Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law
Extras: Theatrical Trailer
The title "eXistenZ" refers to a new game that has been developed by Antenna Research. "eXistenZ" is no video game. It is a totally immersive experience where all of one’s senses are stimulated. The film opens with a test group trying out the game. We are introduced to Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the designer of "eXistenZ". We learn that Allegra is the queen of game design and is treated as a celebrity. "eXistenZ" isn’t played with the VR helmets or gloves that we are used to. In the film, most people have a bio-port in their back at the base of the spine. This small hole is used to insert cables (tentacles?) from the game-pod directly into the player. The game pod itself is a fleshy object with small nodules, which squeals when touched.
Allegra fears that her pod has been damaged, so she convinces Pikul that he must test "eXistenZ" with her. Although reluctant at first, Ted is convinced and he (and the audience) are whisked into the bizarre and fascinating world of "eXistenZ". But, soon Ted realizes that VR can be very real and he begins to doubt his own sanity. Ted and Allegra must not only escape the assassins, but they must survive "eXistenZ" as well.
For Cronenberg fans, "eXistenZ" is a welcome gift. After stumbling with "M. Butterfly" and "Crash", Cronenberg returns to directing his own material and the results are a return to his old themes of technology versus human nature. Cronenberg takes a big risk by making a movie about virtual reality gaming that doesn’t include any shots of a computer. The idea of the fleshy game-pod is presented at the very beginning, and its presented in such a low-key manner that the audience just accepts it (while being grossed out by it).
Cronenberg seems very comfortable with this material and confidently takes the viewer through the switches and changes in the story. Unfortunately, this is where the film’s problems begin. Once the film moves into the gaming world, the story becomes very convoluted and at times, hard to follow. The shifts from reality to non-reality are handled well visually, but story-wise they are a little too jarring. Unlike similar films like "Jacob’s Ladder" or the underrated "Brain Dead", the jumps in perception in "eXistenZ" seem at the same time to be both random and awfully convenient. This makes the film comes across as both confusing and trite at the same time.
Due to the ending, the film actually works much better upon a second viewing. Once you know what’s going on, you can spot the subtle (and not so subtle) cues throughout the film that point towards the ending. For example, at the 23:04 point in the movie, Allegra does some bizarre things (touching walls, smelling the air), that just seem weird upon the initial viewing, but are very clever once you know what’s going on. I realize that it’s hard enough to get people to watch a mediocre and confusing film once, but if you were intrigued by "eXistenZ" upon your first viewing, then give it a second chance.
As Allegra Geller, Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a strong, low-key performance. She does a good job of balancing the shy game designer with the wanton adventurer Allegra becomes in "eXistenZ." Jude Law is good as the bumbling PIkul; a man who is not one, but two worlds that he doesn’t understand. There are some nice performances from Willem Dafoe (creepy as ever) and Ian Holm, as people that Allegra and Ted meet during their escape.
The Dimension Home Video DVD of "eXistenz" offers some features which are not listed, or listed incorrectly on the box. The film is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 (although I’ve seen it listed as 1.77:1) and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The framing appears to be accurate, as there is no warping of the frame. The picture itself is clear, with some very fine grain apparent at certain points. The film has a very crisp look to it and all of the colors are presented in a very realistic fashion.