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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
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  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • German: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
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    English, German, English - Hearing Impaired
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The Game

Universal/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 128 mins . R . PAL

  Feature
Contract

"They just fuck you and they fuck you and they fuck you." -- Conrad Van Orton (Sean Penn), chapter 11, 1:05:17.

True, THE GAME does not feature Gweneth Paltrow's head in a box or Kevin Spacey with his fingertips sliced off, but in its own sublime way this clever 1997 sleeper is a worthy follow up to SE7EN, which was the focus of a recent BFI "Modern Classics" treatise (a must for fans of Finchner's grim cautionary tale).

THE GAME permits us the guilty pleasure of witnessing the decline of wealthy investment banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) from a state of smug affluence to one of abject humility, stripped of all his capitalist accoutrements and "left for dead". This ordeal eventually rehabilitates him by holding a mirror to the misanthropic troll he had become. Viewed in this light, the journey is not actually one of decline but of ascension and rebirth.

David Finchner now has two solid hits under his belt, SE7EN and THE GAME. A longer version of ALIEN 3 may be released by Fox in the distant future, but since the ALIEN Boxed Set is already shrink-wrapped for the hoards with the theatrical edition, an expanded ALIEN 3 would be a long way off.

Soon after purchasing the Region 1 release, I heard about Polygram's plan to pump out a PAL-world edition this year. I was keen to get this too because I had guessed it would be anamorphic, unlike the scanny NTSC version. Just to be different, these new Polygram DVDs are being shipped in flasho "super jewel" cases -- a move prompted by internal shuffling after the buyout of Polygram? Anyway, the boxed item certainly looks plush, but in my opinion this case is more prone to scratches scuzzing up the surface and fractures from lounge room accidents. If you are so inclined, careful trimming of the printed inserts will give you a complete keep-case friendly variant.

  Video
Contract

The PAL pressing fares pretty well compared to the THX-approved region 1 pressing. Ours is anamorphic as well as having the higher PAL resolution. If the NTSC release was anamorphic I speculate that the image would have been brighter and sharper, but with slightly less apparent resolution.

Once again THE GAME comes in two formats, the theatrical 2.35:1 Cinemascope ratio and a pan & scanned 4:3 ratio presentation. Without checking I cannot say whether the PAL and NTSC versions match pan for pan and scan for scan; I assume so given that the studio, or Finchner himself, must have set down such directions for telecine operators, but I can't be stuffed verifying this.

The overall image quality is good . . . that is to say, pleasing if watched passively. Extra resolution is immediately apparent in the early shots of Nicholas preparing for work when compared to the non-anamorphic NTSC version: no distracting scan line structure, which is more prevalent with 2.35:1 ratio presentations than others (I think the smaller screen coverage is the cause).

Having said that, the PAL transfer is by no means a quantum leap better than the NTSC one. Again, brightness is the main problem for this dimly lit film. I went a notch lower on the black level rather than having a touch of grey; the loss of shadow detail was tolerable given the alternative. Film grain appears in most shots, some worse than others. At least that is preferable to MPEG grain or noise correction sandiness. Aliasing is visible occasionally, sometimes on par with the much lower resolution NTSC transfer, for example on the CRS receptionist's microphone stem. Colour saturation was the same, but only after I boosted the colour setting for PAL. Sharpness is average, too, but on par with the NTSC pressing. Upping the peaking (pseudo-sharpness) level on my Loewe Ergo had a marked effect. I preferred the lower setting to preserve that 'film look': to hide grain, aliasing and over-enhanced edges. I did raise the contrast so that I could still see what was happening.

This PAL transfer has more film artefacts. During the hilarious dinner sequence between Nicholas and Conrad, speckles appear before and after Conrad retorts, "Fuck California". These speckles are absent from the NTSC transfer, which had a glossy feel to it despite the lower resolution -- a symptom of the red carpet THX treatment, one presumes. Most of the speckles show up in the first third, and even then there are barely more than six or so. Again, skin tones were slightly off. With such low-level lighting and Finchy's deliberate amber bias, it is hard to tell what the intended palette was -- I never saw THE GAME in cinemas.

However, THE GAME is acceptable given the problematic source, and it certainly 'improves' on the NTSC release. The full screen PAL side is quite delicious if you can accept the peripheral cropping and open matting. If you have seen THE GAME several times and yet, would like to show it for anti-widescreen friends or relatives, the 4:3 side is not at all torturous.

The subtitles are elegant. One line appears just under the image on the matte, two lines appears on and off the image. Also included are subtitles for the hearing impared, which is the best way to watch the film as wallpaper with the sound off and a CD playing. (It is amazing what you notice on screen with no dialogue or sound to distract you. I always watch my movies once without sound.)

Pressed in Europe, THE GAME is tame enough to have escaped the BBFC's stanley knife. All scenes in the region 1 release are present in ours. I shall not be replacing my FACE/OFF laserdisc with the local, UK-censored DVD. Fuck that for a joke.

  Audio
Contract

I have not yet upgraded to surround sound, so as before my audio comments are analogue bi-fi observations only.

The sound is strong and clear, although hiss is audible in places. The same hiss was audible on the THX version as well, but it is not too distracting. The nature of this movie foregoes the need to generate a full range of directional effects. Those that are present -- bicycles whirring past and CRS bullets ricochetting -- are nicely handled and add atmosphere. The gunshot heard when Nicholas inadvertantly shoots the private investigator's car tyre is huge. Howard Shore's understated score is also rather haunting and complements the cinematography.

Also included is a German audio track in DD 5.1. It sounded less forward than the English track through my amp.

  Extras
Contract

No extras except for biographical notes and DVD recommendations. The region 1 disc had the teaser trailer, the full trailer, and biographical notes. Its menus were also animated to shatter into puzzle pieces just as the title cards do in the film -- a lovely effect. Included is a handsome booklet that repeats the notes found on the region 1 DVD.

Some chapters on the NTSC disc are in slightly different places on the PAL disc.

  Overall  
Contract

Yes the video quality could have been better, although the state of the source material limits any transfer's potential. Nevertheless the anamorphic treatment saves the day, making the PAL version of THE GAME the best looking version out there.

Criterion have released the film as a special edition on laserdisc and I would love to see this pressing. Then again Video Watchdog reports that, even with a supervised transfer from a low contrast Super35 print except for three scenes taken from an interpositive (all at Finchner's request), there is a lot of film grain (Finchner likes it) difficult lighting and muted colours -- all characteristics of both the PAL and NTSC DVDs. Thus one may conclude that Polygram's release is close to spot on. Image put out the no-frills laserdisc.

In short, if you do not own this movie and enjoyed it at the cinema, then the anamorphic PAL edition is a great purchase. I bought the region 1 DVD sight unseen and loved the film -- the ending really makes it work. Douglas is terrific as a Gordon Gecko for the 1990s and Sean Penn as his brother (perfectly cast) is sensational.

The running time quoted on the PAL box (2:08:00) is actually the NTSC running time. The correct PAL running time is 2:02:58.


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