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“BIG GAME” (FANTASTICA Blu-ray Review)

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This writer isn’t sure about any of the readers out there, but considering the loud and overloaded action fare that seems to come out of Hollywood more often than not, there’s definitely a hole where the fun, high-concept action/adventure film used to be. You all know the ones: the action pictures you’d so often find the names “Renny Harlin”, “John McTiernan”, “Paul Verhoeven” or “Kathryn Bigelow” attached to and would feature eccentric villains and heart-felt heroes with egos as big as the explosions on display. But with the rise of CGI and the dumbing down of the action movie model, these films have seeming gone dormant… that is with the exception of Jalmari Helander’s BIG GAME, a blast from the past through the eyes of an up-and-coming Finnish director.

In essence, BIG GAME has an inspired but oh-so-simple conceit: betrayed by his top Secret Service agent (Ray Stevenson), the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson) finds himself on the run from terrorists who aim to hunt him as ‘Most Dangerous Game’, with his only chance of survival being a wayward yet courageous young boy (Onni Tommila) in the midst of his ‘rite of passage’. Of course, there’s also the subplot of the Washington D.C. reaction to the events as well as the insights of the larger-than-life villains themselves, but BIG GAME more or less shows the bond between two underdogs under duress which thankfully pays off in a series of thrilling in-camera set pieces.

While RARE EXPORTS showed what Helander could do as a filmmaker with big ideas and a fair budget, BIG GAME shows what the director can do with a bigger budget and Hollywood stars… which is surprisingly in the same character-driven mold as his previous film. While the film is a bit light on logic, especially when it comes to loose ends that aren’t necessarily wrapped up as they should be and a surprise twist in the film’s final moments, BIG GAME is more preoccupied with telling a story with a wealth of heart and a disregard for the cynical grimness that bogs down many contemporary action flicks of its budget range. And even with the logic lapses, BIG GAME also goes a long way to giving every character and unique, distinct personality, even to the points where multiple villains have their own doubts about their intentions and actions.

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Helander, directing from a script written by himself and Petri Jokiranta, nails the tone of BIG GAME through humor and a willingness to balance digital and practical FX. Even when the film is on a constructed set as opposed to the gorgeous natural locations, it gives out the same air as many films of the ’80s had thanks to the immersive scope and depth of the set on display, which only adds to the overall fun of the flick. The film also looks gorgeous and much more visually ambitious thanks to the cinematography of Mika Orasmaa, and the film bounces from humorous to dramatic to action-packed ever so easily with credit to the score from Juri and Miska Seppa.

Now, unfortunately, Blu-ray collectors won’t find much out of the film in terms of special features, outside of the unrated version of the otherwise PG-13 film with a bit more blood and foul language to punctuate certain moments. However, on the upside, BIG GAME’s audio and video transfer is nothing short of superb, with the sound design more dynamic and the picture more slick and vibrant than most digitally-shot releases of its ilk.

Overall, for fans of big, bombastic action cinema but with the old-minded soul of adventure flicks, BIG GAME will be a hell of a throwback for those willing to give the project a chance. It’s an undoubtedly fun flick with a fair share of great performances and a sense of character, all the while never taking itself too seriously as to let the picture drag while also never dipping outright into camp. Though BIG GAME doesn’t quite get to action classic territory, it’s an impressive step forward for an already impressive director like Helander, and you won’t find it looking or sounding anywhere better than Blu-ray.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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