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Saturday Night at the Movies – Final

By Greg J. Smith.

“This is nuts, it’s like the signal is generated simultaneously from six countries!” This complaint, uttered by a confused technologist, perfectly encapsulates the hyperkinetic pace of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s Gamer (2009), set in a near-future New York City where massive multi-player online games (MMOs) dominate popular culture. What sets these MMOs apart from contemporary gaming is that they are explicitly corporeal – cutting-edge nanotechnology allow players to ‘occupy’ the bodies of their avatars. The most popular MMO in Gamer is called ‘Slayers’ and it pits death row inmates against one another as ruthless bloodsport to entertain the masses. Gerard Butler plays John Tillman, a battle-hardened survivor of ‘Slayers’ who ascends to discover the true nature of the game and earn his freedom.

Beyond the above summary, there isn’t really much you need to know about the plot. In fact, why let that noise obfuscate a sly, ingenious examination of post-digital culture? The beauty of Gamer is not in character development or storyline, it is the manner in which the film reveres artifice. The director duo’s dispassionate cinematography perfectly captures the essence of gaming and this is not so much a strategy as an instinctive response to the speed of contemporary visual culture (Cameron’s Avatar moves like a bloated pig in comparison). The film is most compelling when representing gamespace, where interface elements such as HUDs, latency, glitches and broken AIs all play into and inform the conventions for representing action—imagine Jean Baudrillard teaming up with Michael Mann to film a gunfight, that’s Gamer.

Widely panned by reviewers (the New York Daily News called it a “xerox of a xerox”), the film is simultaneously too smart and too clichéd for its own good. Regardless of where one stands on recycled considerations of the virtual, you can’t help but be both captivated and repulsed by the film’s dynamic camerawork. While Hollywood struggles to figure out how gaming might influence the narrative of film, Neveldine and Taylor have bypassed the introspective process entirely and effortlessly incorporate play into every shot.

First posted: Saturday, October 2nd, 2010.

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