Thursday, 23 October 2008

Film Review – GamerZ

Plot: A lonely roleplaying geek joins his university gaming group and ruins it with his new home brewed game. There’s also a love triangle between the geek, a goth girl obsessed with elves, and a drug dealing chav.

First of all, the title of the film bothers me. I am a roleplaying geek myself and the title isn’t evocative of the roleplaying hobby. It’s more of a computer/video game term. It’s almost as if the creators found out that there was already a roleplaying film called The Gamers and decided to take away the ‘The’ and change the ‘s’ to a ‘z’ to be down with the kids. It’s a petty criticism but it was a slight concern going into the film that maybe the persons responsible didn’t really grasp the whole roleplaying ethos. As it turns out I needn’t have worried about the representation of the roleplaying hobby in the film as the writers display a solid working knowledge of the hobby. Unfortunately there are several other, more important, problems over the course of its overly long running time.

The main character is Ralph and he’s an ulikable, petty, vindictive, sad sack. Seriously, the guy starts the movie with no friends and it soon becomes apparent why. The film seems to think that if the main character is a sad, lonely, put upon figure then the audience will forgive his other flaws and side with him. The problem is that Ralph doesn’t display any redeeming features over the course of the film, he joins a new group and forces someone out within 5 minutes, he gets angry when the players are winning, and he isn’t even nice to his Gran! In fact, the chav nemesis Lennie goes through more growth and positive changes than the main protagonist. The two main supporting characters are characterized by simple habits; one of them burps a lot, the other one worries a lot.

The tone of the film goes through wild shifts. It can’t decide if it wants to be a romantic comedy with a bit of roleplaying, a drama with a bit of roleplaying, or a roleplaying comedy with a bit of drama. There are some brief attempts at Edgar Wright style scene changes and fade outs that seem to have been lifted from Spaced but it’s a pity the material is nowhere near funny enough. In fact I can’t recall a single joke or funny scene from the movie, just 12 hours after I watched it. Even the roleplaying scenes, which could have been mined for laughs, are very poor because although the game itself is a perfect example of a bad roleplaying game (clichéd plot, killer GM, no character portrayal, home brewed system, etc.) the characters in the movie treat it as if it’s the best game they’ve ever played. If the movie had gone the other way and had Ralph try to desperately control his players as they rebel against his game then maybe some jokes might have appeared in the script. Instead the humour is derived from a character that burps out words and makes innuendos to the only female player during the game. The film suffers because it takes its subject matter too seriously and then undermines it with the equivalent of a burping clown.

The drama slows the film’s pacing to a crawl too. It takes forever for the movie to actually have a roleplaying scene and it’s after several dour scenes of Ralph being lonely, getting threatened by chavs and wandering the grim, rainy streets of Glasgow for what seems like forever. The dramatic subplots come and go over the course of the film, one of the characters was abused as a child, one sustains a mysterious neck injury that is never explained (I think you’re supposed to assume that one of the others did it but there’s no pay off for it anyway), and one is beaten to a pulp by a gang. I know that the film was trying to show that the character’s every day lives were grim and depressing and that roleplaying was their only escape, but the roleplaying scenes were just plain dull. A film that markets itself as a comedy should really concentrate on the jokes first.

Criticism aside, the roleplaying scenes do use a shadow puppet technique which is effective in its simplicity. I thought it was a nice stylistic choice and was a nice step around budgetary restrictions. I also found the performances to be engaging enough despite the film’s uneven tone.

The problem with the Gamerz is that it’s not a terrible film, it’s a movie that can’t decide if it wants to make a social commentary on the hobby or if it wants to be a fond dedication. The film also suffers for its running time; it’s overly long at 108 minutes and would’ve benefited from being a leaner 80 minutes or so. If you want a funny roleplaying movie, then you can either check out the 20 minute short film The Gamers or buy a copy of Knights of the Dinner Table and read it aloud with your friends in silly voices. If you want a drama then there are thousands of other films out there.

If you have no interest in roleplaying and don’t know anything about it, you will probably come away from this movie thinking that roleplaying is the most pathetic hobby you’ve ever seen. In some ways you’d be right but it’s also one of the most engaging and awesome hobbies ever, it’s just a pity this movie bungles that part.

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