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DVD Review: Game Box 1.0

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"If you wanted to take over the world, video games would be a good way to do it," says a radio host early in Game Box 1.0.  Anyone who's ever found himself playing Gran Turismo for hours on end can relate to getting completely sucked in to a computer game, and that's the premise behind this surprisingly engrossing direct-to-video effort.

Charlie Nash (Nate Richert) plays video games all day, reporting on bugs and possible improvements, for a living.  A pretty sweet gig, you'd think, but he's become an antisocial, depressed recluse after his girlfriend (Danielle Fishel, whose role on Boy Meets World makes her the only recognizable member of the cast) was shot dead by a crooked police officer.  One day a mysterious package arrives at his home, containing an unusual video-game console which doesn't even need to be hooked up to a television – instead, you put on a strange-looking headset and find yourself sucked into a virtual-reality Grand Theft Auto knockoff where all the characters look like people you know.  (Co-directors David and Scott Hillenbrand admit that Tron was a major inspiration for Game Box 1.0.)  In Charlie's world, the bad guy is the cop who shot his girlfriend – and his late girlfriend is the woman he has to protect.

Game Box 1.0 is a remarkably ambitious project, considering its miniscule budget, and that's why I didn't have particularly high expectations heading in.  But I was quite surprised to find myself enjoying the movie, at last while Richert and Fishel were in the "Crime Spree" game.  This "world" doesn't look particularly realistic, but it is a reasonable approximation of something like Grand Theft Auto, so it works.  The other virtual-reality games in which the characters are trapped, unfortunately, don't work quite so well – a "zombie" world features jerky black silhouettes (kind of like the demons who took people to Hell in Ghost) lurching around, and the climactic "Alien Planet" world is an ugly, yellow-saturated wasteland.  I did like the 1950s-style flying saucers, however.

The biggest problem with Game Box 1.0 is that we never find out who created this video game and sent it to the main character.  In the audio commentary, the filmmakers say this was done on purpose, but I can't help thinking they just didn't have the money to portray the mysterious designer on film.  Still, the lead actors are appealing, and there is real poignancy in Charlie suddenly finding himself face-to-face with the girl he loved, or at least a computerized simulation.

Aside from the filmmakers' commentary, the Game Box 1.0 DVD also includes deleted and extended scenes, a lame blooper reel, and a short but interesting "making of" documentary.  Almost the entire movie was filmed in front of a green screen, and while it doesn't look nearly as good as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or other major-studio releases filmed in this manner, it does show how technological advances allow B-movie directors to make good-looking films on tiny budgets.  (This one was made for only $200,000.00, according to the Internet Movie Database.)  Game Box 1.0 isn't a great film by any means, but a version 2.0 might not be such a bad idea.

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About Damian P.