Has it really been nearly ten years since “The Game” came out? My how time flies. I can remember seeing it in theaters while still in college and literally saying “Oh my God” at the ending. Naturally I won’t divulge that for those of you that might not have seen this gem from the late 90’s. Suffice it to say that this ranks right up there with some of my favorite films from the last decade. The movie was directed by David Fincher who had made a name for himself just a few years earlier directing a little movie called “Se7en” starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. Fincher would once again turn to the dark side for this film as well as his future ones (“Fight Club”, “Panic Room” and “Zodiac”). Fincher is also among one of my favorite directors, right up there with Clint Eastwood, Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese. He brings a very unique style to the films he directs and for the exception of Alien 3, I think it’s safe to say that he’s batting nearly 1000 when it comes to the critics. Either way you cut it, “The Game” is on HD and I’m a happy camper.
Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a very wealthy, successful banker. He lives in San Francisco in one of those mansions you really only see in movies and lives there by himself. It’s his 48th birthday, the same birthday in which his father committed suicide. Naturally, this isn’t the most uplifting day of his life. Things change a bit when his free-spirited brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), comes to wish him a Happy Birthday. He’s given a card and told to call the number on it. This is his birthday present. Succumbing to curiosity, Nicholas decides to call the number only to be subjected to a series of grueling tests. Frustrated, he leaves not knowing that his game has begun. Nicholas embarks on a series of trials by clues left for him. He finds his bank account void of money; his home vandalized and even has to ask his ex-wife for help. Nicholas is at the breaking point when he winds up in Mexico. Is Nicholas going crazy or is “The Game” getting the best of him?
“The Game” is a movie that I vividly remember. I don’t really know why, but as with all of David Fincher’s movies, I was very involved with the characters. The oft-seen Deborah Kara Unger (“Payback”) is great in her supporting role and the always reliable Sean Penn does a great job with his role as Conrad. Douglas is once again great in his role as the aloof, yet dejected millionaire (think “Wall Street”) and it’s a role that fits Douglas to a tee. There was only one previous DVD of this release, a bare bones, non-anamorphic transfer disc that never got the treatment it truly deserved. Criterion put out a great LaserDisc in 1998, but this has never found its way to DVD in any form (not even by Criterion). Hopefully this movie will get its due, but to have it in HD is great! A great story, an ending you won’t expect all add up to make “The Game” highly enjoyable.
Video: How does it look?
As I mentioned, this film has only seen one previous incarnation on DVD. Polygram released it back in 1998 in a very grainy, non-anamorphic transfer. Like “G.I. Jane” this is just one of those films that slipped through the cracks and never really got the benefit of an anamorphic transfer. This HD transfer more than makes up for it, of course, but I have to admit that I was a bit let down in some points. For the most part, the 2.35:1 image looks great. Colors are solid, detail is immaculate and if not for a few scenes when I saw some artifacting and a bit of grain on the transfer, I’d have been ecstatic. That said, I took out my old DVD and did a comparison and I don’t have to tell you that the difference is night and day. Fans of the film should be overjoyed that this movie is in HD and finally we can discard that old standard DVD.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix is nothing too impressive, but it does sound a bit better than the old 5.1 track on the standard DVD. There isn’t too much going on here audio-wise, but a few scenes (such as when Nicholas’ house is vandalized and he flips the lights on that reveal music blaring) do really make use of the surrounds. Dialogue is very clean and natural though most of the soundtrack is limited to the front stage. Again, I don’t thing that people will be too upset here as the movie wasn’t really remembered for the soundtrack. An above-average effort, for sure.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Nothing. Not even a trailer. Hopefully Criterion will release the movie on DVD with the supplements from the LaserDisc. Like other Universal titles “Dazed and Confused” and “Traffic” which have plenty of supplements on the Criterion side, this is the most bare bones release that can be offered.