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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/17/00
updated: 6/29/01

Reindeer Games

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Reindeer Games: Director's Cut

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Reindeer Games
Director's Cut - 2000 (2001) - Dimension (Buena Vista)

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B+

Specs and Features

124 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:17:47, at the start of chapter 13), Amaray keep case packaging, director's cut commentary by director John Frankenheimer, behind-the-scenes featurette, original theatrical cut scenes, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Reindeer Games

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Reindeer Games
2000 (2000) - Dimension (Buena Vista)

Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B-

Specs and Features

104 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (widescreen on one layer, full frame on the other), Amaray keep case packaging, commentary by director John Frankenheimer, behind-the-scenes featurette, theatrical trailer, home video trailer for Scream 3, film-themed menu screens, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: Spanish, Closed Captioned

"I finally meet a boy that I'm crazy about, and my brother wants him worse than me."

Reindeer Games is a tale of love and crime set in the cold, colorless land that is northern Michigan. Rudy Duncan (Ben Affleck) is a prisoner just a day away from release. His best friend and cellmate Nick (James Frain) is also on his way out, and is looking forward to a romantic rendezvous with his beautiful pen pal Ashley (Charlize Theron), who he has only communicated with via love letters. During a food fight that turns into a prison riot, Nick is killed. Longing for the love and affection of the gorgeous Ashley, Rudy innocently decides to pass himself off as Nick once he is released.

Upon release, Rudy and Ashley are having a grand ol' time together. That is until Ashley's brother, Gabriel (Gary Sinise), commandeers Rudy - remember... Ashley and Gabriel think Rudy is Nick - to help him knock off the low rent Indian Casino where Nick used to work before he was imprisoned. Fearing Gabriel and his crew will eventually kill him if they ever found out the truth about his identity, Rudy decides to help the would-be criminals pull off the job. At this point, Reindeer Games turns into a typical action/thriller with the requisite twists and turns and a surprise ending... pretty formulaic, actually.

Here's the bottom line. I was expecting more from this film than it actually delivered. Let's look at the facts: 1) John Frankenheimer is a very talented director, and his action/thriller Ronin is one of the most exciting and engrossing movies I have seen in the last five years. 2) The cast is marvelous. Ben Affleck is one of those movie heroes who's fun to watch and who I enjoy rooting for, Gary Sinise has a lot of on-screen charisma, and Charlize Theron is a talented young actress who just happens to be very easy on the eyes. 3) On the surface, the story seems intriguing. Now let's look at reality. 1) Frankenheimer doesn't offer anything original or even moderately as creative with Reindeer Games as he did with the breath-stealing car chases and poetically violent atmosphere of Ronin. 2) Ben Affleck has to deal with a weak script and flat attempts at black comedy, and Gary Sinise plays the stereotypical "bad guy" and seems out of his element. However, Charlize Theron's character is the film's most dynamic, and she managed to impress with her skillful transformation. Theron is successful at giving this film at least a modicum of redeeming value. 3) The story seems intriguing, but it turns out to be your typical action/thriller, right down to the requisite double-crossing and you-never-would-have-guessed-it ending. And for what you expect to be an action-based film, there really isn't that much action.

Now let's talk about the new 20-minute-longer director's cut. Appearing on the cover of the packaging is a quote by Frankenheimer reading, "This is the picture I made for me. It's much sexier and much edgier." Okay... the director's cut is a bit more violent, but is it edgier? Yes, but not by leaps and bounds. Is it sexier? Well... there's more heavy breathing in the bedroom, and you get a close up shot Affleck's ass (yikes!), but I wouldn't call the director's cut "sexier" per se. More important are the additional expositional moments reinstated into the film, that help to build the characters a bit more. But sex and violence are what sells, so Buena Vista's marketing department decided to push those aspects. On Frankenheimer's new commentary track on the director's cut, he discusses the chilly audience reactions during the preview process and the pressure that was applied by the studio for him to change the film. The director goes into great detail about what was cut where and why, and it's safe to say that this new cut is truly his ultimate vision. Overall, the film is still basically the same, but it does have a bit more of a bite to it. The director's cut is not a night-and-day sort of departure from the theatrical cut, but it is a slight improvement, and is the recommended version (in my opinion). If you really loved this film the first time, you'll love the director's cut even more. But if you really didn't like it the first time, the new cut really won't change your opinion.

The anamorphic widescreen video presentations on both discs (framed at 2.35:1) are overall pleasing offerings from Dimension and Buena Vista. Images are solid and detailed, with only very minor compression artifacting in the form of pixelization in the background of some scenes (note that this is even less apparent on the Director's Cut). The bland, neutral color theme of the film is well conveyed, as is shadow delineation. Only the darkest of scenes appear somewhat muddy, with a very slight orange tint. Included as an option on the original DVD version (on the same side of the dual-layered disc) is a full frame version for those who prefer it. The new Director's Cut omits it entirely.

The original disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is passable, but not very memorable. Fidelity is usually accurate, however during some of the early prison scenes the dialog sounds boxy and muddled. Gunshots are presented with authority, and the rear channels are used modestly and tastefully. The subwoofer sees some life during heavier action scenes and conveys strong ambience. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio on the Director's Cut is identical in quality to the original DVD release.

On the original DVD, Dimension and Buena Vista offer consumers a couple of semi-nifty supplements. Besides the theatrical trailer (presented in full-frame), there is a rather pointless 7-minute, behind-the-scenes featurette. While it's always interesting to see what happens behind-the-scenes on a film shoot, the brief interview segments peppered into this reel are saccharine admiration competitions. The whole idea seems to be to see whether Frankenheimer, Theron, Affleck or Sinise can dole out more compliments than their co-workers. The highlight of the supplements is definitely Frankenheimer's audio commentary. While sometimes reverting back into the circular and repetitive routine ("He's one of the top-three best actors I've ever worked with," "She's so talented," "He's so professional," "He's one of the greatest," "I've always admired..."), the director does offer very interesting tidbits. The audience gets a feel for how Frankenheimer sets up shots, why he uses the Super 35 format, why he chooses certain locations and other interesting and useful filmmaking information. This is a man who loves his craft, and is meticulous in its execution. Too bad it's not a better film.

As I mentioned, the Director's Cut disc features a brand new commentary by Frankenheimer, focusing on the differences between the new version and the theatrical cut. It's a better track overall, because while he still discusses some interesting topics regarding the making of the film, he goes into some depth about the preview process films undergo, and how changes are made to hopefully make a film more successful. It's an interesting track - definitely worth a listen. The same meaningless featurette appears on the new disc, as well as the theatrical trailer. A nice addition to the Director's Cut disc is a set of eight scenes that were re-edited for the new version, presented in their original form. It's a handy way to compare them and decide for yourself if the changes were worth it or not.

Reindeer Games is a very average movie, without much creative wit. I was frankly expecting more from such a talented director and cast, but got formula. The Director's Cut helps to put more energy into the experience, but it still doesn't help it become a grade-A film in the long run. The technical quality of both DVDs is pleasing overall, and the commentary tracks are informative looks into the making of a film (particularly the new one). But the monsters in the gelatin are telling me that this film doesn't have a lot of repeat value, so definitely rent whichever version you're interested in before you buy.

Greg Suarez

Reindeer Games: Director's Cut

Reindeer Games

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