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A game designer on the run from assassins must play her latest virtual reality creation with a marketing trainee to determine if the game has been damaged.
For more about eXistenZ and the eXistenZ Blu-ray release, see eXistenZ Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 12, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie
Director: David Cronenberg
» See full cast & crew
eXistenZ Blu-ray Review
When the game controls you.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 12, 2012
'eXistenZ' is not just a game. it's an entirely new game system.
Director David Cronenberg has carved himself quite the niche considering his mastery of the unusual and the macabre, his mixing of visual oddity and psychological analysis in the pursuit of examining humankind's ability to cope with physical damage and body alteration. Films like The Fly (advanced science) and Videodrome (television) may be the most mainstream and widely-seen of his most disturbing works of "Body Horror" as the sub-genre has come to be known, but in eXistenZ viewers will find a precise, creepy, and gruesome picture highly representative of Cronenberg's work. The film tells the tale of futuristic, interactive, altered reality games that biologically connect to their users, the picture examining the consequences of crossing the organic with the inorganic and studying in a broader sense man's ever-growing close association with and reliance on technology.
Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the celebrated designer of the best in cutting-edge, virtual reality, literally "plugged-in" biologically connected video games. She's debuting her latest attraction, eXistenZ, in front of an enthusiastic crowd that's eagerly awaiting its chance to try out the latest and greatest hybrid digital/organic masterpiece of entertainment. Disaster strikes when an assassin makes it past security, wounds Allegra, and murders one of her co-workers. She barely escapes with the help of a doorman named Ted Pikul (Jude Law), a man who is interested in breaking into the industry but who has yet to be fitted for a "bio port," the necessary spinal link for the digital-organic connection. The two go on the run. When Allegra's only copy of eXistenZ becomes damaged, she and Ted -- recent recipient of his own "bio-port" -- are forced to plug into the game and play, only to discover a world that they cannot readily differentiate from reality.
Many times films that decry or warn of the potential dangers of some aspect of modern life do so in the form of humorous satire. Cronenberg approaches eXistenZ differently, painting a disturbingly dire picture of a world both familiar and unfamiliar in which the organic and inorganic are in some cases mixed to the extreme but in which other facets of existence are left almost exactly as they are today. It's hybrid Horror and Science Fiction like has never really been seen before. The film effectively blurs the line between reality and make believe both in the game and outside of it; even through the final shot there's never quite an absolute sense of where and when the story is taking place or, more importantly, perhaps, why. The picture explores the possibilities not just of the future of the merging of the biological and technological, but the uncertainty that might very well come with it, the inability to discern truth from fiction, the real world from the make-believe, genuine thoughts and emotions and actions and reactions from those preprogrammed to happen in a simulated environment.
eXistenZ, released in 1999 when laptops were bulky, nobody had ever heard of an 'iPad,' motion gaming was a pipe dream, cameras weren't everywhere, and the news wasn't filled with stories of companies wanting to monitor your every move, mood, and word in the name of "advertising", was truly ahead of its time in warning about the mass integration and acceptance of technology as a controlling influence, an accepted part of life, and even an intrusive agent into privacy. But the question in eXistenZ isn't exactly about the dangers of inanimate objects, it's about the way intelligent people allow themselves to be controlled by them, to what extent technology is integrated into life and culture, and the debate over whether the end result or perceived benefits are worth the risk not necessarily to life and limb but to free thinking and free will rather than virtual enslavement to a device or a way of life. The radical advances in technology over the past dozen or so years hasn't yet reached a time when people are fitted with "bio ports," when game controllers look like gelatinous sex toys, or when firearms are made of bone and sinew, but the quantum leap in connectivity, communication, and technology -- never mind the unquenchable demand for it and every piece of new gear down the pipe -- certainly has the movie looking more and more prophetic as time moves by, remaining one of only a few warning voices in the wilderness and maybe one of only several that people will actually get to hear before it's too late.
On a more technical note, eXistenZ proves quite the success. Cronenberg's film is beautifully though simplistically photographed. It creates an uncertain world within an uncertain plot populated by uncertain characters. The film makes extensive use of the grotesque in making its point about technological absorption, and even if the raw human gore isn't excessive, the film remains one most certainly not for the squeamish. The cast doesn't always seem to have it figured out, but then again that sense of mystery is all part of the core story. Leads Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh maneuver through the eerie, the weird, the relatable, and the downright gross parts of the film well enough, and the performances reflect only the certainty of the uncertainty that hangs through the world. Indeed, viewers may note subtle changes in performances as the movie both openly and clandestinely transitions from one stage or idea to another, which demonstrates the exactness with which the actors pull of inexact characters. The film moves quickly and effortlessly pulls its audience into the confused world(s), the pacing supplemented by some action elements that compliment the drama but that don't get in the way of the message.
eXistenZ Blu-ray, Video Quality
Here's where things get a little shaky. eXistenZ was previously released on Blu-ray twice in the United States, both times by Echo Bridge and both times as part of a multi-film budget "set" that paired it with either two or five additional films. Both the "Fast Action" six-film collection and the "Miramax Triple Feature" three-film set crammed the movie onto the same disc with Malevolent and B. Monkey. In fact, the discs across both the six- and three-packs are completely identical, right down to the same UPC code appearing on the disc artwork. Now, eXistenZ is available separately as a standalone release. Those who don't want the other films or who rightly believe the quality would improve when it's not sharing a disc with two other films will be in for a surprise. While this standalone release does add a pair of lossless soundtracks over the Dolby Digital two-channel presentation of the multi-packs (more on that in audio) as well as a few supplements (again, see below), it features manipulated brightness levels that considerably alter the look and feel of the film. Both multi-disc releases present the film in a much darker, more faithful look while this standalone release, for whatever reason, appears abnormally bright. Included are twenty screenshots from the film's standalone release (1-20) and twenty corresponding shots from the six- and three-packs (21-40), the latter sourced from both of the multi-disc releases.
As for the remainder of the transfer, it's typically passable in Echo Bridge fashion but not particularly striking. The image begins with flickering contrast, wobbly titles, and speckles of dirt, all in the first few seconds. Later, and throughout, viewers will find a bit of banding, some compression problems, poor color transitions across shadowy skin, some trace edge enhancement, and black levels that go a bit pale. The image often takes on a fairly smooth, dreary appearance. Faces often look a bit pasty and ghastly, but the image does salvage some critical facial and clothing details throughout. Still, many background elements often look rather flat and uninspired; a fine example comes at the fueling station in which Willem Dafoe's character fits Jude Law's character with the gaming interface port. All in all, it's a rather disappointing transfer that might have been satisfactory on the whole were it not for the altered brightness levels which do change the entire film's tenor. It looks quite a bit better, though still imperfect, on the multi-disc releases. It's too bad that that transfer cannot be paired with this release's multichannel lossless soundtrack.
eXistenZ Blu-ray, Audio Quality
This particular Blu-ray release of eXistenZ contains both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossless soundtracks (note that the film as released in the "Fast Action" pack and the three-film pack receives only a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack). Echo Bridge's multichannel lossless track serves the movie in this budget-friendly home video well enough, though listeners will more than likely be just as often underwhelmed as they are satisfied. The opening title music proves rather underpowered and not particularly aggressive. Nevertheless, it enjoys a smooth, natural presence, nice clarity, and gentle surround support. Light applause heard near the beginning sounds a hair muddled and not particularly loud, but like the music it does offer fair spacing about the stage. Later, general ambience is handled satisfactorily, both of the manmade interior variety and light natural exterior sort. The end action scene yields a nice sensation of distant popping gunfire and a good burst of energy in nearby explosions. The film is largely centered around dialogue, however, and the spoken word plays clearly and accurately throughout. This isn't a reference-grade track by any stretch of the imagination, but it serves the movies well enough. Now if only it could be paired with the preferred video presentation...
eXistenZ Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
eXistenZ contains only a trio of interviews, the first with Actor Jude Law (SD, 14:39), the second with Actor Willem Dafoe (SD, 6:57), and the third with the film's Special Effects Supervisor, James Isaac (SD, 27:41).
eXistenZ Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
eXistenZ examines the intermixing of the technological and the biological and, while it doesn't outright answer all of the questions it poses, it certainly does open the forum for discussion on topics such as man's addiction to technology and the digital usurpation of the human consciousness and making it a literal, and not just a figurative, part of everyday life. eXistenZ is an emotionally deep movie wrapped up in the guise of oddity and the grotesque. It's a smart movie that doesn't always look it, but it does always feel it. Like the best movies of its kind, it's more relevant now than it was upon release, and credit Cronenberg for his forward-thinking vision on the subject. Echo Bridge's Blu-ray release of eXistenZ features disappointing video, serviceable audio, and a couple of extras. The film deserves a better release; the price is right, however, so dedicated fans and the curious can buy and start saving up for, hopefully, a superior edition somewhere on down the line. Assuming, of course, movie fans haven't been fitted with a bio-port and are instantly fed their entertainment by then.
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