Over the years, gaming has become much more than just a way to idly pass the time. With entire virtual worlds dedicated to the pursuit of everything from treasure to love to virtual careers, video gaming has provided an alternate existence for tens of millions of players around the globe. Whether traipsing around the World of Warcraft, raising a family with The Sims, or starting a business in Second Life, gamers have found new and unprecedented levels of immersion in these games, with future titles promising even greater depth and realism. Gamer, the sci-fi/action mash-up from Crank auteurs, Neveldine and Taylor, offers a look at what could very well be the future of online gaming; one in which players control real live human beings.
Kable (Gerard Butler) is a death row inmate-turned-gaming superstar thanks to his unprecedented success in the online battle game, Slayers. Created by Ken Castle (Dexter’s Michael C. Hall), Slayers is a worldwide phenomenon in which condemned prisoners are outfitted with neural implants, transforming them into playable “I-Cons” for some of the world’s best gamers. The rewards for the gamers are fame, fortune, and sponsorships, while their I-cons fight for a chance at freedom. Kable is now closer than any icon has ever gotten to winning his freedom, and only wants to return to his wife, Angie (Amber Valletta) and their daughter, Delia (Brighid Fleming), but Castle isn’t going to make it easy for him, for it is Castle and the technology behind his hit game that put Kable on death row in the first place. Now, with the help of a radical underground group known as Humanz, as well as his elite gamer operator, Simon (Logan Lemon), Kable must escape the world of Slayers and take down Ken Castle before Castle can silence him forever.
Something of an amalgam of Death Race, Crank, and a William Gibson novel, Gamer is a fast-paced, funny, and exceptionally violent bit of sci-fi social satire that failed to find much of an audience upon its theatrical release. I think the main reason that the film performed so poorly is that it’s a difficult movie to categorize. On the one hand, Gamer is a bloody action spectacle, filled with the typical machismo and outlandish exploits one would expect from the genre, but, at the same time, the film is also a very smart and somewhat sophisticated science fiction story, replete with the threat of a future dystopia, tech-savvy radicals, and an evil genius bent on world domination. This already schizophrenic mix is further complicated by the twisted sensibilities of the film’s creators, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. It’s not enough that Neveldine and Taylor inject their patented blend of sex, violence, and absurdity into the proceedings (including a side-splitting riff on the more lascivious side of Second Life culture, as well as a fight sequence that’s equal parts dance number); the duo shoot Gamer with the same gonzo techniques used in their Crank films, with sped-up film, hyper-kinetic camera movements, and oddball angles that would make Jean Pierre Jeunet’s head spin. The end result is an action sci-fi mongrel dressed up with a candy colored aesthete so vibrant it’s like watching a live-action cartoon, and, for me, this thoroughly unhinged flick was a blast to behold. The problem, however, is that Gamer is too smart to appeal to fans of brainless action films, not smart enough to appeal to hardcore sci-fi nerds, and too weird to appeal to casual mainstream fans of either. That leaves an audience of people...well...like me! Sounds like the recipe for a cult favorite, in my book, and, much like the films that inspired it, I can see Gamer garnering just such an audience now that it’s come to home video.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray presentation of Gamer is superlative, with an absolutely pristine 1.85:1 1080p transfer that had me drooling from the get-go. The level of fine detail on display here is nothing short of amazing, with textures, surfaces, and materials presented in hyper-realistic fashion. The film’s vibrant color palette is a treat, with cool blues, warm reds, and deep, luxurious blacks that lend the image a true sense of depth and dimension. While Gamer isn’t the sort of big-budget FX extravaganza that I usually reach for as a “demo” disc, the quality of the image here is so solid I would recommend it as reference material without any hesitation.
Lionsgate offers up a pulverizing 7.1 Dolby DTS-HD mix to accompany the excellent video transfer, and it’s a doozy. This thing comes at you hard right out of the gate, with a cacophony of gunshots and explosions that work the entire soundfield, while your floorboards rumble with thick and juicy, gut-shaking bass response. Dialogue is crisp and up front, and is never swallowed up by the action or the film’s eclectic soundtrack (with songs by Marilyn Manson and Ween amongst others), no matter what volume you’re watching the film at.
Extras presented here continue the trend of pure awesomeness, starting with “Inside the Game”, a beefy feature-length making-of documentary that manages to be very funny (thanks to the enormously entertaining Neveldine and Taylor), informative, and comprehensive as hell. Interviews with all of the principal cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes snippets and footage make this a must watch for fans of both the film and its creators. There’s also a great visual commentary track called I-Con Mode” that presents Neveldine and Taylor in a manner similar to Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” commentary on the director’s cut of that film, where the directors control the movie and offer a much more “interactive” (at least on their part!) style commentary track. Fans of traditional audio-only commentary tracks also get one of those, with Neveldine, Taylor, and actors Amber Valetta, Terry Crews, and Alison Lohman, as well as a “specialized commentary” feature that brings up making-of videos and interviews at the push of a button!
Other bonus features include First Person Shooter: The Evolution of Red Featurette , which focuses on the camera system used to film the movie, as well as trailers for this and other Lionsgate releases. Oh, and did I mention that all of the extras are presented in High Definition? Now that’s how you do Blu-ray!
Gamer is an odd and exhilarating action sci-fi hybrid that’s made all the more appealing by its maverick filmmakers’ decidedly warped style and sly social commentary, and has cult classic written all over it. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray presentation is par excellence, with reference quality sights and sounds, and a collection of fantastic HD extras that will entertain viewers long after the credits roll.