â€œWe do not have adequate images for our kind of civilizationâ€¦We are surrounded by images that are worn out, and I believe that unless we discover new images, we will die out. Die like the dinosaurs. And I mean it physically.â€ â€“ filmmaker Werner Herzog, 1982
My trip to the movies wasn’t totally a bust this weekend thanks to Gamer, the new film by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor â€“ the mad geniuses behind Crank I & II and Pathology. Despite my love for the self-aware craziness of the Cranks, I honestly wasn’t that excited for Gamer. Partly because I hate the title and partly because the plot seemed too straightforward for a Neveldine/Taylor joint:
In the future, gaming is taken to the penultimate with gamers being able to control real humans in massive multi-player online environments. This is done through a system in which synthetic brain cells, which give your brain an accessible IP address, replace actual brain cells. This â€œNanexâ€ was created by Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), who is sort of a Bill Gates if he wasn’t breast fed. His game â€œSlayersâ€ becomes a global phenomenom as it feeds the public’s thirst for ultra-violence; pitting death row inmates against each other with their freedom being the prize. Kable (Gerald Butler) and his 17-year-old controller Simon (Logan Lerman) are three games away from winning it all, but Castle has other ideas. Meanwhile, a subversive group known as the Humanz, led by â€œHumanz Brotherâ€ (Ludacris), are hacking into Nanex and attempting to liberate Kable and Simon, all while destroying Castle’s empire. â€” It sounds like material that big name directors might throw together, shit out, and take to the bank, but in the hands of this brave film making team, it’s a world that’s just as original as it is ballsy.
Castle’s other interactive creation, â€œSociety,â€ is like Second Life on meth. Like â€œSlayers,â€ it also features actual people from the real world (albeit attractive and well-endowed), but in this case they’re paid for their services like avatar whores. â€œSocietyâ€ is filled with, realistically I believe, what people would do on Second Life if there were no limits: Rape, Brutality, and more Rape, all with a glossy, rainbow-colored package. As testament to the film maker’s talent, the â€œSocietyâ€ scenes were just as shocking as the violent, gory scenes taking place in the â€œSlayersâ€ world. There’s even an infamous avatar called Rick Rape (Heroes’ Milo Ventimiglia) running around, snapping his spandex. As Castle matter-of-factly states to television talk show host Gina Smith, â€œPeople pay to control, and they pay to be controlled.â€
Amidst all the stylized sex and violence of the virtual world, Neveldine and Taylor never fail to remind us of the demoralizing aspects this has on its spectators as well as the world they live in. I’m very disconnected from the online gaming world â€“ I had to have my friend Kyle explain the â€œteabaggingâ€ joke to me â€“ but apparently you slobs are our future.
Gerald Butler does a fine job as Kable, but my gawd is this Michael C. Hall’s show. Hall flexes his acting chops beyond the cool and calm he’s known for on Dexter and Six Feet Under and takes us into territory reminiscent of Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth. I was actually thinking how his Castle character was a bizarre mixture of Bill Gates and Booth early on in the movie, and then â€œtheâ€ sequence happened. I’m not going to give away what goes down, but seriously, there’s a scene near the very end that pretty much comes out of nowhere which had everyone in the theater unavoidably grinning. It was as if Neveldine and Taylor wanted to show off how truly incredible and capable they are as film makers, and it pays off. Going back to the Herzog quote I pretentiously placed as an intro, Neveldine and Taylor have been consitently creating scenes that are genuinely theirs and not likely to be forgotten by anyone who sees their work. And that’s damn exciting to say about film makers who have Hollywood pull and are just getting their feet wet.