February 8, 2007 -- Gamerz is an inventive little comedy set in Scotland about a love triangle amongst young people in a role-playing game club. It frequently takes flight in a magical world where game master Ralph (played by Ross Finbow) is lord of his own little kingdom. However, it never really escapes from the reality of the mean streets where Ralph lives, harassed by a gang of local toughs. The local gang, headed by Lennie (James Young) beats Ralph on a regular basis. Ralph is a dreamer with a keen mind and active imagination, but he has trouble applying himself in school.
Ralph joins, and soon takes over a role-playing game club at college and becomes a game master, using a game he invented based on a magical character named Z'Rennk, lord of an underground kingdom of treasures, magic and dark armies. Ralph finds a suitable place to play this game, a real-life dungeon under Glasgow University in an out-of-bounds area where students are forbidden to go. Ralph feels right at home in this underground place with its secret tunnels and rooms. Soon, the group is playing its games in a hidden room under the university. Ralph is also making progress on another front, becoming friends with one of the gamers, the lovely Marlyn (Danielle Stewart), a tattooed goth woman who fancies herself an elf. The game club has an quirky assortment of players, including the neurotic Davy and the belch-master, Hank (the film's credits strangely include three burpers and one farter).
Just as things are looking up for Ralph, however, his world is invaded by his old nemesis, Lennie (James Young). Lennie forces his way into the game club and Marlyn is immediately attracted to him. Ralph prepares to do battle with Lennie within the confines of the game he invented, and also in the real world. The two are headed toward a final confrontation, but as in any game of strategy, there are unexpected alliances and unforseen developments.
The film, written and directed by Robbie Fraser, is filled with scenes both in the real world and in Ralph's fantasy world. The fantasy scenes are filmed in silhouette against colored backgrounds with added layers of effects, such as flames, electrical sparks and 3D animations. Fraser calls this technique “shadowplay.” According to a documentary extra on the DVD, Fraser was inspired by Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film “The Lord of the Rings,” which used some similar effects.
What is impressive about “Gamerz” is that Fraser is able to construct a captivating fantasy world with very meagre resources. Using Glasgow University animation students, role players from the University's Cuckoo's Nest game club and 3D animators, the filmmakers cobbled together some impressive fantasy sequences. The film's credits include a nod to “The Nutcracker Society” for playing the role of the “goblin horde.” These scenes are a good example of what can be done using imaginative guerilla filmmaking tactics. The film also includes some unusual music, including some hard core heavy metal. Songs include “Love is an Arrow,” “What You Do,” “Heliopolis by Night” and “Tom Weir” by Aberfeldy, “Leash,” “Justified Genocide” and “Unstable Shell” by Splitbac.
The actors also create believable, distinctive characters in an unusual setting. Despite the fantasy elements in the film, the story is firmly grounded in reality and captures a distinct time and place. The film does not make fun of its odd characters, rather it celebrates them. The characters all have their faults, but they are all ultimately shown in a positive light. The film never hides its affection for these characters living on the fringes of society. I've never played role-playing games, but after watching this film I have a better idea of the attraction of these kinds of games. It is fitting that in a film about one boy's imagination, that imagination itself is so well illustrated by the very structure, form and substance of the film itself. This is a fine example of independent, innovative filmmaking. It rates a B. This film should be of interest to gamers everywhere.
While viewing the DVD (released in the U.S. on Jan. 23, 2007) I noticed a slight stuttering or jerking of the image whenever a scene shows a sweeping panning motion across objects in any direction at moderate to fast speeds. This could be an artifact of converting the image from the European PAL video standard to the American NTSC standard, I suppose, because of the different frame rates involved. It may also be due to the fact that this DVD is region-free and some older DVD players like mine, that are built specifically for region one might not play this DVD smoothly. Or maybe I just got a bad copy. According to the Internet Movie Database's technical specifications for this film, it was originally shot with a Sony HDW-750 camera and converted from a high definition video format to 35 millimeter film. Since the film was originally in a high definition format, suitable for theatrical digital projection systems, one would think the conversion to the American DVD NTSC standard should not have been as difficult as it seems to have been.
The film has played mostly at science fiction and fantasy conventions and film festivals. It never had a theatrical release in America. It went straight to DVD. In addition to the short documentary about how the fantasy scenes were made, there is also a deleted scene involving a psychiatrist and an alternate ending to the film. Unfortunately, the DVD has no subtitles or other extras. English subtitles would be handy for anyone unfamiliar with Scottish accents. The Scottish accents in this film, based as it is in Glasgow, are thick enough to cut with a hacksaw. I'm somewhat familiar with the accent, having visited Scotland, and being a frequent viewer of Craig Ferguson's CBS late night show. Ferguson is from Glasgow and still carries with him a good chunk of his original accent. Even with my background, a fair amount of the film's dialog was lost to me.
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