Representing more mid-'90s lunacy from the Sci-Fi Channel, Michael Pare stars in Carver's Gate, a post-apocalyptic tale of virtual reality gaming gone bad. Carver (Pare) is a 'dream cop' of some sort, wearing an old-fashioned body suit with poorly designed leather accessories. His beat is to (I think) make sure the few Earthly survivors don't get too hooked on the virtual reality game Afterlife, that the standard evil corporation seems to want them to get hooked on. Kind of like Big Tobacco, I suppose. Nevertheless, when the game's designer is mysteriously killed, and a revolutionary device called the Transcender (which enables people to go into the game for real, and not just in virtual fashion) goes missing, it's up to Carver to sort it all out.
Personally, I'm more than happy to let Carver tackle the job. Amazingly enough, one only has to see two Sci-Fi Channel movies to get the drill: convoluted, needlessly detailed plots, aggressively designed but extremely limited sets, a few limp action set-pieces, some goofy costumed monsters and one-take acting that ranges between TV sit-com and musical theater quality. That's not to say Carver's Gate is bad, just not worth going out of your way to watch it, unless you're a young twenty-something with a lot of nostalgia for your adolescent cable-watching years.
Carver's Gate is unique in beating more highbrow efforts like existenz to the punch; then again most of these movies are just riffing off of TRON anyway, so who's counting? Pare is adequate as Carver, providing much-needed soothing voice-over, and an otherwise serious, deadpan performance. He's vaguely romantic with lady characters both living and somewhat not-living (again, I think) and brings some low-level urgency to his action duties. Others fare not so well. There's the imperious corporate lady whose portrayal is phoned in, other somewhat disinterested types, a hottie destined for Baywatch perhaps, (and looks great in her jumpsuit) an angel/devil computer girl who's confused as to who is the master and who the creation, and then the game's creator, who in her Afterlife incarnation overacts so egregiously you want to suck your quarters back out of the machine to shut her up.
Lastly there is an unimpressive (in today's HD CGI world) miniature of the city that houses our survivors, a few creepy but cheap creature effects, and an obligatory, brief topless shot (to remind viewers of the time that they were paying to watch TV) and a whole lot of sci-fi-psycho-bibble-babble to keep you from remembering you're supposedly watching an actual movie. Carver's Gate might be the type of thing to actually keep you awake if you stumbled upon in during a fit of insomnia-inspired channel surfing, but is no great shakes for your rental - or heaven forbid, collector's - dollar.
Presented in its original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1, Carver's Gate highlights a nice but lunkheaded two-tone color scheme: washed out blue-grey for life in the city, and orange for life in the game. The colors are nice enough, whereas the transfer is just adequate. There are no overt compression artifacts that can't be fobbed off on the nature of some of the pixilated video game special effects used, but aside from crisp foregrounds the rest of the image is a little soft.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio serves a fairly standard bit of sound design that wasn't meant for much more than the odd pair of onboard speakers in your television set.
Extras are limited to the Original Trailer and a 19-frame collection of production stills in the Stills Gallery.
Only members of Generation Y who harbor deep-seated love for some old cheese from cable-days will get much of a kick from what is standard television sci-fi fare. While it might be neat to see where Cronenberg might have copped a few ideas for existenz, this virtual reality post-apocalyptic fandango is a bit long on chatter and short on drama, excitement and heart. The few creatures and shoot-outs might make for a fun late-night watch on the cheap, but for your 3 bucks you'll find better. Some fans might want to rent it, but most will be happy to Skip It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com