By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Beta Test is an upcoming independent movie scheduled for cinematic release July 22nd and it shows how dangerous augmented reality can be. When champion gamer Max (Larenz Tate, House of Lies) is given a new video game by his employer / benefactor (a company known as Sentinel) to test, very little does he know that he’s controlling another individual to commit crimes in the real-world? Somehow, he must discover how to free Orson Creed (Manu Bennett, CW’s Arrow) from mind control in order to unravel a greater conspiracy. In what the two discover is a bigger game of cat and mouse neither are prepared for.
Both have different stakes. Creed’s wife is kidnapped and unless he complies, she will die. Max has social issues. Ever since his beloved pet died, he’s led a sheltered life. This film has some good depth in the development of its characters. For once, Bennett gets to play a good guy and I liked hearing him wax poetic about how nobody has the right to play god. After all, aren’t we living in The Matrix?
There are bits of philosophical moments to enjoy with this film to suggest how people should not totally remove themselves from society. Those who want to lose themselves in another world can lose objectivity; in what Max experienced, he certainly needs no Disney’s Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything to understand how he needs to develop friendships with others. I like to see what new threats he has to contend with since he’s waking up to realizing life can go by if he does not pay attention to what is outdoors. Another film is unlikely but to see Tate’s development of how he played this character has moments I can relate to. The movie is more about him than Bennett, who provides a few exciting action sequences straight of the games from the past 15 years. This film will soon have a record of featuring an eight-minute fight sequence done in one continuous take. This feat alone should merit attention.
I was drawn into the moments when Tate is playing commando through Creed’s eyes. The animated point of view shots is nothing new but to witness the action from a different perspective is enlightening. However, I am curious if a Playstation 3 controller can recreate a full range of motion. A bit of creative liberty is assumed since the X button can not command an avatar to light a cigar and open a window. Fourteen buttons may seem enough to reproduce every task a biped can do in a sandbox (anything can happen) environment but there will be some tasks that require minute precision, like controlling a fishing pole. The gameplay presented is on par with the images a Sony Playstation 3 can produce, and the video game world presented is essentially Grand Theft Auto meets Call of Duty. Amusingly, the action takes place in the streets of Downtown Seattle – where director Nicholas Gyeney is from.
This film is very good in getting cyberpunk without being too sci-fi. The story takes place in modern times, where many companies are looking to develop the future. This city is home to many firms at the forefront of developing this technology. After all, Microsoft makes its home here and they are developing the home where everyone can live like Tony Stark. As for whether or not we should be worried if developers are creating games to train couch potatoes to be virtual commandoes, the symbiosis can not work unless the two personalities agree to work together and are a team, like in how the robots in Pacific Rim works.
This movie can be found screening at the following AMC theatres on July 22nd with VOD distribution August 2nd:
Los Angeles (Orange 30 AMC + Atlantic AMC)
Seattle ( Woodinville AMC, Kent Station AMC, Siff Uptown)
Atlanta (North Dekalb Mall 16)
Baton Rouge ( Baton Rouge AMC )
Chicago (South Barrington AMC)
New York (Empire 25, Jersey 20 AMC’s)
Washington D.C. (Loudon 11 AMC)
Houston (Studio 30 AMC)
Tampa (Veterans Expressway 24 AMC)
San Francisco/Oakland (Theaters TBD)
Phoenix (Arizona Center AMC)
Philadelphia (Neshaminy 24 AMC)