The Game: The Criterion Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Criterion Collection
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (1st December 2012).
The Film

Before 1995, David Fincher was previously known (if known at all) as a music video director, and also the guy that once had a shot at making a bad ass sequel to "Aliens" (1986), but instead delivered "Alien³" (1992), a largely forgettable mess of a movie (not his fault as it turns out). Examined in detail in later years the production was plagued with problem after problem, numerous re-writes, numerous casting issues, crew members being replaced and finally studio meddling that led Fincher to disowned the film and walked away from the production before editing began. In an interview conducted by The Guardian in 2009 he said "No one hated it more than me..." and it was his uphill battle, his - for lack of a better phrase "Baptism by Fire" that led him to make his future decisions, take control of his projects and never compromise. The results, I think you'll agree, speak for themselves: "Se7en" (1995), "The Game" (1997), "Fight Club" (1999), "Panic Room" (2002), "Zodiac" (2007), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008), "The Social Network" (2010) and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011). An impressive filmography that's unforgiving, uncompromising and impressively unique. Fincher has become one of the best filmmaker's working today and getting a chance to re-watch one of his early classics is always a treat. This year The Criterion Collection releases "The Game" and it's as good today as it was 15 years ago.

In "The Game" wealthy banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) may have power and success but he's also a loner, spending his birthday alone. Nicholas is a man that has everything, so what do you get the man who has everything for his birthday? His brother Conrad (Sean Penn) knows exactly what, suddenly returning into Nicholas' life he gives him a card granting entry to an unusual company. The company, Consumer Recreation Services or CRS creates unique games for their users, Nicholas, initially skeptical, surrenders to curiosity and a one time visit sends him in a spiral of mystery and suspense as bad things happen to Nicholas unravelling his life.

Thrillers these days are a dime a dozen, for every one brilliant one there are thousands of forgettable ones, "The Game" is easily among the few that stand out as not only memorable, but an example of stylish and confident filmmaking, Fincher really emerged as a powerhouse filmmaker in the late nineties and early 2000's. I've always maintained with my film-friends that if Alfred Hitchcock were alive today there are two movies that could easily have been made by him, "Basic Instinct" (1992) and "The Game" both of which tip their hat to the master of suspense. Hitch once said that "... suspense is essentially an emotional process" (1970 AFI seminar) and watching "The Game" is about as emotional as you're likely to get in this genre, Nicholas is thrust into an emotional roller-coaster journey to his own personal hell that grabs the viewer along for the ride, and after you've gone through it, you're spent, constantly having been invested in almost every moment of it. This is Fincher's magic, and the ability to craft such a film makes him one of the best of his contemporaries.

Michael Douglas manages to parlay his shrewd Gordon Gecko character from Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" (1987) into this film, Nicholas seems like an older, wiser Gecko. Douglas is brilliant at playing these roles and in "The Game" he truly owns it. To be honest I miss Douglas' prescience, he's been sorely missing from our screens for a while now and I hope he makes a return soon. Playing opposite Douglas' leading man is powerhouse performer Sean Penn, he appears in the film for maybe a total of 15-20 minutes but he certainly knows how to make an impact. In fact it's the scenes with Penn's Conrad that really pop and are exiting to watch, he's such a joy on screen and play brilliantly opposite Douglas' conservative Nicholas.

As with every Fincher film the location is as integral a character as the characters in the film, the nameless cities in "Se7en" and "Fight Club" help establish the tone and feel of the films, San Francisco does much of the same for "The Game" lending a eerie and dark prescience (almost the exact opposite of what that city feels like), it's ominous and mysterious. Cinematographer Harris Savides uses darkness and shadows to great effect here, Gordon Willis may have been dubbed "The Prince of Darkness" due to his lighting techniques - using shadows and not allowing a character's eyes to be seen clearly as demonstrated in his work on "The Godfather" (1972), "The Godfather: Part II" (1974) and "The Parallax View" (1974) among other examples. However, Savides takes that title and makes it all his own with his work on this film. Kudos to anyone that can make a colorful and vibrant city as San Francisco look dark, dangerous and undesirable.

My only gripe with the film is its ending, Spoiler alert if you haven't seen the film please skip this section: I don't know if I'd be as forgiving as Nicholas was at the end, after having gone through a personal hell, making him think that he killed his own brother and then jumping off a ledge to kill himself only to land safely on a giant air mat in front of all his family and friends at his birthday party, Nicholas realizes it's the end of the game, his brother alive, gives him a hug and lets it all go... personally, I think I'd be pretty pissed off.

"The Game" is one of those rare films that involves the viewer, takes you for a ride, never lets go and constantly challenges it's character and the viewer at the same time. Fincher managed to create such a brilliantly layered thriller that deserves multiple viewings and a prominent space on your Blu-ray shelf.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen in 1080p 24/fps high definition and mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression. This is the second time The Criterion Collection has released this film, the first release was on Laserdisc in 1997 and since that time technology has grown leaps and bounds in terms of picture quality. This newly minted image presents "The Game" for the first time on Region A high definition and the result is striking. The overall film is quite dark, a majority of the film takes place at night or in dimly lit locations and sets so the first challenge is to deliver a transfer that respects the darkness of the image, with deep and rich blacks avoiding noise as much as possible. In this respect I believe they nailed it. Additionally the image looks crisp and nicely balanced, with natural skin tones. There's no print damage, so specs, marks or other flaws associated with 35mm film. Finally I couldn't spot any compression issues or edge-enhancement, better yet the transfer was supervised by director of photography Harris Savides and approved by director David Fincher. Overall it's a terrific image worthy of The Criterion Collection's banner.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included, an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that represents the original theatrical soundtrack mix for the film in 48kHz/24-bit and another English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit that represents the alternate sound mix optimized for home theater viewing. The Criterion Collection includes both tracks and viewers are given the choice as to which version they want to view the film with. For the purposes of this review I decided to view the film with the alternate home theater mix (and comparing that to the theatrical mix at times to gauge the difference). This mix, according to the liner notes - was created in 1997 by sound designer Ren Klyce and sound rerecording mixer David Parker for The Criterion Collection's laserdisc release. The near field mix features a lower dynamic range and is optimized for playing in smaller rooms at lower volume. Having my home theater set-up in a small living room this mix was perfectly suited for the environment. What I enjoyed the most about this track is that the audio felt much more dynamic, the entire sound field was active throughout the film, adding a rich and immersive experience to the audio. Dialogue was clear and distortion free and the film's score felt robust. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired only.

Extras

Extras are plentiful including an audio commentary, film-to-storyboards comparisons, behind-the-scenes clips, an alternate ending, a test film, plus theatrical teasers and trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is the feature-length screen-specific audio commentary with director David Fincher, director of photography Harris Savides, actor Michael Douglas, screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, digital animation supervisor Richard “Dr.” Baily, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, and visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug. This track was also featured on the former Laserdisc release and is an excellent example of an informative and detailed commentary on the production of the film from the initial genesis, script development, casting, shooting and the extensive post-production. Each participants offers an wealth of information that reveals the complexity of creating a film with as many layers as this one.

There are four film-to-storyboards comparisons (1080p), these cover some key scenes and demonstrate the planning process of creating the scene and comparing it to the finished product as seen in the final edit of the film, the scenes included are:

- "Dog Chase" which runs for 3 minutes 47 seconds.
- "The Taxi" which runs for 3 minutes 9 seconds.
- "Christine's House" which runs for 4 minutes 11 seconds.
- "The Fall" which runs for 1 minute 3 seconds.

"Behind-the-Scenes" features clips that can be viewed with optional audio commentary by director David Fincher, actor Michael Douglas, director of photography Harris Savides, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, and special effects supervisor Kevin Haug, (1080i), they cover the filming of some key scenes and provide fans a look at the filmmaking process and gives us an insight into the way Fincher works on set, the clips included are:

- "Dog Chase" runs for 4 minutes 15 seconds.
- "The Taxi" runs for 11 minutes 56 seconds.
- "Christine's House" runs for 4 minutes 50 seconds.
- "The Fall" runs for 7 minutes 43 seconds.
- "Location Footage" which runs for 9 minutes 29 seconds.

An alternate ending (1080p) runs for 1 minute 11 seconds, and features only a minor difference from the ending that was featured on the final cut of the film, nice to have but nicer if it had included an audio commentary by the director explaining his reasoning why this ending was dropped in favor of the one used.

The Psychological test film (1080i) that Nicholas is subjected to at CSR is included here, it flashes by very quickly and at 1 minute 7 seconds you'll forget it as soon as you've watched it.

Rounding out the supplements are the film's original theatrical trailer which can be viewed with optional audio commentary by director David Fincher,(1080p) and runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds.

The teaser trailer also features optional audio commentary this time by digital animation supervisor Richard “Dr.” Baily, (1080p) and runs for 1 minute 34 seconds.

The last of the video extras is the teaser render test with optional audio commentary by digital animation supervisor Richard “Dr.” Baily) (1080/60i) which runs for 59 seconds, which is test footage of the animation used in the teaser.

Included in the package is a liner notes booklet that features the essay "All in the Game" by Chairman of The National Society of Film Critics and Film Scholar David Sterritt.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: A

 


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