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Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, known professionally as Neveldine/Taylor, have a number of frenetic actioners on their collective resume, including Crank and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but none is as flash-edited crazy as Gamer. Gerard Butler headlines as John "Keble" Tillman, a convict turned avatar in deadly game "Slayers" that offers the condemned the chance to escape their fate by giving control of their bodies to professional gamers. As Kable nears his final battle and freedom, he meets resistance from game creator Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), whose technology empire has surpassed that of Bill Gates. Gamer is nearly nonstop action, and character development and an involving narrative are nowhere to be found. There's some entertainment to be had in Butler's bloody combat, and the film's futuristic setting feels like a parody of A Clockwork Orange. This incessant assault on the senses does become tiresome by its protracted conclusion, which includes a choreographed dance with Castle and his henchmen, and Gamer is more exhausting than entertaining.
The year of Gamer's setting is never specified, but America has become expectedly corporate, full of ad-wrapped buildings and text-scroll banners. Castle's empire exploded after he launched "Society," a creepy real-life avatar game accomplished by implanting self-replicating nanites into the human brain so the body's motor functions can be controlled remotely. Some years later, Castle created Slayers, and Kable has become a crowd favorite after surviving 27 matches on his way to freedom after his 30th victory. Kable's puppet master is seventeen-year-old Simon (Logan Lerman), a wildly rich and over stimulated little asshole thanks to his Slayers success. When an anti-Castle activist group known as "Humanz" discovers Castle is using the nanite technology to control people without their consent, leader Brother (rapper Ludacris) modifies Kable's connection to allow direct, outlawed communication with Simon in hopes of saving Kable from certain death.
To say Gamer is light on story would be a gross understatement. Character development is also nonexistent, and we only know that Kable wants to earn his freedom so he can reunite with his wife (Amber Valletta) and young daughter (Brighid Fleming). Gamer halfhazardly creates a consumerist culture where Americans blindly suck down Castle's milk shake. Since most of the budget is spent on battle effects, Gamer consistently reuses the same Society common place set, where topless women make out and a priest runs from a moped while carrying balloons. If the film is trying to provide some intelligent commentary on technology overdependence, it's lost amid the gross excess and millisecond scene edits. Gamer has a few decent action scenes, but the whole thing grows irritating long before the credits role at 85 minutes. The hyperactive editing and complete lack of perspective from any of the other gamers makes it hard to care about Kable, much less any of the other characters.
There's an interesting abet overplayed concept underlying the film's bombast. Had Neveldine/Taylor slowed things down a bit and given Kable a bit more fight, Gamer might have been more interesting. Butler displays little life in his leading role - and the barebones script does him no favors - and Hall plays Castle with over-the-top smugness and a goofy grin fit for a used car dealer. Also on board is Kyra Sedgwick as a smutty talk show host, and Valletta is mostly tasked with wearing ridiculously skimpy outfits while working as a Society avatar. Gamer is making its Blu-ray 3D debut here, and is the first of several Lionsgate titles receiving the post-production 3D conversion treatment. I'll discuss the technical merits of that conversion below, but Gamer actually works pretty well as a 3D experience. It's harder to tune out the visual assault in three dimensions, and the added depth gives the production a bit more life. Nevertheless, unless you're already a fan of Gamer, there's really no need to buy it on Blu-ray in any dimension.
The 1.73:1/1080p/MVC-encoded 3D transfer for Gamer is a mixed bag, but is certainly not terrible for a film shot without 3D in mind. It appears Lionsgate put in the effort to do a thorough 3D conversion, and the results are much better than what I saw on Fox's recent I, Robot 3D Blu-ray. The 3D transfer offers some nice depth and separation between foreground and background, which is particularly pleasing in shots of the city and daylight battles. There's certainly some 3D "pop" to be found even if things don't come flying out of the screen at the viewer (This restraint is actually a good thing!). Detail is excellent thanks to the Red One-shot digital source, and skin tones and colors are spot-on. The 3D suffers, however, because of Neveldine/Taylor's ridiculously quick edits. Even in two dimensions their style tends to create motion blur, which is more noticeable in 3D, and it robs the image of depth and clarity, particularly in nighttime scenes. I only noticed a couple of 3D conversion hiccups. Sedgwick's hair seems to float away during a quick shot as her character hosts a talk show, and there are a few instances of ghosting and shimmer. Does this 3D presentation radically alter the experience? No, but it's not terrible either. If studios are going to start converting older films to 3D they could do worse than emulate Lionsgate. The disc also includes a 1.73:1/1080p/AVC-encoded 2D transfer that is quite impressive in detail, clarity and sharpness. Black levels are slightly better in 2D, and, even though the 2D transfer coasts in at 19 GB and change, I noticed no compression artifacts.
The English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is explosive. All the mayhem of Gamer is directed straight down the audience's ear canal, and this mix is totally immersive. Dialogue is crystal clear and nicely balanced, but the effects are where this mix really excels. Gunfire, explosions, car crashes and rockets swoosh and boom across the sound field, and the surround speakers are heavily utilized for this multi-dimensional mix. The LFE response is loud and frequent, and the effects pans will put your home theater to the test. A Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital mix is also included, as are English SDH subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a Blu-ray eco-case. The Blu-ray includes both 3D and 2D transfers of Gamer, and Lionsgate also throws in an UltraViolet digital copy. The original Blu-ray of Gamer was packed with extras, but Lionsgate only ports over one feature: Inside the Game - Controlling Gamer (1:19:41). Fortunately, this is making-of documentary does a nice job capturing the production, and the filmmakers seem to have done their best to make an exciting, hard-hitting film despite the lackluster final product.
Do you need Gamer on Blu-ray 3D? Probably not. Unless you're already a fan of this frenetic actioner, in which Gerard Butler fights for his freedom under the control of a seventeen-year-old video game wizard, the film's recent conversion to three dimensions doesn't change its overall effect. Lionsgate has done a decent job converting the film to 3D, but Gamer is mostly a dull assault on the senses with poor character development and quick-cut, monotonous action. Skip It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.