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Case Number 11307

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The Game (1997) (HD DVD)

Universal // 1997 // 129 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // May 2nd, 2007

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Dave Ryan prefers Uno, or even Mille Bornes. Otherwise, he'd rather just do a puzzle.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of The Game (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published October 5th, 2012) and The Game: The Fourth Season (published December 29th, 2011) are also available.

The Charge

One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small…

Opening Statement

And the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all—like this disappointing HD DVD version of a high quality thriller. Go ask Alice when she's ten feet tall.

Facts of the Case

Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas, Fatal Attraction), a wealthy San Francisco investment banker, is "celebrating" his 48th birthday. Actually, he seems to be trying to ignore it—after all, age 48 was when his father had killed himself. However, his ne'er-do-well brother Conrad (Sean Penn, The Falcon and the Snowman) hasn't forgotten, and blows into town bearing gifts. One gift, to be precise: a session with Consumer Recreation Services, a company that provides…well, no one—even Conrad—can precisely describe what they provide. The CRS salesman (James Rebhorn, Independence Day) describes it as a "great vacation, only you don't go to it, it comes to you." Van Orton fills out all the CRS forms, takes all their physical and psychological tests, and learns…that he's been rejected.

Or has he? A wooden clown—dressed like his dead father, and placed exactly where Dad's corpse lay after his jump off the roof of the house—shows up in his driveway, containing a CRS key. Then the TV starts talking to him. At his prestigious club, a pretty waitress with a sassy attitude, Christine (Deborah Kara Unger, Crash), spills a pitcher of iced tea on him and is immediately fired by her boss. A mysterious man slips him a note: "Don't let her get away." And that's when things get really strange. Is this all part of his "game?" Or is it an elaborate scam? If it is a game, why are there people shooting at him? Why is Conrad so paranoid? And whose side is Christine really on?

The Evidence

The Game was former music video director David Fincher's follow-up to his breakout feature film Se7en. While it wasn't a complete failure, it also didn't come close to matching its predecessor's success, earning less than half of Se7en's box office take. Hence, it's fallen between the cracks in Fincher's body of work. Which is a shame, because The Game is a great, taut thriller—the best Hitchcock film since Hitchcock.

It's hard to review a "twist" film like The Game without spoiling it—and it's a great film that I highly recommend, so I'm not going to spoil it in the least. While the film's premise is completely and utterly implausible, it sells the premise so thoroughly and effectively that you don't really care. Once you're hooked, you're along for the ride until the end. Although it's primarily a suspense thriller, The Game is also a neo-noir film. It's dark, it's mysterious, it's got more twists and turns than the streets of San Francisco on which it's set, and it's got the perfect icy, blonde, mysterious femme fatale in Deborah Unger.

Douglas is playing a variation on his Gordon Gecko character from Wall Street, but it's no less a compelling performance. Van Orton is the proverbial frog in a pan of water—as the temperature is turned up, he's only dimly aware of it, until it's much too late to jump out. As for Penn, this is a small role, barely more than a cameo (and a role originally intended for Jodie Foster at that), but manages to make what little screen time he has at his disposal impressive. Unger is perfect in a role almost made for her particular skill set. And one of my favorite "that guys," James Rebhorn, is his usual entertaining, poor-man's-Alan-Alda self.

Surprisingly, The Game has good replay value, even though I had seen it before. It's a compellingly-told story that seems fresh, even when you know what's coming. It's well paced, never dragging in its narrative, and has a great deal of detail that can be missed on a first viewing. Also, the surround sound treatment of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" is pretty stunning.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Unfortunately, this updated HD DVD version adds nothing to the film's presentation. Literally. I'm not sure whether it's due to the overall darkness of the film, a poor transfer, or evil gremlins in my television, but the picture quality was subpar by standard definition standards, let alone high definition. It's grainy and weak, with a "wavy curtain" effect in many of the shots, usually indicative of a weak light source in the projector (or a screen blowing in the wind). Whatever the cause, it's inexcusable on a high definition DVD. When you drop 500-600 dollars on an HD player, you expect much better than this. And other than the theatrical trailer, there aren't any extras either. In other words, this HD DVD release is exactly the same as the original, in every possible way.

Closing Statement

The Game is a great film, but this HD release is very disappointing. A subpar picture and a lack of extras aren't what fans of the film are looking for at all. This release smacks of Universal releasing HD DVD product simply for the sake of having it available. Until they see fit to do a decent release, with a much better picture and, at the very least, a Fincher commentary, hold on to your purchasing dollars.

The Verdict

The film is free to go; Universal, on the other hand, is guilty of pushing inferior product on HD DVD owners.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 85
Extras: 10
Acting: 90
Story: 100
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
• English
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Film Noir
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Teaser Trailer


• IMDb

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