Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: John Brancato, Michael Ferris, Andrew Kevin Walker (uncredited), Larry Gross (uncredited)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Anna Katarina
Running Time: 129 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
* Please note, there may be spoilers contained in this review, but I’ve tried to highlight obvious ones.
The Game was a film that had a long gestation period. As a spec script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, it was completed in 1991, sold soon after to MGM and picked up by Propaganda Films, known for making a huge number of acclaimed music videos as well as several features. Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown) was down to direct with Kyle MacLachlan and Bridget Fonda cast in the lead roles. However, as PolyGram took over the project, Mostow changed his role to executive producer and producer Steve Golin bought the script and gave it to David Fincher. Fincher liked it, so agreed, but spent a long time working on the script with Andrew Kevin Walker.
During this time, however, scheduling changes freed up Brad Pitt for Fincher’s other project in gestation at the time, Se7en, so he moved into production on that instead, pushing The Game onto the backburner.
Eventually, the film did get made though, after numerous cast and script changes. Unfortunately, given all the time spent developing The Game, it didn’t perform quite as well as those behind it likely hoped. It was hardly a flop, but its box-office return and critical acclaim were a little luke-warm when compared to Fincher’s previous release, Se7en.
It’s a film that has aged well though and has many fans, including myself, who believe it sits comfortably beside Fincher’s other greatest films. The folk at Arrow must be fond of The Game, as they’re releasing a hefty Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD set of it. I used my CRS key to unlock it and ventured down the rabbit hole.
In the film, Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, an enormously wealthy man who inherited everything from his father, who committed suicide when Nicholas was a boy. Nicholas lives a regimented life, never wasting a second as he sustains and builds his business empire, giving little thought to those around him. He ignores invites to social gatherings and has little time for pleasantries.
We meet him on his 48th birthday, significant in that his father was that age when he died. Due to this and his usual indifference to trivial social events, Nicholas isn’t happily celebrating. Instead, it’s business as usual, until his wayward brother Conrad (Sean Penn) appears. The pair take lunch together and Conrad gives his brother a mysterious gift, a certificate for an exclusive entertainment experience, run by Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Curious, particularly after overhearing some of his fellow health club members talk highly of it, Nicholas heads to the CRS offices and signs up.
The experience is no simple role-playing activity as he believes though. The game takes Nicholas on a terrifying journey that will rip his air-tight world apart, but perhaps that’s just what he needs.
The Game is a film that often comes under criticism for its far-fetched nature and I can understand and even agree with that. However, if you allow yourself to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride, it’s wonderfully gripping and takes pleasure in messing with your head. The level of control CRS end up having over Nicholas’ life is pretty ridiculous, but with enough resources, an organisation could probably ruin your life more easily than you might expect. Plus, the film doesn’t hide its ridiculous nature. There’s a lot of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) comedy in the film, which is highlighted in an included video essay. The title in itself suggests this is a game, a bit of fun. Obviously this has a level of irony, as Nicholas’ life does appear to be in danger towards the end, but Fincher and his team are clearly revelling in being able to mess with the audience as much as the protagonist.
* SPOILERS * The grand finale, however, did push things a little too far for me. As much as I could accept CRS were able to surround Nicholas with actors and use their psychological profiling and information from family and associates to aim him in a particular direction, the practicalities of having him jump off the roof at exactly the right spot and fall in exactly the right way to land in the middle of the crash mat are nigh-on impossible. That’s not even taking into account the fact that fall looks bigger than one even any professional stuntmen have ever performed. I also wasn’t a fan of the romantic little coda, which I didn’t buy and found a little corny. * END OF SPOILERS *
Some of the more ridiculous turns taken though, particularly in the final act, led me to an interesting meta-angle to the film. You could see everything as a metaphor for the film industry. You have these big corporate entities (i.e. studios) pouring a ridiculous amount of time and resources into making something that’s often just there to entertain you. Also, like Nicholas, the audience watching a film knows it’s all a construction, but gets easily led into and swept away by its flight of fancy. It’s an angle I hadn’t thought of on previous viewings, but it struck me this time around and some comments in the special features backed it up.
Away from readings into the film and what it asks of its audience to accept, it’s a meticulously crafted piece of work, as you’d expect from Fincher. Like Kubrick and, possibly a better comparison, Otto Preminger, Fincher ensures every detail is perfect to create a seamless world and striking visuals. Aided by cinematographer Harris Savides, who lived a tragically short life but produced a mountain of stunning work, the film looks gorgeous without ever becoming distractingly stylised. The whole team, particularly production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, composer Howard Shore and sound designer Ren Klyce, all do sterling work here to produce a slick, immersive experience.
All in all though, it is certainly a film that requires you to suspend disbelief and, as such, could easily be picked apart for logic problems, but as an intense, headf**k thriller, it’s fantastic. Delivered in Fincher’s trademark flawless style, it’s hard not to get caught up in its nightmarish yet intoxicating journey. There are also some readings you can make into the film to open up whole other avenues of thought. If you’ve never seen the film before, put your faith in CRS and enjoy the trip.
The Game: Limited Edition is out on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD on 27th July in the UK, released by Arrow Academy. The picture and sound quality are faultless.
TWO-DISC LIMITED DELUXE EDITION CONTENTS
– Limited to only 3,000 units
– Deluxe packaging including a 200-page hardback book housed in a rigid slipcase, illustrated with newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley
– 200-page book exclusive to this edition includes a newly-commissioned full-length monograph by Bilge Ebiri, and selected archive materials, including an American Cinematographer article from 1997, a 2004 interview with Harris Savides by Alexander Ballinger, and the chapter on the film from Dark Eye: The Films of David Fincher by James Swallow
– Arrow Academy Blu-ray including new bonus features and UK home video premiere of director-approved 2K restoration
– Universal Special Edition DVD featuring archive extras with cast and crew
DISC ONE – BLU-RAY
– 2K restoration from the original negative by The Criterion Collection supervised and approved by director David Fincher and cinematographer Harris Savides
– High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation
– Original 5.1 & 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
– Isolated Music & Effects track
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
– New audio commentary by critic and programmer Nick Pinkerton
– Fool’s Week: Developing The Game, a newly filmed interview with co-writer John Brancato
– Men On The Chessboard: The Hidden Pleasures of The Game, a new visual essay by critic Neil Young
– Archive promotional interview with star Michael Douglas from 1997
– Alternatively-framed 4:3 version prepared for home video (SD only), with new introduction discussing Fincher’s use of the Super 35 shooting format
DISC TWO – DVD
– Standard definition DVD (PAL) presentation
– 5.1 Dolby Digital audio
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– Audio commentary with 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
– Behind The Scenes featurettes – Dog Chase, The Taxi, Christine’s House, The Fall (with optional commentary by Fincher, Douglas, Savides, Beecroft and Haug)
– On Location featurettes – Exterior Parking Lot: Blue Screen Shot, Exterior Fioli Mansion: Father’s Death, Interior CRS Lobby and Offices, Interior Fioli Mansion: Vandalism, Exterior Mexican Cemetary (with optional commentary by Fincher, Savides, Beecroft and Haug)
– Theatrical trailer
– Teaser trailer CGI test footage
– Alternate ending
– Production design and storyboard galleries
It’s an unusual set, in that Arrow produced a Blu-ray with a new print (to the UK at least), several brand new features and a specially-commissioned book but then stuck the old Universal DVD release into the package as a bonus. Why the extras from that weren’t just ported over to the Blu-ray is puzzling, but the original DVD was decent so there’s no real call to complain.
The two discs don’t step on each other’s toes too much either. The original DVD is more focussed on contributions from the filmmakers, with Fincher, Douglas, Savides, Beecroft and Haug providing a feature-length commentary as well as commentaries on some behind the scenes footage and featurettes.
The Blu-ray, on the other hand, has its commentary provided by critic Nick Pinkerton. It’s a wonderful track that might be a little technical and dry for some but is suitably detailed and engrossing.
Neil Young’s essay is interesting, focussing largely on the humour that is often missed when discussing the film, as well as some thought-provoking observations about it.
The text intro to the 4:3 version of the film is the hidden gem in the set. It offers a clear, fascinating description of the technical issues faced with home releases at the time, as well as in shooting in anamorphic wide-screen and how Fincher’s filming preference for Super 35 helped offer a better option for creating a 4:3 version of the film without going down the ‘pan and scan’ route. This whole version is included (in SD) for you to see the difference. I must admit, I didn’t sit and watch it all, but I skimmed through and it does have a slightly different feel.
Co-writer John Brancatovery is refreshingly honest in his interview. He said he wasn’t happy with how the end turned out on camera, for instance, though he grew more comfortable with it over time.
The archive interview with Douglas is a little shallow, in comparison.
I don’t want to dig too deeply into the DVD as it’s been readily available for years, but I must mention the alternate ending. * SPOILERS * I actually prefer this alternative to the one used. It gets rid of the slightly dubious and cheesy ‘get the girl’ ending and keeps things simple, showing Nicholas deciding to go for a slow stroll home instead of getting a taxi. It neatly shows how his character has stepped away from his rigidly structured, driven lifestyle and is slowing the pace down to reflect. * END OF SPOILERS *
I didn’t get a copy of the book to comment on that, unfortunately.
* Please note, the images used in this review are not indicative of the picture quality of the Blu-ray.