and the ever-present need to reload. It made me question the characters I take into battle, historical or modern, and wonder if I could have led a warrior to fame or an early demise. It also made me wonder why I can't rattle off thirty some-odd fatality-free game sessions, a serious blow to my E-ego.
Set in a nameless city an undisclosed number of years in the future, convicts have enrolled (or been enrolled) in 'Slayers,' a game in which they are controlled by gamers around the world in battle scenarios, with the promise of freedom if they survive thirty matches in a row. Kable (Gerard Butler) is the current face of the game, having survived twenty seven straight matches. His controller, Simon (Logan Lerman), has become a celebrity of sorts, with fans bombarding him with offers to take over his account, but his fame is nothing compared to that of his "avatar," viewed as a hero to the entire world, much like a "Mr. Universe" contest, only people actually care! As Kable approaches the magic number, and his freedom begins to become a greater possibility, the system begins to skew, with creator Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall of 'Dexter' fame) throwing obstacles in Kable's path. Can the gamer lead the gamee to freedom, reuniting him with his wife and child, or will the evil, wealthy tycoon maintain his power over the world though his innovations?
I see 'Gamer' as a film full of parodoxes. How can a film so incredibly smart be so mind-boggling stupid at the same time? How can a film go so fast, yet feel so damn slow? Why are we given a main character to empathize with when we will be given nothing to really give a damn about if he lives or dies? Simply put, 'Gamer' is an amalgamation of ideas, some good, some bad, and feels like multiple film ideas all bundled into one.
I enjoyed many aspects of the movie, despite my refusal to participate in MMORPG-type games, which it references (and lambasts) with about as much subtlety as a film of this caliber can muster (aka, not too subtle). The control of Kable through 'Slayers' is neat, with entire rooms dedicated to putting one in another man's shoes, controlling his every aspect (and damn would I kill for that setup!), though later in the film, as Simon and Kable begin to communicate (illegally), it grows annoying, as suddenly Simon begins to wave his hands around like a complete goon. There's another game, the first created by Castle, within the world in the film, 'Society,' which goes a different route than its counterpart. Rather than the glorified extreme violence, there's a society of peace, interaction, where, much like is the case with the bestselling game 'The Sims,' people control others in a tranquil environment, which has no order, and is prone to the ill intents of the gamers. The parody on these style gamers, with Kable's wife (Amber Valletta as Angie) being manipulated by an obese shirtless man, who dines on piles of waffles and a bowl full of dipping syrup, pretending to be a female to interact with men and be popular, is hilarious, a satire on the lazy side of gamers longing to be someone else, anyone else.
The problems in the film arise instantly, as 'Gamer' seems determined to show it is far from original. Convicts fighting through brutal events, televised the worldwide for entertainment, winning freedom if they are the victor? I haven't seen that in a long time...or since Lionsgate released 'The Condemned' just a few years ago. What about 'The Running Man,' soon to be released on Blu-ray by the same studio, I'm sure that one has a similar plot. What's that? It's the exact same?!
'Gamer' mixes satire with its sci-fi and social commentary on our bloodthirsty society, but it often feels manipulative, sinking lower and lower to try to gain interest. I totally understand how the desperate people would get their jollies controlling real people to act out as lesbians in a video game as they watched, fondling each others breasts, but these constantly recurring segments only demonstrate the constant state of excess found throughout. Hall's portrayal of Castle is the most excessive element of the film, going from a Bill Gates-esque super powerful industrialist tycoon to a James Bond villain-esque "schemes to take over the world through a silly gadget" caricature of humanity, replete with a god awful song and dance number, and the constant insistence to make his puppets do dance moves to prove he is controlling them. More choreographer than puppeteer, his scheme is beyond ridiculous, as it is his interference that sets off the idea that "things may be more than they appear" angle.
A terrorist faction, called "humanz," provides the voice of reason in the film, hacking Castle broadcasts, though any rebel faction, for the betterment of humanity, led by Ludacris has to be questioned rather than followed. Their agenda is realistic, their methods believable, but they are about as effective as Neosporin on a gunshot wound to the face, with extreme ineptitude on display making one wonder how they even pull off a single hack of the system without getting traced and executed in under a minute.
'Gamer' has its moments, both good and bad. The film can play out like a glorified snuff film at times, which is ironically what it is fighting against, the portrayal of violence for entertainment. Butler is neither enjoyable or distracting, a masculine presence who is just "there." Milo Ventimiglia (from 'Heroes') provides the best comic relief in the film, with the 'Society' character Rick Rape drawing great laughter from me at his every moment of screen time. John Leguizamo, Zoe Bell, Terry Crews, and Alison Lohman all provide nice supporting roles, though each are easily forgotten...just like the film. A jumble of ideas strewn together without much sense of coherence, 'Gamer' will appeal to fans of first person shooter games and adrenaline junkies (fans of the 'Crank' series, for example), but has too many plot holes, unbelievable twists and scenarios, and moments of outright questionable logic that it has earned the foul reputation that precedes it.
'Gamer' is presented with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode in the film's natural 1.85:1 ratio. The result? A solid video quality that is sure to appease fans and newcomers to the film alike. Perfection is not achieved, but with results this good, it's hard to complain.
The film is startlingly deep at times, with extreme fine object detail. Explosions bring more life than they take, with dirt, debris, limbs and blood being propelled with unbelievable clarity. Skin tones are appropriate, with obvious aesthetic influences sometimes wearing on them. Edges are extremely sharp, with the tiniest of hairs popping straight out, curling, and screaming "LOOK AT ME!!!"
Delineation is solid, with no lost detail in the shadows, while black levels are utterly appropriate from the get go (whites, particularly in the prison sands, are unreal, which is a good/bad thing). Facial features are amazingly defined to the tiniest pore, dirt molecule, bead of sweat, blemish protrusion, or tiny prick of stubble. Aliasing is never an issue. The digitizing effects found in the world of 'Slayers' are amazing, how sharp such short flashes can be.
The colors in 'Gamer' are a tough gauge, as there are three distinct worlds in the film, between the real world, the stark brutality of 'Slayers,' and the vibrant utopia of 'Society.' Reality is brutal, with no flash, no flare, just natural colors and elements, while 'Slayers' boasts an extreme contrast that makes colors run a bit hotter, with nuclear backgrounds, and 'Society' is unbelievably detailed, deep, bright, and immersive, so sugary sweet it's possible to develop diabetes just looking at it.
There is some very minor banding, though it is far from frequent, as well as some equally light artifacting issues. Shots can occasionally feel flat, especially with full digital backgrounds, though this problem doesn't pop up all that often. The film has an extreme "sensory overload" aesthetic, as a whole, that may distract some, but it made the experience all the more memorable for me.
'Gamer' has laid down the gauntlet for 2010 early, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that is sure to be considered among the best audio mixes of the year. From demo-worthy material to power for the sake of power, this track is flat unbelievable.
The opening sequence is, without doubt, one of the craziest, and not just looney crazy, but legitimately apeshit crazy, scenes I've had the honor to sit through. There's stuff going on everywhere, from each and every channel to the other, back and forth, forward and backward, with heavy bass roars and an incredible high range to boot. Simply put, it raises the basket to unreachable heights and wraps it in barbed wire.
As the film progresses, dialogue doesn't get drowned out, no matter how extreme effects can be. I didn't have to adjust my volume settings once, no matter how quiet or rip-roaringly loud the proceedings got. Movement is superb and without any noticeable hang ups, localization (in gunfire, effects, and dialogue) is used constantly and effectively, directionality is spot on, basically any positive that can be said about the audio. Bass levels take a page from Rick Astley, as they neither give you up, or let you down (or run around and desert you). Headshots (BOOM!....headshot!) have a sickening noise that made me want to applause the carnage I was witnessing. The multiple world feel of the program does bring distinct sound changes, from the subdued talk show, to the exaggerated 'Society,' but every second of 'Slayers,' including when it transgresses its realm, is wild and uncontrollable. A track that can go from silent to screaming in a tenth of a second flat and still be convincing, with camera swoops and whirs that whisk through the soundstage, 'Gamer' is audio perfected, making the excesses of the film look restrained.
All of the extras from the DVD release find their way onto this high-def release, including:
It's hard to take any film featuring teabagging in the middle of a battle seriously, unless you're of the assortment who will teabag the corpses of victims in the middle of a first person shooter duel. It's also hard to hate on a film making fun of modern user names so, so crudely (no examples will get past the editorial process, trust me). 'Gamer' is certainly not a film for everyone, not your standard action fare. It attempts to be innovative and clever, but really feels like a bastard 'Death Race' remake, only without cars. In fact, that could have been the entire review for the film right there. While 'Gamer' disappointed me a bit, there was no disappointment with the video, stellar audio (the sound mix found within is an experience, audiophiles!), and the immersive supplement package that is much deeper than it appears. Action fans, I recommend you give this one a purchase or rent, and the same goes for all the readers with receivers capable of handling lossless audio. I can't beam about this track enough.