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Featured Blu-ray Review: eXistenZ

January 10th, 2013

eXistenZ - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

eXistenZ is a Canadian movie that cost more than $30 million Canadian dollars to make, but made less than $3 million at the domestic box office. There's never been a time when the exchange rate was great enough to cover that difference. Is it a bad movie? Is that why it failed to find an audience? Or is it, like so many David Cronenberg movies, just too weird for a mainstream audience?

The Movie

In the near future, virtual reality games dominate the entertainment industry and there are two companies that dominate the field. Antenna Research is the company Allegra Geller works for. She is called "Goddess of Gaming", albeit by a company rep, but she is one of the most, if not the most important game developer around, and she has a new game coming out, eXistenZ. While gamers are excited, there are two groups fighting against her. Cortical Systematics is the other company big into virtual reality games and someone who would want to steal her ideas. There are also the Realists, a group of radicals who want to stop virtual reality all together, as they think virtual reality is warping how humans perceive reality. And once you see how people plug into these virtual reality games, you might be on their side. The game pods are grown, not made, and the users have to plug directly into the machine through their "bio-ports", which hook up the gamer to the game via an "umbilical cord". Who would buy this? Are there no marketing gurus in the future? Did no one ask, "Can you design the interface to look less like a cancerous growth? And why does it have to pulsate?"

As Allegra prepares for the first demonstration of the game to a test audience, one of the members of the audience shouts, "Death to the Demoness, Allegra Geller." and shoots her with an organic gun, which he was able to sneak past security. She's only wounded, but he's able to kill the M.C. Before being shot himself. Before the M.C. dies, he instructs Ted Pikul, another Antenna Research employee, to get Allegra to safety. He also warns Ted to not trust anyone, as Antenna Research has enemies on the inside. He's not exactly the best choice for the job. He's not a member of the security; he's a marketing trainee. Also, he has never been fitted for a bio-port, as he has tomophobia, a fear of surgeries, so he's never experienced any of the games. He wants to help market games, but he's never played them. This is a bigger problem than just the irony. While escaping the assassination attempt, Ted had to unplug Allegra from her bio-port and in doing so might have corrupted the one copy of eXistenZ in existance. (It's like pulling out a thumb drive while the computer is writing a file.) She needs to check out the system to make sure it still works, but in order to do that, she needs to access the game with a second player.

Allegra and Ted have to head to a black-market bio-port fitter, and they find one at a local gas station, named Gas. At first he pretends to not know what they are talking about, but when he recognizing Allegra, he agrees to help. ... Spoiler Alert ... Gas intentionally installs a faulty bio-port in Ted and tries to assassinate Allergra, to cash in on the price on her head. In the aftermath of that, the pair head to Kiri Vinokur, Allegra's mentor, who will help them repair the game, but in order to do that, they have to enter the game.

Once they enter the game... major spoilers happen.

eXistenZ is written and directed by David Cronenberg, which is not just a statement of fact, but it is also a shorthand for a review. If you are familiar with David Cronenberg, you know what to expect here in terms of style of substance. I would say it is most similar to Videodome, although I should point out it has been years since I've seen his other body horror films (Naked Lunch and The Fly, and to a lesser extent, Scanners and Dead Ringers) so perhaps I'm misremembering those films. Not only does it have a similar look to it, but it deals with the merging of flesh and technology in the body horror fashion. It also deals with the entertainment industry and there are a lot of questions about loyalty. It is not as good as Videodome is. For instance, after a while, the twists get tiresome. There are just too many fake-outs and in the end it hurts the plot. Even so, there are still a lot of very interesting subjects brought up and the movie is very good. Additionally, the acting is fantastic and it annoys me that Jennifer Jason Leigh isn't given more leading roles.

The Extras

While this is a bargain Blu-ray, there is some good news to report. There are extras. There are three interview featurettes with a total running time of close to 50 minutes. The longest of these is with the special effects supervisor, which makes sense, given the visual focus of the movie. As for the bad news, the technical presentation isn't good. Granted, it looks better than it has looked on DVD, but there are a lot of problems, especially early on. First impressions are lasting impressions, so a studio should be especially careful in the first few minutes. The opening scene of this movie has serious print damage. It does get better and overall it is acceptable, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement. The audio is better with a solid 5.1 setup. There's not a lot of action in the surround sound speakers, but there's enough not to feel bare.

The Verdict

eXistenZ is a movie that deserves a strong Blu-ray release, but given its box office struggles, I'm holding my breath waiting for one. The bargain Blu-ray is just $8 on, so it is impossible to argue with that price. It's worth picking up while we wait for an anniversary edition.

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Filed under: Video Review, eXistenZ, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Cronenberg, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm