I got the pleasure of Heading along to a pre-screening of The Call Up a new film out on the 20th of May that blends cinema and games together. Now wait, I know what you’re all thinking
“ah, jeez. Gamer films are normally rubbish, so few hit the mark”
and I am inclined to agree. Coming from a gamer’s perspective on the film, I went in with very low expectations. Films and games have a turbulent past: remember Gamer with Gerard butler or Doom with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson *shudder* these are two examples of films that could have been great, but once again proved that sticking a star on the screen and telling people it’s about games, well, that ain’t enough, sir. However, with The Call Up I was pleasantly surprised. It was good. Now it has some faces you may recognise but no super stars, and the director, Charles Barker – who also wrote the screenplay – you may not know, nevertheless, this was an enjoyable film that blends cinema and games well.
The film is about a group of gamers who win the ultimate gamer experience, to go into a fully immersive virtual reality environment and compete. They are all strangers and top level, hard-core gamers, who meet for the first time at the location of the experience. And then off they go. I’m not going to go in to too many details, so not to reveal spoilers, but I’ll give you a rough idea of why I liked it and why I think you should go see it.
As a gamer, there are subtle nuances that I appreciated that may have been missed by non-gamers. Throughout the film there were certain lines and visual references that rung very true for anyone who has played games, especially first-person shooters. The intro was an especially good homage to the start of modern first-person shooters, I thought. It sounds silly to say, but I noticed and appreciated these little references, it’s nothing inherent to the script or story but they highlighted to me that the people behind the film really do know games. Things like the slightly off NPC movement that can happen, and the cheesy one-liners and speeches often made in games, all provided a terrific nod to the medium. Whilst many of these references focused on the lighter side of the medium, and included one or two that made me laugh out loud, the film was very brutal in places and didn’t shy away from violence. Which is great, because who doesn’t like a nice graphic electrocution or bloody gun battles, Right? Right. No worries here.
On top of clearly knowing the medium of games, The Call Up’s filmmaking was also very strong. The shots used, the framing and a plethora of other cinematic techniques where used to great effect and added to why the film was so enjoyable and immersive. One of the things I think matters a lot in film is the music. It can shape your emotions perfectly to amplify the feeling of a scene, but in the same way it can destroy it if done badly. I’m happy to report the music worked very well. It was very ‘Tron’, that deep synth, almost 80s style that I found very theme appropriate.
The characters had all the bases covered for your different gamer archetypes, your jock, loner, etc. all with suitable Gamertags that matched their personalities. The archetypes where a little predictable but it was saved (for me anyway) by the realisation that I had at least one gamer friend to fit most of them. I thought the cast where all quite good, with a couple of standout performances from individuals who could go on to have strong acting careers, and they helped add to the gravitas of the film. As skilled as an actor might be, however, it very much relies on the strength of the script, which I found pretty engaging. It did have some lines that I couldn’t place as being either a hint towards the somewhat clichéd writing in games, or meant as serious, but they were few and far between, maybe two or three in the film, the rest of it was enjoyable. Put it this way: it didn’t have me rolling my eyes in the way a lot of other videogame themed films do.
All in all, I liked it. I Think the director shows real promise for the future as do a few of the cast members. This certainly won’t win any Oscars and it probably won’t get the recognition it deserves, but it was enjoyable cinema. The concept for the film is brilliant and executed very well. If you play games then go see this film. If you don’t, then go see it anyway, you don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy this film, but it definitely adds to it.