in spite of the issues I had with the story and the luck the main character had to have in order to even survive, The Game still is an entertaining movie with some fine performances to go along with excellent direction from David Fincher and cinematography by Harris Savides. This Criterion Blu-ray, as one would expect, making this a must-have for fans.
Genre(s): Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Criterion | R – 128 min. – $39.95 | September 18, 2012
Directed by: David Fincher
Writer(s): John Brancato & Michael Ferris (written by)
Cast: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller Stahl
Theatrical Release Date: September 12, 1997
Features: Commentary, Featurettes, Alternate Ending, Theatrical Trailer, Booklet
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), English (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH
Disc Size: 44.7 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 4.0/5
Plot Outline (from back cover): The enormously wealthy and emotionally remote investment banker Nicholas Van Orton (MICHAEL DOUGLAS) receives a strange gift from his ne’er-do-well younger brother (SEAN PENN) on his forty-eighth birthday: a voucher for a game that, if he agrees to play it, will change his life. Thus begins a trip down a rabbit hole that is puzzling, terrifying, and exhilarating for Nicholas.
Quick Hit Review (contains spoilers): It’s been a while since I last watched The Game, partly because of time and more recently because I knew the Criterion Blu-ray would be released. I loved this film when I first saw it back in 1998/1999 but it’s kind of lost some steam since. Don’t get me wrong, on a technical level and in terms of performances, especially from Michael Douglas and Deborah Kara Unger (Sean Penn was fine, albeit his part was limited), but I had some issues with the story.
With the story, first and foremost, there’s so much that has to go right. For instance, the CRS (Consumer Recreation Services) team has to know Nicholas’s every move, know where he’ll be and when and once there, hope he doesn’t get severely injured or even killed in spite of all of their safe guards. This is no more evident than the thrilling finale. On the rooftop with metal doors rattling and Nicholas at his limit, he shoots at the door and hits his brother revealing it was a birthday surprise. Distraught, he takes a plunge off the side of the building at least 30 stories high, falls through a (breakaway) glass ceiling, avoids some wood beams and then crashes into a banquet hall into a huge air bag. When I first saw this film I thought it was an incredible ending but when thinking about it further, Nicholas could’ve easily have been killed. For one thing, if he took the dive further to the right or the left, he’d hit the beams and, at best, broke his back; if he chose to go off another part of the roof, well that’s instant death. So how exactly did CRS know exactly where he’d jump?
Taking the ending, and that rambling aside, I still enjoyed The Game. It’s hardly director David Fincher’s best but it’s a film that will keep you entertained for two hours. The movie was written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris who have since gone on to pen: Terminator 3, Catwoman, Primeval, Terminator Salvation and Surrogates (and according to IMBD, a Death Wish remake). Not exactly a stellar career for the duo.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.5/5
Audio Commentary – For fans of The Game, this is a long-awaited commentary track, recorded in 1997, previously only available on the Criterion Laserdisc. Commentators include Director David Fincher, Actor Michael Douglas, Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, Director of Photography Harris Savides, Production Designer Jeffrey Beecroft, and Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Haug. As you might guess, not everyone was recorded together and instead they are spliced together with a soothing voice over letting you know who is speaking.
The track itself offers up a fair amount of information about how the movie was made, how certain scenes were shot, etc. Because there are so many participants, there are no dull or silent spots.
Alternate Ending (1:11; SD) – This ending doesn’t vary a whole lot in terms of the context of the movie… it’s also not quite as good the theatrical version either.
Film-to-Storyboard Comparisons (TRT 12:10) contain four scenes: Dog Chase, The Taxi, Christine’s House, and The Fall.
Behind the Scenes (TRT 38:13; SD) is footage shot exclusively for the Criterion Collection during the filming of four major set pieces (same as the one’s above), as well as various other locations. This features optional audio commentary by David Fincher, Michael Douglas and others.
Psychological Test Film (1:07; SD) – This is the film CRS uses in The Game to test Nicholas Van Orton’s tolerance for violent and stimulating images, only portions of which are seen in the movie.
Lastly there’s a Teaser (1:34; HD), Teaser Render Test (0:59; SD) and the regular Trailer (2:26; HD) all of which have optional commentaries enabled via your remote’s AUDIO button.
VIDEO – 4.5/5
Criterion Collection once again has hit gold. The Game arrives on Blu-ray presented in 1080p high-definition and original 2.35 widescreen. I was impressed with the detail level which is spectacular while, equally remarkable, the black levels are stark. The print looks to be absolutely clean, free of scratches and/or dust marks. This has never been a terribly colorful film but the one scene at the mansion especially pops off the screen.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
In a first that I’ve come across, this disc comes with two 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks: The first, and default, is the original theatrical 5.1 surround soundtrack while the other is an alternate 5.1 surround mix optimized for home theater viewing, supervised by sound designer Ren Klyce. I went back and forth between the two and didn’t really noticed a significant difference, but according to the booklet, the first is for larger rooms and is more dynamic while the other is for smaller rooms and optimized for playing in smaller rooms (and it was created in 1997 for the Criterion Laserdisc). Whichever you choose, both of these tracks sound great and really provide depth be it in the quieter scenes to the more action oriented ones. Howard Shore’s unique score comes across quite nicely from each channel while dialogue levels are crisp and clear throughout the entire film.
OVERALL – 4.0/5
Overall, in spite of the issues I had with the story and the luck the main character had to have in order to even survive, The Game still is an entertaining movie with some fine performances to go along with excellent direction from David Fincher and cinematography by Harris Savides. This Criterion Blu-ray, as one would expect, is excellent starting with finally getting a commentary track which had only been available on the Criterion Laserdisc release. The features might not be anything to write home about (a retrospective featurette would’ve been nice), but the audio and video transfer are both excellent making this a must-have for fans.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.