In 1997 David Fincher released his most daring and underappreciated movie to date: The Game.
Coming off the back of Se7en, Fincher was hot property in Hollywood, which made the decision to direct a dark thriller starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn and Crash star Deborah Kara Unger all the more unusual. Then again, The Game was a pretty unusual movie.
It focused on Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas), a wealthy investment banker, estranged from friends and family, who is given the opportunity to participate in a mysterious game by his brother, Conrad (Penn).
This is no ordinary game though but an immersive, real-life experience where the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly difficult for the participant.
Against that backdrop, a dark, twist-filled story ensues that will keep you guessing until the very end.
The Game may not have made much of an impact at the box office on release but it’s garnered a cult following in the years since and is rightly regarded as one of the best thrillers of the 1990s.
Here are just a few things you might not know about this Fincher fan favourite.
The Game was written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris as a spec script back in 1991. They went on to write Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Catwoman, Terminator Salvation and the Bruce Willis sci-fi flop Surrogates. The Game was definitely a high point then.
The Game was first picked up by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who wanted Kyle MacLachlan and Bridget Fonda to star in the lead roles. Eventually, the project moved to PolyGram Filmed Entertainment where David Fincher took an interest.
Polygram originally cast Jodie Foster alongside Michael Douglas. However, David Fincher didn’t like the idea of Foster playing a support role.
He briefly considered rewriting Senn Penn’s part so the person giving Nicholas van Orton “The Game” was his daughter rather than his brother. Ultimately, scheduling conflicts forced Foster to exit the project.
Senn Penn was not even the first choice to play Nicholas van Orton’s brother, Conrad. Jeff Bridges was first to be offered the part but turned it down as he was working on The Big Lebowski with the Coen Brothers at the time.
Deborah Kara Unger landed the role of female lead Christine after sending David Fincher and Michael Douglas a two-minute show reel that consisted of one of her sex scenes from David Cronenberg’s Crash. It caught Fincher’s attention though.
Unger put her body on the line for The Game. Not only did she fracture a bone in her foot during filming but she also willingly jumped into a dumpster full of real rats while working on the movie.
David Fincher and cinematographer Harris Savides created a neat contrast between Nicholas’ old life and the dangerous new world he experiences.
For scenes set in Van Orton’s normal life, they created a “rich and supple” feel in keeping with The Godfather – visually appealing locations that had an ominous sense of doom to them. Once he left his old world behind, they used fluorescents, neon signs and other lights to create a wilder place outside of the central character’s comfort zone.
Adult movie star Tony Tedeschi has a brief cameo of sorts – he appears on a television located in Nicholas Van Orton’s suite at the Hotel Nikko.
The Game is supposedly a modern retelling of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” in that both stories centre on rich lonely men who on an annual holiday experiences things reflecting his past, present, and future and eventually re-evaluates his life for the better.
The original script to The Game saw Nicholas kill Christine and commit suicide at the end. Fincher hated this ending though and had it changed by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker who introduced several twists to the story which the film director preferred.
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