Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Anna Katarina, Armin Mueller-Stahl
John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris
The object of the game is to discover the object of ... The Game.
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 the rabbit hole that is puzzling, terrifying, and exhilarating for Nicholas and viewers alike. This multilayered, noirish descent into one man’s personal hell is also a surreal, metacinematic journey that, two years after the phenomenon Se7en, further demonstrated that director David Fincher was one of Hollywood’s true contemporary visionaries.
$14.337 million on 2403 screens.
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Theatrical Mix
English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Home Theater Mix
Runtime: 128 min.
Release Date: 9/18/2012
• Audio Commentary with Director David Fincher, Actor Michael Douglas, Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, Director of Photography Harris Savides, Digital Animation Supervisor Richard “Dr.” Baily, Production Designer Jeffrey Beecroft and Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Haug
• Alternate Ending
• Film to Storyboard Comparisons
• Behind the Scenes Footage
• “Psychological Test Film”
• Teaser and Trailer
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The Game: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1997)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 18, 2012)
Back when I saw The Game in 1997, I regarded it as one of the biggest cinematic disappointments of my then-30 years. It came from David Fincher, the director of 1992’s Alien3 - which I liked – and 1995’s Se7en - which I loved. To this day, I still believe Se7en was the best movie made in the 1990s.
Given that backdrop, I really looked forward to The Game, only to feel severely let down by what I saw. Indeed, I was so turned off by The Game that I’m not sure I’ve seen it since 1997. With this new Criterion edition on the horizon, though, I decided it was time to reassess The Game and decide if I was too hard on it 15 years ago.
Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) enjoys enormous wealth but spends a lonely life. With his 47th birthday on the horizon, he feels especially haunted, as that was the age at which his father (Charles Martinet) killed himself.
Nicholas hears from his semi-estranged freewheeling younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn). They meet for lunch and Conrad provides Nicholas with an unusual birthday present: an appointment at Consumer Recreation Services, a place that creates unusual life experiences.
What does this mean? It means that CRS sets up a “game” tailored to each subject. CRS representative Jim Feingold (James Rebhorn) doesn’t really tell Nicholas much more than that, and Van Orton doesn’t understand much about what this “game” entails. However, his existence soon starts to turn topsy-turvy, as his life goes through many upheavals that leave Nicholas on the brink of a breakdown.
Note that a discussion of The Game becomes tough to achieve without spoilers, so some will appear here. If you’ve not seen the film and want to avoid those elements, please skip to the technical aspects of the review.
Even though I’d not seen The Game in years, I was surprised to see how much of the film I remembered. I didn’t maintain flawless memories of the events, but they came back to me more readily than I would've expected.
That must say something good about the film, and it leads me toward a more positive appraisal than I gave to it in 1997 – not that this says a lot since I disliked The Game so much back then. Actually, watching it again reminds me that I didn’t hate the whole movie – I just loathed the ending.
And that hasn’t changed over the past 15 years. For much of its running time, The Game offers an intriguing experience. Granted, it comes with significant logic flaws, as it’s awfully hard to believe that CRS can control the world so well that every little piece slips into place perfectly for Nicholas’s game
Nonetheless, if you’re willing to make that major leap, the story works well. Indeed, the movie’s more interesting the second time, as it’s fun to pick up on the machinations. During a first screening, the viewer just wants to figure out what’s happening, but on second examination, one can focus on the elements that allowed “the game” to take place. As far-fetched as the whole thing may be, at least the film makes some attempts to show us how CRS executed their plan.
The Game also comes with unusual psychological depth – and that’s also easier to see on second viewing, as the purpose of “the game” makes more sense. We can discern that the tightly-wound Nicholas has lived life in a cocoon reigned by issues related to his father’s death, and “the game” acts to break him down and free him from his fears. I’m with it there.
But the film still loses me when we get to the actual finish. Nicholas goes to the darkest possible place: he thinks he’s killed his brother and he attempts suicide in the same manner chosen by his father. Nicholas crashes through a skylight, lands in a big inflatable and goes to a fun, happy birthday party with no apparent lingering anxiety or stress.
Seriously? I’m sorry, but that finale was impossible to accept 15 years ago and I can’t swallow it now. No one who went through everything Nicholas endured would be able to immediately switch gears and pal around with friends and relatives at a swanky birthday bash. They might be angry, they might be depressed, they might be coo-coo from events, but they wouldn’t hop up and start giggling.
Look, I understand why Fincher wanted a project with a so-called “happy ending”. Both Alien3 and Se7en came with extremely dark finales, and I suspect he feared that he’d be stereotyped as “unhappy ending dude” if he did that again. The Game let Fincher have his cake and eat it too: he could make a movie that reveled in its sadism but also got to finish up with a smile on its face.
Unfortunately, The Game doesn’t earn that smile. The ending feels like a cheat, and a cruel one at that. The viewer is essentially expected to ignore everything he/she saw for the prior two hours and just go “whee – yay for Nicholas!”
The ending made me irate in 1997. It doesn’t bother me as much now, but it still creates a significant flaw in an otherwise fairly good movie. Douglas offers a knockout performance as Nicholas; he’s on-screen almost the entire time and takes us for a real ride with the character.
Fincher also forms a stylized, involving world in which he slowly ratchets up the sadism. That’s another advantage to a second screening: it’s easier to pick up on the small annoyances CRS aims at Nicholas that build to outright mortal threats. When you first see the film, the minor ways Feingold and the CRS people get under Nicholas’s skin seem unimportant, but when seen again, we can tell that they were just the start of the organization’s assault of Van Orton’s psyche. Fincher takes a wholly implausible tale and almost lets us believe it.
But we’re still stuck with that stupid ending. In 1997, I regarded the finale as a fatal flaw; no matter what I thought of the prior two hours, the finish ruined the movie for me. I don’t feel that strongly today, and I can better enjoy the rest of the film, but I will always wish The Game boasted a better ending. The last 10 minutes cause too much damage for me to ever regard this as a truly satisfying experience.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-
The Game appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The movie boasted a consistently terrific presentation.
Sharpness looked great. At all times, the film showed excellent clarity and delineation, without a hint of softness on display. No problems with moiré effects or jagged edges occurred, and both edge haloes and noise reduction failed to interfere with the presentation. Print flaws also didn’t show up here, as the movie always looked clear and clean – well, except for the “home movies” with their artificial damage. Those were supposed to look that way, of course.
In terms of palette, The Game often opted for a chilly teal overlay. Some scenes went with a warmer amber/brown, though, and shots in Mexico delivered an arid feel. All the hues came across as well-rendered. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows looked full and smooth. Criterion did a fine job with this top-notch image.
Though not quite as good, the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack also satisfied. The soundscape opened up in a positive way to give us a consistently nice sense of environment. It also became pretty active when necessary; the movie threw in enough action sequences – with car chases, gunfire and the like – to utilize all five channels in an involving manner. All of this meshed together in a convincing way that worked the speakers well.
Audio quality seemed strong as well. Music was full and dynamic, and effects followed the same path; those elements appeared accurate and tight, with solid low-end reproduction. Speech came across as concise and crisp. I liked the track and felt it served the movie in a positive way.
Note that the film came with two separate DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks. One represented the original theatrical audio from 1997, and the other offered a mix “enhanced” for home theaters. I went with the theatrical track for my screening but wanted to mention the availability of the alternate mix.
The extras here come from the 1997 Criterion laserdisc. We launch with an audio commentary from director David Fincher, actor Michael Douglas, screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, director of photography Harris Savides, digital animation supervisor Richard “Dr.” Baily, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft and visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug. I think the writers sat together, but the rest were recorded individually for this edited look at the opening credits, story/character subjects, cast and performances, shot selection and editing, cinematography and production design, locations, various effects, and a few other areas.
Some dislike the “audio essay” approach taken here, but I think it works well – especially when edited this well. Not that one should expect all the participants to show up in equal measure; Fincher does most of the heavy lifting, and we also get a lot of Douglas and the writers.
Which is fine with me. The others throw in enough material to make their participation worthwhile, and the rest of the track offers a frank and introspective view of the film. Expect to learn a lot in this involving, educational compendium.
An Alternate Ending runs one minute, 11 seconds. If you expect this to alter the finale that disappointed me so much, you’ll feel disappointed. The “alternate ending” simply shows Nicholas as he goes off alone rather than with another character. It’s mildly interesting to see but not the major alteration I’d hoped to view.
Film to Storyboard Comparisons appear for four scenes: “Dog Chase” (3:47), “The Taxi” (3:09), “Christine’s House” (4:11) and “The Fall” (1:03). Three of them place the boards in the top half of the screen and the movie in the bottom half, though “House” differs a little; in addition to the boards, it shows preparatory photos with a stand-in for Michael Douglas. All offer reasonably useful views of the planning for the film and the final product.
Under Behind the Scenes, we get exclusive footage created specifically for the 1997 Criterion LD. We find five clips: “Dog Chase” (4:15), “The Taxi” (11:56), “Christine’s House” (4:50), “The Fall” (7:43) and “Location Footage” (9:29). These mix shots from the set as well as storyboards and other elements. Back in 1997, this kind of material was rare to find and seemed like a huge treat, while today plenty of DVDs and Blu-rays provide similar footage. That makes “Behind the Scenes” less exciting than it was 15 years ago, but the clips are still fairly interesting. I enjoy the “fly on the wall” perspective so we get some good shots.
We can watch these with or without commentary from Fincher, Douglas, Savides, Beecroft and Haug. They give us details about the production and what we see, though I don’t get the impression any of them actually chatted while they viewed the clips. Instead, I believe the set’s producers simply took more info from the interviews used to create the main commentary. Expect a fair number of good notes here.
Partly viewed in the movie, Psychological Test Film goes for one minute, seven seconds. This is the odd Clockwork Orange-style reel with strange images and text. It’s not the most fascinating extra, but it’s a cool little throw-in.
The disc includes teaser and a theatrical trailers as well as a “teaser render test”. The last one shows early digital animation for the puppet featured in the teaser. Richard Baily offers commentary for both the teaser and the test; he offers some basic but useful insights. Fincher throws in remarks during the theatrical trailer that also seem positive.
Finally, we get a 16-page Booklet. It features an essay from critic David Sterritt. This isn’t one of the better Criterion booklets, mostly because Sterritt’s text seems light on analysis and heavy on praise. (Note that unlike the disc-based materials, the essay appears to be a new addition to this release and not a retread from the 1997 laserdisc.)
15 years after its release, The Game remains arguably David Fincher’s most controversial film, almost entirely because of its often off-putting conclusion. I can better appreciate and enjoy the movie than I did in 1997, but I must admit that finale still does significant damage and keeps The Game from potential greatness. The Blu-ray delivers stellar picture, solid audio and as fairly informative set of supplements. The Game remains an intriguing but disappointing film that looks and sounds terrific here.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars|| Number of Votes: 7|