Friday, 18 September 2009

Movie review: Gamer

SF/action movie Gamer opened in the UK this week. Like I need an excuse to post pictures of Gerard Butler...

This film took me totally by surprise - it was WAY better than any of the three of us anticipated, and if you don't believe me go read Eloise's review. I thought I was going to see "Gerard Butler does The Running Man"- in fact what we got was "Gerard Butler does Blade Runner." With added ultraviolence. Blade Runner is about robots who function like human beings; Gamer is about human beings who function as robots.

Setting: the near future. Plot: Kable is a death-row prisoner given a chance at freedom by surviving 30 rounds of a pay-per-view sport called Slayers, in which combat teams slaughter each other. The twist - each human participant is electronically controlled by a games-player through the internet: in Kable's case a 17-year-old rich kid. Kable has nearly made it to the magic 30, but there are powers at work that are prepared to make very sure he won't win, because he Knows Too Much and Must Be Silenced... Meantime, Kable's destitute wife is forced to make her living by being a controlled avatar in a social environment called Second Life Society, where her RL controller gets off on dressing her up in trashy clothes and making her have sex with strangers.

Visually, this film is brilliant. Fast, slick and clever, full of telling little gags as well as carnage and car chases. I loved the extrapolations of current technology to show how we'll be interacting with the Net in a few decades. The combat sequences are ultra-bloody and filmed in a bleached-out palette reminiscent of many a shoot-em-up, the Society sequences are colour-saturated and poppy. And every so often it gets really surreal ... like when Kable confronts the main villain who then launches into an elaborate song-and-dance number. ..

There's a lot of violence of the shooting and smashing heads kind, but it wasn't that that I found disturbing. What stays with me is the movie's portrayal of the way a society slides into solipsism: the poisonous attitude that no one else but me is real. People seen on-screen  (whether in camera footage, on websites, in interactive forums or on reality TV) exist only as sources of entertainment. Their pain and humiliation is to be laughed at or discussed around the watercooler - but not troubled over. And certainly not stopped. Because it's making so much money for people.

In some ways this is a similar film to District 9  that I saw last week: the plot as written is thin and probably doesn't stand up to interrogation, but the world it paints is mind-blowing - and a rather too plausible distortion of our own.

I'll never look at The Sims again without shuddering.

*In fact I confidently predict a film-buff game where every time there's a reference on-screen in Gamer to Blade Runner - "Oh look: there's Pris!" - you have to neck a drink.

1 comment:

neve black said...

"...Blade Runner is about robots who function like human beings; Gamer is about human beings who function as robots...."

Sounds a lot like American politics, with parody in mind, of course. ;-)

Thanks for the review, Janine. I love film too.