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Reign Over Me – when films get videogames right

Ok, I’m about four years late to the party given that Reign Over Me was released in 2007, but I only saw it last night so you’re getting my opinions now whether you like it or not. Now, I’m not the biggest Adam Sandler fan, and I wasn’t over-impressed by the film (3 stars out of 5 if you care) but it does contain what is probably the most realistic and intelligent uses of videogames that I’ve ever seen in a fictional film.

Reign Over Me is about Charlie Fineman (Sandler), a man who lost his entire family during the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City. Many years later he reunites with old friend Alan Johnson (played by Don Cheadle) who helps him come to terms with his loss and the resulting emotional trauma that has caused his life to fall apart. Part of this slow and painful recovery is aided by one of Charlie’s favourite pasttimes – playing videogames, or specifically, playing Shadow Of The Colossus (you can see the trailer which features a little bit of the game here).

Not everything is perfect with the inclusion of the game in Reign Over Me (which, incidentally, was also owned by Sony). The characters still sometimes move their pads like they’re trying to catch a rather large fish, Cheadle keeps calling the game “Shadows Of The Colossus”, and the way he screams “COLOSUUUUUUUSSSS!” at one point is just weird.

But the reasons why it works outweigh the reasons that is doesn’t. Firstly, the fact that it is Shadow Of The Colossus is significant in itself. This isn’t your traditional movie videogame, which tend to be rubbish FPSs, fighting games, or crap Eighties shoot-em-ups. It’s a beautiful, critically renowned videogame that looks worlds apart from anything else out there. The way Cheadle and Sandler’s characters play it is different too. They’re not slack-jawed automatons dribbling on their Soundgarden t-shirts as they mindlessly shoot enemies and ignore their parents. They’re talking, having fun together, bonding. They’re experiencing failure, frustration and happiness – they’re being brought closer by the experience of playing together.

It’s also a thematically relevant game. In the movie, Sandler’s character is both unwilling and unable to accept the reality of his family’s death. In the game, Wanda’s character similarly refuses to accept his loved one’s death, taking on the Colossi in the hope of somehow bringing her back to life – something Sandler’s character can never, ever achieve. Also, the images of huge beings coming crashing to down to earth is exactly the kind of imagery that someone who’s dealing with the tragedy of 9/11 would become engrossed with.

Finally, the most impressive thing Reign Over Me gets right about videogames is that it portrays them not as a negative force in our lives, but a powerful, rehabilitative one. I’ve been doing this job for about three years now and I’ve read countless letters from readers who have praised videogames and their ability to help overcome the obstacles life has thrown at them. This is the first film I’ve seen that’s featured a videogame in the same positive light.

So, although we’re still getting crap churned out like Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li, there are films out there willing to let the games speak for themselves. It’s just a pity that there hasn’t been a film that’s dealt with the medium in such a mature and level-headed manner in the four years since.

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