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Review: 'Gamer'

I just went to see see 'Gamer' and - as one might with a dream - I want to write down my impressions in a vague attempt to form them into some sort of coherence before I think too hard and they disintegrate like a tissue in a washing machine. It's a film with many flaws; in fact, it would perhaps be more accurate to describe it as a collection of flaws tacked together into a film, as if someone - perhaps on a bet - had set out to make a cocktail of science fiction film mistakes. Let's begin with the plot.

In the near future, America avoids being bankrupted by their prison system by making convicts fight for their freedom in 'Slayers', a wildly popular blood sport. The slightly original (if nonsensical) twist is that each fighter is actually being controlled remotely by a player, using brain-replacing nanites. Of course, our protagonist is an innocent man set up by the main baddie who, for some reason, has decided to dispose of a risk to his entire scheme by making him fight to the death in an internationally-televised game show. The mind-controlling technology is also used in 'Society', which is like a cybersexier Second Life except your avatar's a real person whose body you're hiring. Oh, and there's a mysterious band of hackers called Humanz who oppose all this sort of mind-control malarkey by interrupting broadcasts with incoherent rants and crude animations.

Does this all sound vaguely familiar? It should. Slayers is basically Running Man (though having 'players' behind it all makes me think of Avalon), the grungy yet heroic rebel hackers are very Matrix, the Society costuming recalls Fifth Element, the more pretentious 'video art' bits reminded me of The Cell, and the protagonist seems to be stolen from the Death Race remake (though I only saw the trailer for that). I put it to you that any film that encourages unfavorable comparisons with that motley bunch is doing something wrong. I also counted at least two explicit Blade Runner references, which were a doubly poor choice as they broke immersion and did so by reminding me of a much better film.

It lurches between styles in a way that's all the more annoying for obviously being deliberate. The bits in the 'game' are all grimy and jerky, like watching someone else play Half Life 2 in an earthquake; the prison is a blazing white edifice of concrete and sand; Society is like a soft-fetish-porn Aqua video; and the real world is your standard-issue crowded metropolis with video screens everywhere and slightly cyberpunky fashions.

A better film might get away with condemning mindless violence while encouraging the audience to revel in it, but it just seems cheap here. No-one really has much of a character, so it's hard to feel for the hundreds of interchangeable figures that we see gunned down or blown up. The computer game aspect further robs the combat of significance. The bits where the protagonist is unexpectedly able to talk to his 'controller' could have been intriguing, but actually they just discussed winning strategies. I wonder if this 133t 17 year-old who's participating in the mayhem from a safe distance (physically and emotionally) is supposed to be an audience surrogate. Sure, he's a callous, self-absorbed prick obsessed with sex and violence who doesn't end up contributing much or learning anything, but that may well be their target demographic.

I get the impression that the film-makers fondly believe that they're making a point, but I'm not convinced. 'If everything that happened on-line and in games was really real, that would be bad'? True, but hardly insightful. 'Don't trust people who're trying to control your mind'? Well, duh. 'The masses just want sex and violence, and don't care about the consequences.' Ah, perhaps that's it. Very meta.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Sep. 22nd, 2009 12:21 am (UTC)
I woke up with an idea of pink champagne or kir royal for sister's wedding toast.
ext_197898
Sep. 22nd, 2009 09:17 am (UTC)
I am disappointed that you've not seen 'Death Race'/'Death Race 3000' to complete the set (the one with Jason Statham not the similarly-titled Tarantino film) which is Running Man with cars, Lovejoy, and a smattering of women. It doesn't take itself seriously, tries to make no point and is rather fun.

I think I'll pass on Gamer :-)

--
Angharadxxx
bluedevi
Sep. 22nd, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
For a few exhilarating seconds at the start of the Gamer trailer I thought they might have made a film that has hitherto only existed in my head, in which life on earth turns out to be an MMORPG for bored teenage hyperdimensional entities. Sadly no. The rest of the trailer looked... pretty much exactly as you describe.
oxfordhacker
Sep. 22nd, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I felt cheated that I'd generously suspended my disbelief to accept remote-control humans, but that concept ended up oddly peripheral. It made an adequate McGuffin, and provided an excuse for a couple of fairly nifty if unnecessary scenes, but (much like the protagonist's 'controller') it never made much difference. To use an appropriate analogy, this was a bog-standard shooter with a sometimes-successful gimmick, not a genuinely original game.
oxfordhacker
Sep. 22nd, 2009 07:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, and the idea that we're all just avatars sounds very Philip K Dick. I'm sure he's written a short story along those lines just waiting to be optioned...
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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