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July 4, 2014

VGFlicks: Gamer (Part 1)

Hello, and welcome to this all-new installment on Planned All Along, VGFlicks! In this new segment – which replaces the reviews of Game Boy Advance games – I will be reviewing movies related to video games. Oh, it can be a film adaptation of a video game, but it can also be a movie in which video games play a part in the plot. All that counts is that there are video games somewhere in there. Can't chase that from the blog.

Video games are often misrepresented in cinema due to the two formats being very different. A game can be played for days while a movie should be, at most, three hours long. Some games contain so much material that you cannot squeeze all of it in a single film. Adaptations of video game franchises tend of be of lesser quality due to this. We all know about the failure that was the Super Mario Bros. Movie. That's without mentioning adaptations that leave out too much and, as a result, the plot is impossible to understand. On the other side, games that are adaptations of films can feel short, either because the developers had little to work with or couldn't think of something to increase the play time. And then we get films that aren't based on existing video games, but deals with video games and gaming in general, yet you gotta wonder if the director even played video games – or talked to video game players – to know what it's like.

You'd think Gamer, released in 2009, with such a clear title, would be an enjoyable ride. Mmmmmnnnngyyyeaaaaaahhhhh NO. NO NO NO NO NO. It's a cluttered mess that tries to put too much at once, at the detriment of a plot that can be followed. So bear with me, we're starting VGFlicks with a movie that is pretty damn hard to explain and even harder to watch. This is Gamer, everyone. Pray for me.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Also, the world has gone crazy with advertising.
There's even some on the PYRAMIDS. No, really.
So, this beautiful little picture (my sarcasm knows no limits, as you'll see through this review) begins in a dystopian future, apparently not so far from now, which makes the whole thing even scarier. We're brought to a montage revealing the immense popularity of a game called Slayers, through which a character named Kable seems to have achieved great fame all around the world, with some posters declaring that he's “four victories away from freedom”. The movie then brings us to a battlefield where Kable (Gerard Butler) is walking, gun in hand, ready to kill his enemies.

One thing you notice from the first seconds of this battle scene: The editing in this movie is awful. Maybe they were going for a stylistic approach with these quick shots interspersed by video game static and screen lines in the "gaming" scenes, but the result is just a pain for the eyes. It's supposed to make us understand that it's inside the video game. The hectic montage doesn't slow down, so it becomes annoying after a while. Also, we're sometimes seeing into Kable's head, where save points seem to pop up on the battlefield every once in a while (why? If he dies it's instant Game Over anyway, why bother with save points?) As if that wasn't enough, the editing also makes it harder to understand what's going on during these fights. Dammit, only three minutes in and I already dislike this film! It's gonna be a fun ride...

Kable makes his way through the war zone until he reaches a higher point, killing multiple slayers on the way, and even more once he's up there. He asks for someone to turn him around... and moments later, he does just that, shoots incoming slayers and then avoids a barrage of bullets from the men who stayed on the lower floor. After jumping down to avoid an explosion, he struggles to reach a flashing zone, through which we finally get the title: GAMER.

Next we see the remaining fighters on their way back to... the prison? Anyway, time for some (much needed) exposition! Apparently, in these games, the shooters have to reach numerous save points and follow a path until they find the last save point, which is a victory on the current match. Also, Kable – whose real name is revealed to be John Tillman – has reached the final save point and is now three victories away from freedom. Why, you ask? In Slayers, all the players are very real men, actually prisoners, who are on death row and volunteer to play. They can get infected by nanites, tiny robots which can be implanted into a person's brain, after what someone else can take control of the person. So basically, these prisoners accept to be controlled by gamers into death matches that play out like first-person shooters. If any prisoner reaches 30 victories, he earns his freedom. Kable now has 27.

All that black behind? Scenery this guy has chewed already.
Next we learn, through more exposition, that the creator of the nanites is Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), a billionnaire who invented the concept behind Slayers and another game called Society. What's Society, you ask? Ken Castle himself tells us: Everyday people can, too, get infected by the nanites and then play in an ugly replica of Second Life. The gamers can select really real humans among the volunteers and make them do all sorts of stuff. And when I say “all sorts of stuff”, I really do mean everything, even the most disgusting and/or degrading stuff. They can be pushed into harming themselves, into getting covered in tattoos and piercings, and worst of all, they can even be pushed into having sex with perfect strangers, other humans controlled by gamers. I already hate this future. This is... urgh. (I should also point out that those volunteering are greatly paid, as most of them are poor people in need of money... yet most of them do not LOOK poor or in need, oddly enough.)

I had to censor a breast. ON MY BLOG!
This movie will pay for this!
Of course, we get footage from Society, with every person being followed by their username, and we especially get to see the degrading stuff. Thanks, movie, I really needed that... By the way, some usernames are also very creepy or degrading. “Booty Shaker”, REALLY? Are you kidding me? And that's not the worse one. We get gratuitous shots of breasts and butts, because the film is rated R and feels it has to remind us of that fact. Society became a worldwide success, with people getting paid large amounts of money to be a person controlled in the game, while others could pay to take control of these people. Ken Castle apparently became the richest man on the planet thanks to this idea... which, truth be told, should have angered a lot more people, considering all the unfortunate implications.

What kind of implications, you ask? Well, for starters, that poor people volunteer for Society because they need the money, and are thus ready to suffer injuries, be disfigured by tattoos or piercings or body paint at their controller's will, and even to have sex with random strangers because THEY AREN'T IN CONTROL OF WHAT THEY'RE DOING. Next, the implication that playing Society is expensive, so we can assume only upper-class people in that world can actually play the freaking game. After which Ken Castle gives them a whole human being to take control of. Rich people literally taking controlof the poor. Then we can wonder if the people in Society suffer any long-lasting trauma from their experience as controlled people: Psychological trauma, wounds, illnesses (because of all the screwing around)...

Slayers: Where you go if you wanna be an accomplice...
Nine months before the events of the movie, Mr. Castle then created Slayers. In that dystopian future, the prisons are overcrowded with death-sentenced prisoners. Those prisoners can now be controlled in this new FPS game, and if any of these prisoners completes thirty levels, he's free to go. And of course, he has to defend himself from all the other gun-wielding controlled prisoners, who all want freedom as well. So, win thirty rounds, kill dozens and dozens of humans in Slayers thanks to your player, and you can go? In other words, you're sentenced because of crimes, so you can go kill even more people, and then you're free? ...What kind of crappy logic is that? We also have a glimpse of Kable's player, a young man named Simon Silverton (Logan Lerman). Oh, and we get some nonsense bullcrap on how the nanites work, by replacing all of the brain's cells... which is kind of stupid, but it's needed if we want the plot to work, so eh. Also, Castle is a freaking weirdo, and his actor chews enough scenery to be morbidly obese by the end of the film.

After an interview with Castle, a TV network's studio gets hacked by a group called the Humanz (yes, with a Z, because the S is so twentieth century). So, first Castle's world-saving ideas, then the nanites, then Society, then Slayers, then the Humanz... you see why I said this had too much going on at once? This film doesn't take one concept and rolls with it, it takes a few and tries to have them coexist in the same hour and a half. As a result, each idea doesn't get the attention it deserves. That bit with the Humanz? We only get two minutes of it for now.

Last I checked, prisons weren't as white, they weren't as
open, and oh yeah, they weren't in a desert-like land!
Next we see the prisons, which remind of a white Egypt. ...No, really. Tillman (Kable) reflects on his life before prison, as he was the father of a young girl. Plot Point Number 6, everyone! We also find out that Tillman is in prison for shooting someone in the head (but we don't know why yet), and moments later we also discover than Tillman's then-wife (played by Amber Valetta) is now a character in the vice-ridden Society. She needs the money. Also, in prison, Tillman is later visited by a girl who hints at some things going on outside. He never sees her face but she takes some of his blood. And then we're treated to even more shots of Society, which just feels... wrong in all the possible ways. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong WRONG. In that two minutes, I felt dirty, unclean to the deepest of my soul, and not just because the segment had Bloodhound Gang's song Discovery Channel as background music. Though it did make it worse. Eeyew. I can't tell if it was the director's intention or if he wanted to show more boobs. Oh, and Tillman's wife is controlled by a mordibly obese man who clearly takes a lot of pleasure watching his woman character flirting. Then the fat guy's screens fade to black, with “Game Over” flashing, then leaving place to the leader of the Humanz group of hackers, a black guy who likes appearing in wide angle shots.

My God... all these stupid haircuts, these stupid clothes, these stupid
outfits we put on our video game characters... Man, we got proof: It
would look even worse on real humans.

All that last paragraph happened in less than ten minutes. Told you that this movie went too fast for its own good. We're just at the twenty-minute mark here. There's enough in this movie to fill a trilogy! Wouldn't be a good trilogy, it would suck big-time, but it would be a full trilogy for sure.

Also mister Trans Fat over there. Yes, he is the one
controlling the woman with neon blue hair.
Be grateful you don't see his hands.

We see the next Slayers game, as Tillman/Kable is shooting in an even more dangerous war zone, what with helicopters flying around shooting, and flaming cars getting flung at the characters... and we finally get to see Simon Silverton in action, using Kable. The shooter's only ally, a woman (wait women sentenced for death can volunteer as well?), gets shot and Kable then keeps walking towards the next save point, through streets covered in blood and guts, while explosions go off around him. There's even people on fire! ON FIRE!

You know what's the worst part in all of this? Slayers, Society... No, it's not that it happens. It's not that creepy fatsos and spoiled brats can take control of real humans. It's that other people can pay to be spectators to the decadence of Society, and others can also watch the massive destruction that occurs during every Slayers match. All while fully knowing that the people they're watching are real humans, poor people in need of money in the first case, prisoners sentenced to death for the second. Either way, they're watching real people, some of which are disgraced to an extreme, others dying on the screen. In other words, people in that world are voluntarily paying to watch a snuff film.

Being A Douche In A Holo-Room, with Simon Silverton,
your host.
Anyway, Kable wins, so there goes a twenty-eighth victory. This is celebrated all around the world, with millions and millions of people watching Kable go through the matches, killing all these people... Wow, this really puts a dark spin on the whole First-Person Shooter genre now that I think about it. After this victory, we learn more about Simon. He's... really a self-entitled bratty jerk. And here I thought he was the last glimpse of humanity in this film. Goodbye, my happiness. Simon has become famous as the player behind Kable, and as a result gets lots of calls from fangirls. Problem is that he's an a-hole to all of them. While in his holo-room, his exploration windows are overridden by a video of Tillman shooting a guy in the head... wait, holo-room? ...Cool. Anyway, that video comes from the Humanz hackers, who give him the choice to download a program that would let him talk with Tillman-as-Kable on the battlefield, something that no gamer has ever been able to do with his Slayer.

Since the following parts contain a running gag about
Hackman, I better clarify this here and now. I am not racist. I
do not find him scary because he is black, I find Hackman
scary because he's a freaking sadictic, cruel, crazy human
being. Oh, also: SCARYFACE!
At the same time, Ken Castle reveals that he will enter a new character in the next Slayers games: A black man named Hackman (Terry Crews) who will not be controlled by anyone and is, therefore, able to react faster than the others, who would all be controlled by other humans and therefore restricted in their movements. Hackman quickly meets with Tillman in prison, and promises he'll try to kill Kable in the next game, that Sunday. That moment – and the one before, where Tillman tries out new weapons – go at a much slower pace, building up the dramatic tension, which is a nice change from the too great amount of crazy editing in the rest of the film. It's good to have some calm in this hyperactive movie. But it speeds up again after Hackman implies he'll also try to kill Tillman's wife and daughter, even though Tillman's daughter has been adopted by someone else after he went to prison for shooting a guy in the head.

Wait, another plot point? No wait, two? Is that three? SLOW DOWN, MOVIE! Man, this is getting way too complicated. Tell you what: We'll continue this review Monday. But I really fear the rest of this film... My idealism is getting severely damaged by it... Please, pray for me... pray for me...

...pray for me...

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