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Set in the near future, a time when mind-control technology has taken society by storm. Humans control other humans in a mass-scale, multiplayer online game. Reclusive billionaire Ken Castle has created the controversial form of entertainment, "Slayers," a hugely popular game that allows millions to act out their innermost desires and fantasies -- online -- in front of a global audience. Gaming has evolved into a terrifying new dimension- mind control-manipulation-people playing people. At the center is Kable, the superstar and cult hero of "Slayers," the savage, ultra-violent first person shooter game. 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.
For more about Gamer and the Gamer Blu-ray release, see Gamer Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on January 11, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Writers: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Starring: Gerard Butler, Amber Valletta, Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, Aaron Yoo, Logan Lerman
» See full cast & crew
Gamer Blu-ray Review
High octane action can't save a jumbled story.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, January 11, 2010
I'm playing you.
It's timely but elicits a strong feeling of déjà vu. Gamer hearkens back to several pictures of the tried-and-true formula of pitting criminals against one another for sport and broadcast on television or, more recently, the Internet. Indeed, Gamer takes its cues from the likes of The Condemned, The Running Man, and Death Race, but with a twist. Gamer takes the world of video games -- and criminal punishment-as-entertainment -- to the next level, allowing gamers to control the life-and-death movement of the characters from the safety of their home computer systems. It's high concept and true to Science Fiction roots -- in theory -- and while the idea seems far-fetched, it also feels disturbingly plausible in some future timeframe. Gamer excels where it matters most in a film like this but falls apart when the bullets stop flying, and there's not enough of the well-done action to give the movie a pass considering its many additional flaws outside the gritty violence of video games-turned-flesh-and-blood.
Death row inmate Kable (Gerard Butler, Law Abiding Citizen) is a participant in the Slayers video game, a virtual-reality type of interactive entertainment that places heavily-armed condemned criminals in a war zone, but at the mercy of video game players around the world. Implanted with a chip that connects them to a vast network, the men are capable only of executing the commands given them by their respective players. Should they survive 30 rounds of hellish warfare, they're free to go, all under the auspices of the U.S. government but controlled by media mogul Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall, "Dexter") whose previous virtual reality game, Society, is still going strong around the world as users control real humans in a highly stylized and colorful environment to do with them as they wish, which usually involves delusional fetishes and otherwise unscrupulous activities. Controlling Kable is Simon (Logan Lerman), a 17-year-old boy who suddenly finds himself in the midst of a worldwide media blitz as his character is but several matches away from earning his freedom, the first to ever come so close. As Kable fights his way through a labyrinth of steel, concrete, and bloodied corpses, an underground movement known as "Humanz" attempt to stop Castle and his virtual realities by exposing his true motives and future plans for the dangerous technology that's already made him one of the most powerful men in the world.
Gamer has all the pieces in place to be a noteworthy Science Fiction film. Like the best of the genre, it takes contemporary issues and fleshes them out in such a way and within a recognizable but nevertheless futuristic environment where there is an attempt to criticize the current state of affairs by demonstrating the follies of its potential further development. Indeed, Gamer recognizes the current love affair with reality television and highly-developed and all-consuming interactive worlds of games like The Sims, Second Life, and World of Warcraft where humans take control of digital representations of characters and not only use them as a means of brief escape from either the doldrums or difficulties of life, but rather become completely immersed in a fictional world that has no relevance, no bearing, and virtually no redeeming value in the real world. Where lesser-evolved video games of the 1980s and 1990s provided a means of novel entertainment that was best enjoyed in small-to-moderate doses thanks in large part to simple stories, two-dimmensional worlds, and repetitive gameplay, technology has evolved to where players can live out a full and productive virtual life as they control an avatar that, at the end of the day, is but a series of "1s" and "0s" inside a central processing unit and -- sometimes -- to the physical, mental, and emotional detriment of the real-world player.
Unfortunately, Gamer fails to truly capitalize on an interesting and timely story. The film puts most of its eggs in the Action basket, and Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have here proven themselves highly-capable helmsmen when it comes to bringing a highly-charaged and bullet-ridden world to life. Gamer, then, feels more like a superficial film where the remainder of the story is but mere filler to satisfy the requirements of a basic structure and a context around which to build the action sequences. Ideally, Gamer would entwine both its action and deeper, more philosophical and sociological messages equally, but the more relevant material is handled in a confused tone that leaves the admittedly splendidly-realized action scenes out to dry. One of the primary issues comes from the jumbled way the thematic elements are handled; Gamer maintains an air of predictability as the story takes shape. There's never any suspense and, ultimately, little meaning behind the various revelations and other plot developments throughout. As alluded to earlier, the film's more crucial dramatic elements seem more a necessary course to accompany the meat-and-potatoes of the film, the action sequences. Gamer is first and foremost a missed opportunity at deeper social commentary; the film seems more eager to poke fun at the people that play the games and at the same time tack on a trite and predictable ending that does nothing for the film other than get it over with.
Still, the run-and-gun segments are quite fun and nicely done. Gamer is plenty loud and exciting, and frankly, the film would have worked better as a straight 90-minute shooting gallery rather than attempting to intermix a hint of a deeper story that, done correctly, could have proved quite insightful and even purposeful in an era that's quickly becoming defined by its entertainment. Visually, Gamer is quite impressive within the contexts the film sets forth. The world of Slayers is wonderfully -- if not simply -- realized; the sets look fantastic, with rough debris, blood-soaked everything, and body parts strewn asunder where the action features a dim, lifeless color palette that seems only accentuated by splattered blood. Likewise, Society appears exactly as one might expect, with incredibly bright primary colors and a highly-stylized if not mostly fantastical world of skin, drugs, leather, wigs, and any number of other escapist ideals that dot the game's landscape. Unfortunately, it's Society's world that truly bogs the film down; for even as violent and unforgiving as the world of Slayers may be, Society is just too much, even if the juxtaposition in visuals but not necessarily in themes of self-inflicted prison and detachment from real life is meant to heighten the film's attempt at engendering a timely commentary of some sort. Lastly, the acting is terribly average, though there's no one major part that stands out as being particularly devoid of life. Butler gives it a rather strong effort at taking things seriously, but everyone else plays it a bit over-the-top, appropriate given the overall tone and pace the picture employs.
Gamer Blu-ray, Video Quality
Gamer enters the Blu-ray realm with a strongly realized 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer. Shot on the RedOne digital camera, the image boasts incredibly vibrant colors -- notably during the Society segments -- that contrast nicely with the equally strong dark, bleak, and murky world of Slayers. The film's excess of colors seem artificially bright, but by design and of no fault of the transfer. Perhaps no other disc can match the sheer onslaught of color as seen in the Society scenes, particularly considering the accuracy with which each shade is reproduced. The image is impeccably clean, and fine detail is rendered at an incredibly high level of excellence. Whether pores, lines, hair, sweat, or blood on close-up shots of human faces or the rough texturing of pavement or concrete barriers that serve as cover during one of the levels of Slayers, there's no shortage of exemplary detail and texturing to be found in practically every frame. Black levels, too, are excellent, most every darker scene featuring an impeccably dark but not overbearing shade that never veers towards an unnatural gray or otherwise excessively bright appearance. Additionally, flesh tones appear accurately rendered throughout. The only downside is several shots that go a bit too soft and very infrequent but nevertheless noticeable banding. All told, however, Gamer looks fantastic on Blu-ray.
Gamer Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Gamer gears up on Blu-ray with an explosive DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless soundtrack. With the first action scene forward, there's no letting up with this one; intense, engaging, active, and loud, Gamer's soundtrack scrambles the brain and pushes even the best of sound systems to their limits with a barrage of sonic action extravaganza that's of reference quality with every gunshot and explosion. This isn't a disc with a lacking surround presentation; there's almost always something going on in the back channels, and none of it is superfluous or inserted merely for the sake of ensuring the listener hears something from the rear. The back channels make extensive use of action and atmospheric effects, each one naturally placed and appropriately aggressive, ensuring a full 360-degree sonic bonanza that's sure to make plenty of other action-oriented soundtracks jealous. Gunfire crackles around the listening area with pinpoint precision, whether the full-auto bursts of automatic weapons or ear-piercing round-by-round report of an FN Five-seveN pistol. Explosions come complete with a thunderous boom, and the film's hard rock beats are reproduced with an aggressive posture but infinitely clear presentation. Likewise, more subtle but still pronounced ambient effects round out an excellent mix, whether the rattling of a subway car rumbling down tracks or a dance club with plenty of atmospheric chatter and music to effectively recreate the lively locale. Also featuring faultless dialogue reproduction, Gamer offers a must-hear soundtrack on Blu-ray.
Gamer Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Gamer logs onto Blu-ray with several impressive extras. First up is a commentary track with Writers/Directors Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine and Actors Amber Valletta, Alison Lohman, and Terry Crews. The track is rather haphazard, offering information that's at times relevant but not very well structured. The directors dominate the proceedings, which are incredibly laid back and, frankly, a bit tedious. This one is strictly for fans only. Also included is iCon Mode, a visual and interactive commentary track with directors Neveldine and Taylor as they take control of the film to offer more precise and in-depth commentary. Similar to Warner Brothers' maximum movie mode, the piece allows the directors not only to pause and rewind the film, but to stop it entirely in favor of relevant behind-the-scenes footage. This proves the far superior commentary track, both from a purely visual and entertainment perspective but also in terms of the quality of the technical material discussed. Considering all the pauses, rewinds, and behind-the-scenes footage, this iCon Mode runs 132 minutes in length, more than 30 minutes longer than the film itself. Also included is Cheat Codes, an extra that offers select picture-in-picture commentary from various members of the crew, each available from a selectable list of participants when a special icon appears on-screen during film playback.
Inside the Game: Controlling 'Gamer' (1080p, 1:19:42) is a three-part documentary chronicling the making of the film. This is an honest, informative, and worthwhile piece that begins in part one with the crew speaking on the themes of the film and moves on to look at the importance of making an accessible movie, production design, the challenges of the material, the importance of respecting the directors' vision, the role of the budget in relation to the finished product, and the work of the actors and their thoughts on the material. Part two examines the technical know-how behind the making of the film, assembled with in-depth discussions and interview clips with various crew members that speak on everything from the use of color in the film to the rejected idea of releasing the film in 3D. Part three focuses on the world of post-production, including editing together action scenes that are reflective of a first-person-shooter video game, the choice in aspect ratio, creating special effects on a budget, the film's score, and more. Regardless of one's thoughts on the film itself, there's no denying the hard work that went into it and the fascinating world of filmmaking as so strongly realized in this excellent piece. Next up is First Person Shooter: The Evolution of Red (1080p, 16:45), a close look at the digital RedOne camera utilized in the making of the film. Also included is the Gamer theatrical trailer (1080p, 2:33); an "unseen" Gamer trailer (1080p, 2:43); D-Box, BD Touch, and LG Live functionality; and 1080p trailers for Saw VI, Crank 2: High Voltage, and Planet Hulk. Disc two of this set contains a digital copy of Gamer. Replayed on a second-generation iPod Touch, this digital copy offers a strong sound presentation across the two headphone channels, with decent directional effects, fine clarity, aggressive volume, clear dialogue, and a fair low end. The video quality is as-expected, featuring quite a bit of blocking -- particularly in blacks -- but decent color reproduction and a fair level of fine detail.
Gamer Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Gamer features a solid idea that's nullified by flawed execution. The film's action visuals are most impressive, but the opportunity for a deeper story is lost underneath the avalanche of spent shell casings, a thin plot, mediocre character development, and predictable story arcs. The film never ventures into the deeper realms where the material may have proven relevant in true Science Fiction fashion, but Gamer feels more like a shell of a movie that has the action elements down pat but has otherwise been haphazardly assembled without giving much thought to the possibility for more eloquent, timely, and purposeful commentary on the rapid evolution of the role and function of leisure technology in everyday life. Lionsgate's Blu-ray release, however, is of top-notch quality. The disc sports an exceptional 1080p transfer, a reference-grade lossless soundtrack, and a quality assortment of well-implemented and, save for the audio-only commentary, exciting extras. Gamer is worth a rental for casual viewers, and fans can rest assured that a purchase will net a disc of technical superiority.
Gamer: Other Editions
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