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“Movies. Now more than ever!” That’s the motto of the movie studio where fast-tracking exec Griffin Bell works. But rumor has it a power play could push Bell out. And a rejected writer who’s sending anonymous death threats could push him under.
For more about The Player and the The Player Blu-ray release, see the The Player Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on September 7, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Vincent D'Onofrio
Director: Robert Altman
» See full cast & crew
The Player Blu-ray Review
Altman's 1992 return to the studio fray earns a lackluster 2010 Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, September 7, 2010
Long before there was Entourage, there was The Player, award-winning filmmaker Robert Altman's sure-footed satire of two very different Hollywoods: one bolstered by innovation, creativity and artistic integrity, and another driven by cutthroats and fueled by the Almighty Dollar. It's a disarming stab at Tinseltown and its power players that, even after eighteen years and countless peeks behind the industry curtain, sports a sharp overbite. Ironic then, isn't it, that Warner Brothers, a studio that left a notoriously foul taste in Altman's mouth in the '70s and '80s, is now responsible for distributing his pointed critique of the studio system. Chalk it up to trickle-down rights ownership -- Fine Line Features to New Line Cinema to Warner Brothers -- or the changing of the Hollywood guard over the last two decades. Regardless of the cause, it's nice to know artistic integrity, no matter its target, still trumps the Almighty Dollar every now and then.
Built on the back of a savvy, modestly Hitchcockian Michael Tolkin screenplay (itself adapted from the author's own 1988 novel of the same name), The Player tells the tale of Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), a smarmy, second-rung producer tasked with hearing thousands of story pitches a year, and anointing the lucky scripts deemed worthy of his studio's attention. However, his cushy seat of power over others isn't as secure as he once thought. When an eager upstart named Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) is put on the studio fast-track, rumors swirl that Mill may soon find himself unemployed. Making matters worse are the daily death threats that arrive at Mill's office, all sent from a scorned screenwriter who carefully conceals his identity. As the pressure and paranoia mounts, Griffin tracks down the man he believes is sending the threats and, in the heat of an ensuing scuffle, murders his would-be stalker. But when the threats continue, Mill realizes he killed an innocent man and begins scrambling. With his career in jeopardy, the panicky producer falls for his victim's girlfriend (Greta Scacchi), races to stay one step ahead of the detectives assigned to the case (Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett), and attempts to deliver a potential box office hit to his studio bosses.
The late Robert Altman was fluent in two languages: English and Film. Opening with an eight-minute tracking shot, assembling more than sixty A-list cameos, and upping the referential ante with every passing scene, Altman doesn't settle for standard satire, but rather blurs the long-standing line between reality and fantasy; Warner's Hollywood and Mill's Hollywood. The Player not only bristles with voyeuristic energy, it wheels and deals in industry nods and jabs, and employs faux-guerrilla filmmaking and single-camera coverage to great effect. The fact that Mill's life stands in stark contrast -- slowly devolving into a thinly veiled, star-studded gumbo -- is half of the film's charm and, under Altman's capable command, evolves into a clever deconstruction of the relationship between fiction and non-fiction. If John Cusack, Jeff Goldblum, Cher, Burt Reynolds or Lily Tomlin's wait-isn't-that? appearances distract you, good. That's the point. If Mill and his colleagues' rapidfire studio speak sounds hollow and trite, congratulations. Altman has succeeded. The Player heralds the rise of Access Hollywood and a nation of self-entitled tabloid junkies, and comments on society's fascination with fame as often as it does Hollywood's obsession with exploiting it. All the while, Altman's passion for The Movies permeates the entire production, allowing The Player to emerge as a multi-layered satire and an open love letter to film. Mill's tale stands as a gimmick-laced gateway to something more: a complex reference wrapped in a third-act twist tucked within an all-knowing wink of the director's eye.
Still, The Player is relatively tame by today's standards, and Mill wouldn't last three seconds in Ari Gold's neck of Hollywood. At its best when dissecting greed, selfishness and the more universal sins that drag good men to Hell, Altman's film is cursed with a sun-bleached '90s timestamp. Scenes that stung eighteen years ago now dole out little more than an amusing slap; one that lacks any serious 21st century punch. (I'd argue that the film's fading relevance gives birth to an inherent commentary on Hollywood's swim-or-die mentality all its own, but visionary that he was, I doubt even Altman could have planted such complex seed.) Even Robbins and his castmates performances, solid and believable as they are, smack of '90s pomp and circumstance, dating the film a bit further. Does age render The Player useless? Hardly. It's knees may be giving out, but it still has some fire in its gut. Between Altman's naturalistic dialogue, Tolkien's intelligent screenplay and the film's lingering relevance, there's a lot to love. Will it survive another eighteen years? Time will tell, I suppose, but I have a feeling it will only grow weaker. In 1992, part of The Player's allure was that it stripped away decades of Movie Magic and dug its claws into the industry itself. In 2010, things are quite different. An all-seeing internet has made it next to impossible for studios to hide their darker sides, meaning Altman's film loses a bit of its luster.
The Player Blu-ray, Video Quality
While it showcases every one of the film's eighteen years, the Blu-ray edition of The Player eek by, if for no other reason than its plucked-from-the-vine 1080p/VC-1 transfer delivers a fairly faithful presentation. Jean Lépine's evocative photography is soft and diffuse, hazy even at times. His sun-bleached exteriors, drably lit interiors and smoky LA nights allow Altman's film to appear, at least initially, decidedly un-Hollywood, and Warner's encode reflects his intentions. Primaries don't exactly pop, shadows are staunch and unforgiving, and fleshtones trail behind accordingly, but I didn't expect anything more. Likewise, detail is frequently chained to Lépine and Altman's vision, and fine texture clarity and edge definition follow suit. That's not to say everything is as it should be though. Minted from an older master, The Player struggles with a variety of issues including unsightly crush, mediocre delineation, minor ringing, telecine wobble, spiking noise, and a small smattering of waxy closeups. Print blemishes are present throughout as well, and eagle-eyed videophiles will even notice brief bursts of artifacting. No one thing spoils the experience entirely, but it all adds up to a somewhat unremarkable catalog presentation.
The Player Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Player's unreliable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is more difficult to enjoy, even though many of its problems trace back to Altman's style. Thin, flat and front-heavy, the whole of the mix is rather two-dimensional, despite the fact that Thomas Newman's score and several late-game elements make good use of the rear speakers. Dialogue, a crucial aspect of any Altman film, is all over the place, ranging from crisp-and-clear to hollow-and-tinny to shallow-and-swampy, sometimes within the span of a single sequence. Hiss, air noise and environmental ambience take their toll as well (albeit more by intention than anything else). Worse, LFE output is often either weak and anemic or dull and cumbersome; the soundfield seems chained to the center speaker; and separation and directionality are merely adequate. Nothing about the track suggests it's received a proper overhaul, and its lone selling point is that it represents a marked improvement over the 1997 DVD's murky mix.
The Player Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Player slithers onto Blu-ray with a decent lineup of special features, all ported from the 1997 Platinum Series DVD release. First and foremost is a densely packed "Audio Commentary" courtesy of director Robert Altman and co-producer/writer Michael Tolkien. The pair succinctly discuss every shot, scene, cameo and performance, delving into the realities of Hollywood, the various tricks of the trade, Tolkien's original novel, the development of his screenplay, casting, Altman's approach to the material and much, much more. Their commentary is effortless, and yet terribly satisfying. The disc's supplemental package also includes a rather dated EPK -- the aptly named "One on One with Robert Altman" (SD, 17 minutes) -- five unfinished "Deleted Scenes" (SD, 14 minutes) and the film's fantastic "Theatrical Trailer" (SD, 2 minutes).
The Player Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Player may not be aging as gracefully as its stars, but it still pairs a shrewd industry satire with a tantalizing mystery. Unfortunately, its Blu-ray release wouldn't make it past Griffin Mill's secretary. Its video transfer elicits a shoulder-shrug, its DTS-HD Master Audio track disappoints, and its supplemental package, while appreciated, doesn't offer anything new. Its AV presentation trounces its dated DVD counterpart though, so whip out those wallets accordingly.
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The Player Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Player Announced on Blu-ray - May 12, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced the New Line title The Player for release on Blu-ray on September 7. In this acclaimed, cameo-filled 1992 thriller/satire, starring Tim Robbins, the late Robert Altman takes a tongue-in-cheek look at Hollywood and studio executi ...
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