Judge David Johnson needs food! Judge David Johnson is about to die!
The only way out is to win.
Unheralded and unknown, this three year-old CGI romp actually turns out to be a clever and entertaining video game-themed gem.
Facts of the Case
Charlie Nash (Nate Richert) is a sad sack. Since his beloved Kate (Danielle Fissel) girlfriend was gunned down in a tragic shooting accident involving a shady cop (Patrick Kilpatrick), he's lived his life as a recluse. Nash makes his living as a video game tester, spending 40 hours a week searching for bugs and glitches in about-to-be-released video games. Then he goes back home and plays even more video games, much to the chagrin of his friends, who urge him to jumpstart his social life.
One day a mysterious package arrives at Charlie's doorstep (gotta love those mysterious packages) and in it is an odd-looking headset. When Charlie puts it on he is immediately met with a disembodied voice that welcomes him to Gamebox 1.0. Charlie soon finds himself sucked into a fully-interactive virtual reality video game, where he can feel pain and even risk death if he runs out of lives. Great fun, sure, but Charlie may never be able to escape the clutches of "the game."
Here's a surprisingly fun little film that snuck up on me. The disc cover made Gamebox 1.0 look like yet another hack horror movie involving a Photoshopped Playstation Dual Shock controller. But Gamebox 1.0 is not a horror movie. If I had to pin a genre label onto it, it would probably be something like a scifi-fantasy-CGI-action-adventure or any combination of those words.
The filmmakers, in the accompanying bonus materials, voice their intent for the film, to make a modern version of Tron, a film they had long adored. The influences of Disney's hallucinogenic geekfest are evident in this film, though the trapped-in-a-video-game theme has been thankfully updated to a more contemporary feel. When Charlie first lands in the Gamebox world, he's playing in a game called "Crime Spree," which obviously takes its design model from the Grand Theft Auto series. Charlie can carjack, smack around bystanders, choose guns on the fly and cap loads of suckas. Eventually, Charlie and his crew, including a look-a-like of his girlfriend (named "Princess" of course) and a digital recreation of his friend, leap to different game worlds, including a zombie-infested wasteland and a secret underground military installation responsible for the zombies. If you consider yourself a gamer—as I do—these motifs will surely ring familiar and it's a clever nod to the world of video games from the writers.
The film is really broken into two stories. One, contained within the video game, has Charlie and Princess tasked with delivering a secret briefcase to a meeting place and, you guess it, saving the world. The larger storyline deals with Charlie outside of the CGI, as he struggles to free himself from the tendrils of the game and increasingly finds himself unable to do so. There's also some corny, therapeutic schmaltz tossed in about Charlie's need to pick himself up out of his depression and move on from the loss of his girlfriend. There's a particularly painful stretch of dialogue between Charlie and Princess as they discuss his need to get involved in the real world and let go and you know the drill. The real meat of the film is the adventure in the virtual world and this element of the storytelling isn't shafted. Directors David and Scott Hillenbrand exercise smart pacing execution by jumping back and forth between the real and CGI worlds, and ensuring that a solid amount of time is dedicated to the in-game theatrics. The tactic works, and kept me from growing disinterested with either part of the narrative.
Finally, a note about the computer animation: sure these guys didn't have Fort Knox to work with, but for what was almost certainly a small budget the visual effects they pull off are impressive. While not incredibly rich and detailed, the computer-forged landscaped, characters and items look like they belong in a video game and seem totally appropriate to the story the directors are telling. Some inventive camera angles (with more than a few shout-outs to commonly-used camera styles from actual video games) bolster the virtual atmosphere.
These effects are transferred well in the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which supports active, engaging color work and solid detailing. For sound, the 5.1 mix does its thing in pushing the virtual audio. Bonuses: a great commentary track from the Hillenbrands and other cast members, bloopers, deleted scenes with optional commentary and a decent making-of documentary.
A fun, creative movie and a great Lionsgate release, earn Gamebox 1.0 a recommendation from this gamer geek.
Not guilty. Game over.
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