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.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings 'Gamer' to 3D Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc with an UltraViolet Digital Copy and housed inside a blue, eco-vortex keepcase. After several skippable trailers, the screen switches to a 2D animated menu with music. When pressing "Play," viewers are given an option for their viewing preference.
On the surface, this is another needless and pointless 3D post-conversion on Blu-ray, but beyond that, 'Gamer' arrives with a MVC MPEG-4 encode (supposedly 1.78:1 but closer to about 1.70:1) that surprisingly satisfies better than most. Where the presentation largely succeeds is due to the not-so-surprising videogame feel of the cinematography. Depth is often astounding with terrific clarity of small objects in the far distance, creating a wonderfully layered effect where debris, bullets, and even a car move independently from their surroundings and each other. The rapid-fire editing can sometimes blur the image, but overall, background information penetrates deep into the screen when the camera sits still long enough. Although arguably an unnecessary conversion, the added third dimension is rather effective and somewhat immersive during the many action sequences.
The weaker spots in the presentation are mostly found outside the videogame experience, as the video generally feels flat and unspectacular. Granted, it has its moments, especially the interview scene between Kyra Sedgwick and Michael C. Hall, but it's not very consistent and sometimes seems like standard 2D. Thankfully, much of the picture is razor-sharp and highly-detailed. Dirt, grime and smudges on the faces of prison soldiers in the middle of a game are very distinct while the outside this universe, all manner of pores and negligible blemishes are apparent. Facial complexions appear natural for the most part with lifelike textures in close-ups. Likely due to the darken glasses, shadow delineation is a hit or miss, but black levels are richly inky and abundant.
The two videogame universes have their own unique aesthetics and palettes, while the real world shows colors and skin tones that are more accurate. The "Society" game exaggerates primaries to a lush, vibrant energy with a strange metallic, artificial feel, and "Slayers" is mostly drained of a color, creating a drab and miserable feel. Contrast levels also participate by intentionally running much hotter than normal with lots of noticeable blooming in the highlights in "Society" but looking pretty dull and downcast during "Slayers" gameplay. Still, whites are clean and brilliant, generating a unique visual effect that looks very good in 3D.
The best part of this release is without a doubt the high-octane DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Bombastic and grossly exaggerated, the design is precisely what we'd imagine it to be like inside a videogame. All manner of debris and chaos fills the room, with exceptional directionality and discrete clarity. While some random metal shard lands and pings to the right of the listener, some unidentified noise explodes on the left side, hurtling a pile of flesh to the other corner with a sloppy thump. Panning is remarkable with seamless movement between the channels, generating an exciting 360° soundfield that puts viewers in the middle of the action. Rear activity continues into the quieter moments with several amusing atmospherics, sounds of the city or the cheers of the crowd.
The front soundstage delivers a wildly expansive and engaging imaging with flawless channel separation and a splendid sense of spatial presence. Cars move across the screen and helicopters fly overhead from the back to the front with convincing, satisfying effect. Dynamic range exhibits a detailed richness and distinctness between the mids and highs, providing the lossless mix with superb clarity in the instrumentation and the grandiose action with equal measure and balance. The low-end is powerfully robust and often commanding, bringing some serious impact to crashes and explosions while also digging decently deep into the ultra-low frequencies in a couple places. Amid all this ridiculously lavish chaos and mayhem, dialogue remains precise and crystal-clear in the center.
Sporting a fairly obvious message about autonomy and individuality, 'Gamer' fails at subtlety and elegance as it envisions a disturbing future for social networking and multi-player videogames. It does, however, manage to be a bit entertaining and amusing while cranking things up in the chaos and mayhem departments. The Blu-ray arrives with a strong 3D video presentation and reference-quality lossless audio. Aside from the same documentary about the production, the bonus department is largely lacking. Still, the overall package is pleasing enough, and fans are sure to get the most out of their purchase.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.