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Big Game is writer/director Jalmari Helander's follow-up to Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a cult import (also starring Tommila) which offered a fun twist on a holiday staple. Game is ultimately a fun movie, but despite the bigger budget and more recognizable cast, the movie also feels far more conventional, burdened with a weaker, less imaginative script and less of a hook.
At the heart of the film is the friendship that forms between Oskari and President Moore, and thankfully, this is the material that works best. Despite their differences in age and nationality, Tommila (who is working in English for the first time) and Jackson form a nice, lightly comedic chemistry with each other almost instantly. Although there's an inherent absurdity to the idea that an adult man (much less the President) would entertain the notion of teaming up with a little kid, Helander's screenplay sells it through other motivation from both sides. Oskari knows he's not a great hunter, and is desperate not to disappoint his father Tapio (Jorma Tommila, Omni's actual father). Although he seems relatively oblivious to the importance of Moore as the President, he does understand he's the "expert" in their situation, and eagerly steps up to the responsibility of being the leader. Jackson, on the other hand, gets to undercut his reputation as a screen badass by playing a President whose approval rating is in the dumps and who's extremely nervous about romp through unfamiliar wilderness. Moore also serves as a surrogate father figure, one who provides a more sympathetic ear for Oskari's concerns, and tries to protect the innocent Oskari from the real bad guys who shot down the plane. Every scene of Tommila puffing his chest and Jackson downplaying his ferocity are played just right, and there's a sincerity to their bond that gives the movie a measure of genuine sentiment.
It's a good thing, too, because the rest of the movie feels like pages pulled from a paint-by-numbers thriller book. Ray Stevenson plays the unforgiving role of Morris, a Secret Service agent who betrays Moore and helps bring the plane down. Nearly every line out of Morris' mouth is the worst type of on-the-nose exposition that another pass at the script might've helped iron out, or which could've been intentionally funny with a more refined touch. He's joined by a group of generic Middle Eastern men led by Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), who are after the President for some fairly vague reasons. At one time it seems like a "Most Dangerous Game" riff, then switches back to generic political power thoughts a bit later. Still, even they're less wasted than the people in one of those movie control rooms, which include Felicity Huffman, Ted Levine, Victor Garber, and Jim Broadbent, all of whom sleepwalk through their generic roles without missing a beat. Again, like the Morris character, a better movie would've played these characters a bit more arch, to give the movie some more humor, but there isn't a single one of those scenes that couldn't have been replaced with more Oskari / Moore material without being missed. (The sense of this material being padding is further emphasized by Big Game being another film with suspiciously long credits -- over 8 minutes.)
As an action movie, Big Game is again effective thanks to Jackson and Tommila's performances. Although the film has a big budget for Finland, the film is small for an action movie, and Helander ends up with a film that is more stylistically functional than flashy, with the focus more on how the characters experience falling down the side of a mountain inside a refrigerator (flashbacks to Crystal Skull in this sequence), or hiding inside the hull of Air Force One, rather than the spectacle of it. In Helander's defense, he does have a sense of how to blend digital effects with real footage, so as to keep his stars on the screen as long as possible. In a backward way, the overall success of Big Game feels like a lesson to other filmmakers: all the spectacle in the world can't beat good old-fashioned character chemistry.
The Unrated Cut
The disc includes two cuts of the feature presentation. Although the Unrated is about four minutes longer (1:30:33 vs 1:26:48), I could only figure out a single difference between the two cuts when spot-checking them for differences (the use of Samuel L. Jackson's favorite expletive). I was also surprised to see that the PG-13 version remains just as bloody in many places as the "Unrated" version; I'd kind of expected some of the splatter to be digitally erased in the shorter version. In either case, this isn't a particularly dark or brutal movie, so even the "Unrated" version feels like a strong PG-13 (especially if you, unlike the MPAA, doesn't make much of a distinction between "f---er" and "motherf---er"). For more on the presentation of the Unrated cut, skip down to the "Extras" section.
Big Game arrives on Blu-ray via Anchor Bay with cover art preserving their theatrical poster. I can't say I'm a fan of this image, which seems like it clashes a bit from a color standpoint. The Blu-ray version also shifts things around in a way so the tagline doesn't read properly. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Amaray case, and the standard package is stuck inside a foil slipcover with the same artwork.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC and armed with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, Big Game is granted an excellent presentation on home video. At times, Big Game has a distinctly artificial look, what with simple sets and the high gloss, grain-free appearance of digital photography, but they're certainly rendered with the razor-sharp clarity that one would expect from a good high-definition transfer. At its best, when the film shifts to the daytime, there's a sort of childlike vividness to the universe, as if the world is being filtered through Oskari's point of view: bright green trees, clear blue sky, yellow sunlight, the red of his adventuring outfit. The film features a number of explosive sequences that really make the most of a stereo system, as well, especially Air Force One crash landing in the woods practically on top of Oskari, and a massive explosion later in the film. Quieter dialogue-heavy sequences are on the sparse side, but the film makes enough use of the surrounds and involves the viewer enough for high marks in my book. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
According to the packaging, the supplement for Big Game is the unrated cut. Marketing-wise, I don't care if they advertise it as an extra, but authoring-wise, treating it like a bonus feature is irritating. The Unrated version of Big Game can only be accessed from the Special Features menu, and it has none of the subtitle or captioning options of the primary feature, not to mention the only soundtrack is a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Pressing "Pop-Up Menu" on the remote during the Unrated feature stops the movie and returns the viewer to the main menu, where they will have to start the film over from the beginning. Even if Anchor Bay was dead set on including the PG-13 and Unrated versions of the movie as two separate encodes on the disc, there's no reason it shouldn't function like an alternate version of the feature presentation from a technical standpoint.
Trailers for Underdog Kids and Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter play before the main menu. No theatrical trailer for Big Game is included.
Big Game is a good movie, but it's also one that coasts on the charisma of its leading men, with obvious holes in the story and the filmmaking glossed over by goodwill. Those looking for a fun time on a rainy day will probably be more than satisfied, but there's a sense that with a bit more effort, Big Game could've been a B-action classic rather than a fun diversion. It's also a shame that Anchor Bay decided to treat the Unrated version of the movie as an also-ran, rather than an alternative version of the feature presenetation. Recommended.
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