Being written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor it was fair to assume that Gamer would contain much of the same elements as their earlier work on Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage; a fast paced but fairly thinly veiled storyline with a good chunk of outrageous but exciting action, in a hyped up world where nothing is taken all that seriously; but all of those assumptions would be wrong.
Set in a not too distant future (described simply as ‘Some years from this exact moment’) where mind controlling technology has bred multiple interactive games and is more than just the ‘in-thing,’ being easily the public’s number one pastime, Gamer is the story of a man known to the public as ‘Kable’ (Gerard Butler, 300); the most popular contestant in the latest mind controlling video-game known as ‘Slayers’.
Slayers (like all mind controlling technology) was created by billionaire mogul Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall, Dexter), with the basic premise being that death row inmates volunteer for the program and are then assigned to players, who can control their every move and attempt to get their ‘character’ successfully through 30 staged battles (which are watched by millions of avid fans) alive, and if they reach that goal the prisoners will be set free.
When we pick up the story, Kable and his player Simon (Logan Lerman, The Butterfly Effect) have survived 27 battles and have only three more to go. This being the closest that anyone has ever gotten to freedom, Kable has become something of a cult icon and even garnished Simon with a degree of celebrity, however the games creator doesn’t want him to be released and attempts to throw all sorts of spanners (or giant unhinged black psychopaths) into the works, making the basic premise of the story a will he/won’t he escape and get back to his wife and daughter.
The idea is a sound one in principle but the problem is, nobody cares; Gamer has been made in such a way that it appears to take itself too seriously, has next to no character development and somehow manages to make mind-controlled death-row prisoners fighting, in giant explosion ridden battles to the death, boring.
It’s obvious from the beginning that Kable is a good man and shouldn’t be where he is (the main character in these sorts of films has always been framed), but that isn’t properly explained until about ¾ of the way through the film, with the ‘shocking’ revelation that comes with the explanation being all but a foregone conclusion by that point, as is just about every other stupidly predictable little plot meander.
The acting is also sub-par as Gerard Butler’s Kable is fairly dull and lifeless (partially, but not totally, attributable to a poor script), with no real emotion and definitely none of the talent that he has exhibited before. Ludacris (as the rebel leader of a group known as the Humanz, who actively oppose Castle’s games) is passable, but a purely stereotypical character played in an unoriginal manner, bringing nothing new to the table and easily annoying many viewers.
However, there is one spot of real talent in the movie, a true saving grace, which comes from Dexter’s Michael C. Hall as Ken Castle. His character, like all the others in the film, isn’t written especially well but Michael C. Hall still manages to imbue him with a darkly comedic and psychopathic edge that is ultimately endearing as his weird and sinister nature makes him very fun and therefore believable as a billionaire-celebrity that makes rather creepy and deadly games.
In fact Michael C. Hall is the single best thing about Gamer because even the action scenes are dull and not the least bit engaging or exciting despite all the explosions, guns, and guts, there is just nothing worthwhile enough to hold your attention.
The filmmakers also try and make moral statements about the possibility of mind control, involving exploitation, domination and submission, which could be quite profound if they were handled in a less gratuitous manner and less like scenes from the pair’s previous Crank movies; over the top, laden with overly bright colours and imagery that is intended to shock and do little else.
All in all Gamer is a total failure of a film; sure the action looks good and the cast isn’t bad, but this movie actually managed to take a brilliant concept, and one that has been essentially been done before (see The Running Man for an example of how this film should have been made), and make it completely tedious.
However there is one reason why this film is worth a watch (or at least a scene skip towards the end), for the finale, or more specifically a short dance sequence in which Michael C. Hall dances and sings to (the perfectly chosen) ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ by Sammy Davis Jnr. Whilst controlling a troupe of prisoners and having half of them dance, while the other half attack Gerard Butler. A scene that sounds awful in principle, but is choreographed and pulled so well that it actually becomes the best scene in the entire movie.
Presented in its natural aspect ratio, via a 1080p transfer, Gamer looks exactly how it was intended to look; with its three worlds of ‘reality,’ ‘Slayers,’ and ‘Society’ (Castle’s other mind controlling game), all providing starkly different viewing experiences from one another.
The real world is fairly honest, containing the most natural colours of the film and readily presenting obese and disturbed characters. Society contains an immensely vibrant colour palette which is artificially brightened beyond belief (although that is an artistic choice and not a problem with the transfer), and Slayers is the darkest world of all, consisting of mainly shades of black with hints of warm looking, well contrasting, reds, as limbs and blood fly across the screen.
However all of the worlds contain a level of fine detail that is almost unmatched by any other Blu-ray to date, as every facial pore, tiny hair, and grain of dirt, pop out of the screen thanks to this fantastic transfer.
Skin tones aren’t always natural looking (due to added filters), but are appropriate for the film and are a believable fit within each world, and black levels and delineation remain superb throughout, although there are some problems with the transfer; including some occasional banding that whilst infrequent is still clearly visible, and there are also several shots (even during action scenes) that look fairly dull and flat.
Overall, despite a few small problems, Gamer has been given a brilliant transfer which is very clean, and has a, level of clarity that has to be seen to be believed.
The 5.1 DTS HD MA soundmix included on the Gamer disc is near flawless; every speaker is regularly engaged with naturally placed, pin-drop clear, authentic sounds that will surely impress. Bass levels are solid, and provide some good rumbles and real power to the films many explosions, and directionality, as well as dialogue levels, are perfect as even with the large number of aggressive sounds during the action scenes, dialogue is never muffled and always easy to hear.
The films three worlds do bring with them distinctly different sounds, with the real world being noticeably quieter than the world of Slayers, but throughout the entirety of its runtime Gamer’s soundtrack is fantastic and intense, with such accurate placing, strong directionality, powerful bass, and all over engaging sounds being likely to not only please audiophiles, but test their sound systems to the limit. A real reference quality track.
Gamer comes bundled with a variety of extras, the first of which being the obligatory audio commentary which is actually pretty boring, and only for real fans of the film. There is also the option of choosing optional commentaries for certain scenes whilst watching the movie (a feature called ‘Cheat Codes’), which contains a huge amount of detailed as so many perspectives are available, but will again be lost on most viewers who would find listening to them all rather tedious.
There is also a similar feature (known as ‘iCon Mode’) which is more visual, and actually rewinds and highlights certain sections in order to explain things in greater detail, where the directors talk about how certain scenes were made, and even go on to point out errors in the film and failed effects shots; running 38 minutes longer than the main movie it’s a lengthy feature but one that is both fun and interesting.
Finally, a collection of shorts forming a lengthy (79 minutes in total) making of featurette, called ‘Inside the Game: Controlling Gamer’, which covers all aspects of the filmmaking process; from the directors past work to gun creation, stuntwork, scoring the film and even budget constraints; which actually endows the crew with a degree of respect, and makes it seem a real shame that the finished film was so awful, after it’s clear that the team put such a lot of effort into making it.
An interesting collection of extras, with most of them being well worth watching for real fans of the film as they are easy enough to watch/listen to, however they won’t really appeal to casual viewers, and as the film is terrible to begin with, is anyone really going to bother watching the extras?
The Bottom Line:
The Blu-ray edition of Gamer is wonderful in so many respects; it has an amazing looking picture, sound that is practically without fault, and extras that provide a superb level of detail about the filmmaking process and are easy to watch and not simply a collection of mindless filler.
However, the disc does have one glaringly obvious fault; the movie itself; Gamer is a shining example of how to take an utterly brilliant and intriguing concept and run it into the ground; it’s hard to think of another film which moves so fast yet feels so slow, and has such a lot of action but still feels dull and boring at the same time, it’s a film which will only appeal to 12 year old boys, and the majority of them will probably say how daft and un-engaging it is.
All in all it’s a film that should by rights pass everyone by, because Arnie did the job so much better in The Running Man and watching Gamer would be a waste of everyone’s time when it’d be so easy to revisit The Running Man on DVD. Sure the disc is great, but who cares when the film is so bad? A film that isn’t really worth buying, and is only worth seeing for the excellent dance number performed by Michael C. Hall.