The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents November 2012 Return to Table of Contents
The Master
Presidents Desk
Short Takes
DVD Playback
Eating Raoul
The Game
The Royal Tenenbaums
ASC Close-Up
The Game (1997)
Blu-ray Edition
2.40:1 (High Definition 1080p)
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
The Criterion Collection, $39.95

The Criterion Collection has been the gold standard for home-video transfers for decades, but even in the Criterion universe, its recently released Blu-ray of The Game is remarkable, a visual and aural stunner that serves as the fullest possible realization of Blu-ray technology.

Michael Douglas stars as Nicholas Van Orton, a millionaire who has been numbed by the emotional fallout of a recent divorce. His younger brother (Sean Penn) gives him a mysterious birthday present: an interactive, real-world game in which Van Orton finds himself chased through San Francisco while his business empire crumbles around him. Uncertain whether the game is real or just an elaborate ruse, Van Orton is plunged into a high-tech cross between The Wizard of Oz, A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life that manipulates its audience with confident precision.

Under David Fincher’s direction, this all makes for a delightfully intense ride, yet since its theatrical release, The Game has aged into something more than an exercise in style. In the post-Occupy Wall Street era, Van Orton’s comeuppance takes on an added dimension of political satire; the presentation of a millionaire being violently stripped of everything he has ever owned will play as horror movie to some and gleeful revenge fantasy to others. Either way, the movie resonates in today’s political and economic climate. It is also the purest expression of a favorite Fincher theme: the impossibility of control.

For The Game, Fincher, cinematographer Harris Savides, ASC, and production designer Jeffrey Beecroft crafted a meticulously composed world in which to trap their protagonist, a world in which each aesthetic element is painstakingly conceived and executed. The lighting is incorporated into the production design in a manner that manipulates Van Orton so that he is constantly being led in specific directions. The dominance of horizontal lines in Beecroft’s design and Savides’ use of fluorescent practicals often create strong visual cues that direct Van Orton’s eyes and ours, a wonderful way to connect us with the protagonist’s point of view. Van Orton’s lack of control over his own destiny is further conveyed through a heavy use of toplight and fall-off that frequently plunges him into darkness, with Savides giving the audience the sense that the character is floating through space and time.   

All of the picture’s deep, dark blacks and subtle details are impeccably reproduced in this HD transfer. The disc is a triumph on every level: contrast, grain, luminance and color are all perfect, and a 5.1 mix designed especially for home systems fully immerses us in Van Orton’s nightmare. (The original theatrical mix is included on a separate audio track.)

The supplements are also top-notch, beginning with a commentary track shared by Fincher, Savides, Douglas, Beecroft, screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, digital-animation supervisor Richard Baily and visual-effects supervisor Kevin Haug. (These same principals provide commentary on 40 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage.) The disc also contains an alternate ending, storyboard-to-screen comparisons for four key set pieces, and an unedited version of the “psychological test film” to which Van Orton is subjected early in the movie. Two trailers with commentary by Fincher and Baily round out the package.

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