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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Backgammon
Backgammon
Vanguard // Unrated // June 29, 2004
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Daniel W. Kelly | posted August 6, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
How to describe Backgammon? Well, not the way it is described on the back of the DVD box, that's for sure. The description basically calls it a clever black comedy set in a futuristic world, and focusing on a group of misfits trying to deal with the daily 9 to 5 grind. That's one way to look at it, but it's actually more of a long, flashy MTV video meant to appeal to the ADHD set, and focuses on the near end of the world as people all over will beg, steal, borrow, or kill for the scarce necessity we call food.

The Story:
The main focus of this film, I would say, is on Maia (Wendy Braun) and her relationships with her sister, her geeky conservative boyfriend, and her freaky friends as the world quickly comes to an end. It's the future (don't know when, but why is it that in the future, everyone always seems to look like some spike-haired punk from the 80s?) and we learn from news clips on television that life as we know it is just about done, and there's basically no food supply to keep us nourished. We also see these constant clips of a very bizarre, apparently darkly comic TV show that reminds me of something right out of Natural Born Killers. Well, Maia and her friends decide to break all the rules to take down whoever has all the food, be it individuals that they will beat and kill in their hunger, or a major corporation that has a monopoly on the food. What follows is a very convoluted plot that I couldn't get interested enough in to follow. There were flashy odd clips of what was going on out in the streets of the chaotic world, including men in gas masks, anarchy, and clashes between people as they fought for the only food—a mysterious, unidentifiable food—left on the planet. And Maia and her friends become a group of renegades who eventually solve the mystery and find out just what that food is and the devious plot behind it. Along the way, Maia learns a lot about her sister, her boyfriend, and herself.

The point of the film seemed to be to make a social comment on consumerism, greed and corporate games, all within the parameters of a dark sci-fi comedy. When the film started, and Maia leads us to the apartment where she holes up with all her friends, they're each introduced like characters that you can guarantee are going to be slaughtered in a horror movie. But this isn't horror, although there are some gore elements, and what I think is an homage to living dead zombie flicks. But don't get your hopes up. There are no zombies. Just a real intention to make a wacky film. But honestly, I don't know how I was supposed to feel when I finished viewing this movie, because I felt mostly nothing. I didn't laugh. I didn't cry. I didn't scream. I just kind of…I don't know. All I know is, I was hoping for a quirky movie that would pleasantly surprise me. I got no pleasure or surprise.

Oh, and one last oddity about the film. It began with what seemed like bizarre, unrelated clips…but as you watch the movie, it turns out they're all clips from the film! It's almost like the movie opens with a trailer. I'm not sure what the purpose was, unless it was to intrigue you. I think it may have worked, and I think it intrigued me more than the finished product.

The DVD

Video:
Backgammon is presented in the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, and showed up as letterboxed on my widescreen television. Now, amongst all the choppy editing, the picture looked vibrant, colorful and clear during scenes that were in regular lighting, but in every other circumstance (and there were lots of them), there was graininess. I'm guessing that texture was used on purpose for affect. There was also constant inconsistency with color. Sometimes, faces were too pink, sometimes, too yellow, sometimes the whole picture had a bluish hue. Again, I think this was intentional also, but it was freaking out even my well-trained ADHD senses.

Sound:
The movie is presented in Dolby 5.2 surround, but most of the time, it seemed front heavy. I noticed little audio action going on either behind or around me. Also, a good deal of the soundtrack consisted of techno music (because, as we already established, the future looks like the 80s, but it SOUNDS like the 90s).

Extras:
Uh…none. The funky menu, showing someone playing on a backgammon board, has a window showing clips from the movie, and there's a really cheesy techno track playing that sounds like it was done on a home keyboard. 'Play movie' and 'chapter select' are the only options you have on this menu.

Final Thoughts:
Backgammon is meant to be a black comedy about a renegade group of young people set in a futuristic world. I walked away with the impression that it was trying really hard to be just that...maybe too hard. But it's one of those films that I have a feeling is going to strike just the right, limited audience as way cool—'like, I totally got this film, man.' Totally. Perhaps I'm just not way cool, or have just seen these types of way cool attempts much too often for them to impress me anymore.

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