What do you get the man who has everything?
In Nicholas Van Orton's case, you enroll him in a game. What kind of game, you ask? A game with no rules. A game where manipulation, intimidation, and maybe even murder are all considered fair play. A game that could very well kill him. Why would anyone do this, you might wonder to yourself. That's what Van Orton ponders as he runs a gauntlet of ever-increasing depth, complexity, and danger.
That's the premise of The Game, David Fincher's follow-up to his critically acclaimed masterpiece Seven. It stars Michael Douglas as Nicholas Van Orton, a massively successful investment banker. He's done so well for himself that he owns a building in San Francisco, and many companies. On his birthday, he gets a visit from his brother, Conrad (Sean Penn). Conrad hands Nicholas an invitation to a game, put on by a company called "CRS." Nicholas, partly to appease his brother and partly to appease a curiosity he won't acknowledge, signs up. At first, life seems to go on as normal. Then small things begin to intrude into Nicholas' life. These small things become bigger and bigger, until they overtake Nicholas and consume him.
David Fincher's career has been built on the reputation of two films: Seven and Fight Club. Most people ignore Alien 3, as most of that was out of his control, anyway, Panic Room was well received but lightweight, and Zodiac may end up becoming another staple, although it's too soon to tell. The Game seems to slip through the cracks. It's a very well made film, but it doesn't seem to register in the greater overview of his work.
And that's a shame, because The Game still holds up well today. Fincher's hand is easily seen in the film's construction and flawless pacing. When Nicholas comes into his house, only to find it vandalized and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" creeps its way onto the soundtrack, you can almost feel Fincher moving the pieces into place. He keeps the foreword momentum going, so the audience is as eager to unravel the mystery as Nicholas is.
And what a job for Michael Douglas. He's in every scene, and his character is always in the dark. Whenever Nicholas thinks he has a handle on the situation, CSR blindsides him. Again and again. Douglas performs a precarious balancing act, perched on a precipice with timidity on one side and overacting on the other. Douglas walks the razor's edge and carries the entire film. That's not to say he doesn't have help. Sean Penn doesn't have much screen time as Conrad, but he makes every minute count. And Deborah Kara Unger is uncharacteristically vibrant as the femme fatale.
There is a twist to The Game, and when you stop to think about it, it's pretty absurd. It's also highly implausible and makes some of the events in the movie feel too scripted or downright impossible. But really, none of that matters. The movie is so well made that even when you know the twist, you still get drawn into the world Fincher creates. And if that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.
The HD DVD:
Universal presents The Game in a 2.35:1 VC-1 transfer. In general, the transfer looks pretty good. There's some film grain, sure, but plenty of detail and good color reproduction. However, I did notice several scenes that exhibited some kind of shimmering. It didn't seem digital in origin, which leads me to believe it's from a degraded source. Still, it's there and it's noticeable. Also, for some inexplicable reason, the car chase scene as Nicholas tries to escape from the fake apartment looks awful. Everything is muddy and murky, and it honestly looked like standard definition. Luckily, it's only one scene.
Universal offers up a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track for The Game, and while it does its job as a surround mix, I have a feel it's just an older mix at a higher bitrate. That isn't to say it sounds bad, but the audio is beginning to show its age. It doesn't quite have the crispness that some other HD soundtracks do.
The dark and effective teaser trailer is presented, but not in HD. And that's it.
The Game has been a personal favorite of mine since its release and an unjustly underrated picture in David Fincher's filmography. Fincher's talents are on full display here, along with a truly gripping performance by Michael Douglas. This HD DVD is not perfect, with some video issues and almost no extras, so I do hope Universal revisits this title soon for a special edition. Still, the movie is so good that I can't in good conscience tell people to stay away. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.