Released in 2009, Gamer is a science-fiction film starring Gerard Butler and Michael C Hall (of Dexter fame). Basically in the future, gamers can take control of real people and lead them through worlds as though they are The Sims. The latest craze is an online death match called Slayers in which death row inmates are set loose in various environments. One of these is a player character called Kable that is controlled by a seventeen year old boy who only has to ensure that his character survives three more games so that Kable wins his freedom.
Now I know that plenty of humans enjoy their games, hell I am an alien and I also like playing various games, admittedly, they are not as fun as the reality simulators we have on Brian but they are still entertaining. Humans are not as advanced as my people but you at least try, graphics technology has gotten better, various consoles have experimented with motion capture, but ultimately that has proven to suck balls. It seems that VR headsets are the next step for Earth gamers but we'll have to wait and see how that pans out…anyway, Gamer follows possible technological developments in which a gamer takes control of a human that is taking apart in a real death match. The participants in this game are death row inmates and if the person controlling them can get them through thirty games then the inmate will win their freedom.
So let the game begin…
Set in 2034 Ken Castle (Hall) is a computer programmer that has developed mind control technology that enables a person’s motor functions to be controlled by a third party. The first of these was a game called Society where people are either paid to be participants or they pay to play the game. Four years later Castle released the game Slayers in which players control death row inmates and if they can get their character through thirty death match games then that inmate will win their freedom.
Kable (Butler) is guided by a seventeen year-old trust fund rich-kid named Simon (Logan Lerman) who is the first person that has successfully controlled his Slayer through twenty-seven games, something no one has ever done, now all he needs to do is get him through the next three. His success with Kable has made him into a celebrity with people wishing to buy the character of Kable off him in order to guide him through the final games.
A group of hackers, “Humanz”, are attempting to show the world that Castle is a bad guy and they have been seduced by him and his games. They give Simon the opportunity to cut Kable free allowing him to control himself within the game environment, so that he can free himself and take revenge on Castle for various reasons…
The development of technology can be seen by some as pretty frightening, I mean when I first arrived on this planet there was no internet, no games consoles and computers that needed to fitted into room which by today’s standards had the power of a pocket calculator. I have seen that over the last thirty years human “science and technology” has come on in leaps and bounds, so the concept that in the not-too-distant future gamers might actually be able to take control of actual humans is not that much of a step.
Gamer has echoes of many other films so there is really nothing new on display. The idea of criminals being put into deadly games for a chance to win their freedom has been done and done better. Take The Running Man in 1987 in which a wrongly convicted man was put into a deadly game to fight for his freedom, that was a fantastic film that starred the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger. It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that Kable is in fact an innocent man who has been put in a situation in which he must escape with his life, prove his innocence in order to reclaim his family.
There are only a few sequences in which the audience gets to see the game from Simon’s perspective, those moments do allow the audience to see how the game works, but those moments are too few and far between. I wanted to see more of this interface and how it actually works because all we really see is Simon in a massive hamster ball pointing at various other people in the game with this fingers and basically saying “bang”.
These are some of the questions that bug me…ahem…How exactly does Simon control Kable?? Are the two of them somehow linked to each other through shared technology?? Is it motion capture technology?? How did Simon become Kable’s controller anyway?? Did he choose him?? If he did then why exactly does Simon want Kable to be free?? I mean if Kable had been sent to prison for rape, murder, paedophilia and various other horrible crimes should he be allowed to be released even if Simon guides him through thirty games?? If Simon does manage to free Kable then what reward does he get for doing it?? Does he win money?? Or does he just get a trophy to put on his gamer card?? I like the problem of lag in which it takes a moment for the player’s actions to register with their Slayer, other inmates wander around the game zone as basically bonus points when they are killed. I really wanted to know how this technology works but they might as well have just said it uses pixie-dust or something. They do it in Star Trek all the time in which some bullshit is used as a throw away explanation for how something works, in Gamer it is nanites (microscopic robots that are small enough to enter living cells and manipulate how those cells operate arguably making someone stronger, or more intelligent or whatever) that serve as our explanation for how people in the game Society and Slayers are controlled.
The action sequences are shot in a very violent manner with the cameras cutting to a variety of different angles to heighten the action. This technique makes following the action hard to do. Most of the action happens in the first half hour or so and then the rest of the film concerns itself with proving Kable’s innocence and him finding his family. The in-game scenes are reminiscent of modern games like Call of Duty in which players are able to blow others apart, of course, here there is no respawn if your character dies.
Gerard Butler is a decent actor who it has to be said doesn’t seem to be putting in a huge amount of effort. However it is obvious that Michal C Hall is making the most of his role and seems to know that the film itself was never going to win any awards so just decided to have a bit of fun…which is exactly what this film needs
The trouble with Gamer is that it seems to be concerned with making a point.
What that point is could be any number of things. Perhaps it is society’s growing interest in computer games and the development of harmful technology. Perhaps the writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor were trying to say that violence has become far too graphic and they do this by showing various people being blown apart in various ways. Perhaps it is the fascination of playing the parts of different characters and being a part of a consequence free fantasy world. The list can go on and on.
All in all Gamer was a good concept that was poorly executed. Hall makes the most of his limited part but this film could have been so much better if it had concentrated more on the game world itself rather than changing society.
This is an idea that has just rattled through my brain as I wrote this review…what if the entire film has been called Society and featured nothing but that game. We don’t know that these people are being controlled by a third party, and so everything we see in that film is being directed by the whims of unseen players. Wouldn’t that have been far more interesting?? Different dialogue options could have been explored, players could have had objectives to achieve, and none of it could have been explained until the end of the film…someone make that film…lets delve into this world again but look at it in a different way.
Basically Gamer is an excuse for death matches, violence, and attaches the whole innocent-man-fighting-for-his-freedom bullshit that we have seen a hundred times. As you know I am a massive fan of Michael C Hall and whilst he steals every scene the rest of the cast are just going through the motions with the most interesting parts of the story (the gaming technology itself) skipped over in favour of a more traditional innocent man reclaiming his freedom.
I think that Gamer missed out on the most fascinating part of its world, humans being used as actual video game characters, and should have played around with that concept to create something far more entertaining plus potentially thought provoking. As it is we got a by the numbers shoot-em-up that lacks anything to make it really stand out, therefore, I am giving it a lazy Thumbs Down.
4/10 - Honestly I didn’t hate Gamer but it didn’t make use of its own potential. When Kable is in the game world and we see Simon controlling him then the film is alright, however, after he leaves it becomes dull and tedious with everything that was engaging in the first part dribbling away until nothing interesting is left.