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Laramie Movie Scope: Gamer

The future of virtual reality gaming

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 27, 2016 -- I've been buying 3D bluray disks at local pawn shops, so I grabbed this one, and it turns out to be pretty good, but it isn't for everyone. If you can't watch it in 3D or you don't like 3D, or video games, you are less likely to like it.

This film was written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who also made the popular action film “Crank.” In fact, according to the extras on the disk, the film editors were working on both “Crank” and “Gamer” at about the same time and there was some overlap. That, plus the fact they were working on a very limited budget, explains why this film doesn't really have the kind of expensive-looking special effects shots you would expect for such a high concept movie.

The premise of the movie is fascinating. In the future, the prison system in the U.S. has become so expensive, it is being financed by a large video entertainment company, like Facebook on steroids, run by Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall of “Kill Your Darlings”). Castle's empire is built on two role playing virtual reality games, “Society” and “Slayers.”

In the games, players are able to control real people in the real world and experience their reality in a virtual world in the safety of their own homes. The people who are controlled in “Society” are paid a lot of money to allow themselves to be controlled by people who want to live out their fantasies (usually sexual fantasies) through others.

The “Slayers” game allows players to control men engaged in urban warfare in real life and death situations. The men being controlled are prisoners who agree to be part of the game in return for the opportunity to be free men if they survive 30 battles in the game. Players are controlled by way nanotechnology, self-replicating, living brain cells which can be controlled by radio waves.

The most popular character in “Slayers” is Kable (real name John Tillman, played by Gerard Butler of “Olympus Has Fallen”). Kable has survived more battles than anyone else in the history of the game, and only needs two more wins to be a free man. He is controlled by a teenage gaming whiz, Simon (Logan Lerman of the “Percy Jackson” movies).

Well, you know Kable isn't going to be allowed to win this game, but he gets help from an underground hacker organization run by Humanz Brother (Ludacris of “Furious 7”) and a TV reporter, Gina Parker Smith (Kyra Sedgwick of “Man on Ledge”). The hackers want secrets about Castle locked in Kable's brain and Gina wants the inside story on Castle and Kable.

This all leads to a showdown between Kable and Castle after a whole lot of extreme violence. This movie is one of the first to extensively use RED digital cameras to film action scenes in extreme conditions. A lot of the shots are hand-held, and video artifacts are inserted to make it look like there are transmission problems in the virtual reality live feed of the video transmission of the battle events. The editors also use a lot of very rapid video cuts.

This shaky cam, rapid-cut video style is one aspect of the movie many people object to, along with the depiction of a particularly grotesque, obese gamer, along with the violence in the film. Yet this film is not just a film about violence and sex. It is also a film about how people enjoy violence and sex vicariously through the actions of others in games and movies. It includes troubling social commentary, and it is a definite cautionary tale about where we are headed as a society.

The idea that some people, such as Angie (Kable's wife in the movie, played by Amber Valletta of “Transporter 2”) would be so desperate as to allow themselves to be the virtual sex slave of a rich person (as in 50 Shades of Grey) or that prisoners would be so desperate as to risk their lives in games for freedom, is not so far fetched. The idea of controlling people by radio waves is really far fetched, but at least it is theoretically possible.

There are people right now, stunt performers, daredevil performers, football players, boxers, race car drivers and others risking their lives to entertain people for money, or just for the thrill of living on the edge. As a society, we are quite willing to ignore the fact that football players die every year, just from playing a violent game. We are also willing to ignore the fact that death and long term brain injuries result from violent sports and dangerous stunts. This movie does make us take a look at our selves and what we are becoming, if we are willing to look, and to think about what we are seeing.

This bluray disk has both 3D and 2D versions of the film on the same disk, meaning you can probably find it on sale for a more reasonable price than most 3D disks (as you can with “Dredd” and “I, Frankenstein”). There are also some bluray disks of this film that only have the 2D version of the film. Make sure the “3D” is visible in large letters on the case front if you want the 3D version. The “making of” documentary on the disk is over an hour long, exploring various aspects of how the film was made in great detail. The 3D in the movie isn't bad, and it does add some depth to the game scenes. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)