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Robert Altman
Tim Robbins, Cynthia Stevenson, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward
Writing Credits:
Michael Tolkin

A Hollywood studio executive is being sent death threats by a writer whose script he rejected - but which one?

Box Office:
$8 million.
Opening Weekend
$302,216 on 23 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 124 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 5/24/2016

• Audio Commentary with Director Robert Altman, Writer Michael Tolkin and Cinematographer Jean Lepine
• “Planned Improvization” Documentary
• Interview with Director Robert Altman
• Cannes Press Conference
• “Robert Altman’s Players” Featurette
• “Map to the Stars” Gallery
• Deleted Scenes/Outtakes
• “Opening Shot” with Optional Commentaries
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Player: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1992)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 12, 2016)

After he directed a mix of notable movies in the 1970s, Robert Altman struggled to find his way in the subsequent decade. Perhaps 1980’s noted flop Popeye cursed him, but Altman hopped from one forgettable – and forgotten – flick after another.

Altman re-entered the “winner’s column” in 1992 with The Player, a flick that earned consistently good notices and a decent audience. A mix of satire and film noir, we head to Hollywood to meet Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), an executive at a studio – though perhaps not for long. Griffin finds himself on the potential chopping block and fears he’ll lose his job.

That doesn’t act as Griffin’s sole concern, however, as he receives threatening notes from an unknown party. Apparently these come from a writer whose pitch Griffin blew off, and chickens may come home to roost. We follow Griffin’s path through two cutthroat worlds, one literal and one figurative.

When I saw The Player back in 1992, I was 25 and not sure I’d previously taken in any Altman other than Popeye. While Player got fine reviews, it left me cold for the most part. I thought it had some interesting moments but much of the film failed to excite me.

Almost 25 years later, I have better acquaintance with Altman as well as the genres The Player involves – and it still largely fails to do much for me. I still think some aspects of the film entertain, but the overall picture seems less than enthralling.

As mentioned earlier, Player largely aspires to take on two genres: satire and noir. I don’t think it does either well, especially in terms of the parody. The film tends to feel toothless, as it takes easy shots at Hollywood without real punch.

Altman clearly opened up his Rolodex to pull in scads of celebrity cameos, and those threaten to overwhelm the film. There’s too much of an inside feel to the proceedings, as though its self-consciousness intends to carry the day.

It doesn’t. The Player often feels more like a game of “spot the celebrity” than a coherent story, a factor exacerbated by the sleepiness of the main narrative, the noir side of things.

Does the tale of Griffin’s stalker and related crimes ever become involving? Not especially, partly because Griffin himself seems like such a flat character. He offers a void at the center of the movie – perhaps intentionally, as a comment on Hollywood’s emptiness, but still in a manner that makes the film something of a chore to watch.

I admit that I don’t find myself to be much of an Altman fan, and Player reminds me why. His works tend to function better in theory than in reality, as they veer toward an arch self-consciousness. Altman seems to feel “above” his subjects, and that detachment robs the flicks of heart. Altman conveys a sense of superiority that creates distant, sometimes laborious efforts, and those traits materialize in Player.

Sure, The Player comes with a pretty clever ending, but it takes a long, slow road to get there. Even with an all-star cast and the occasional intriguing idea, the movie drifts and sags too much.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio C/ Bonus B+

The Player appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie generally looked fine but could show its age.

Sharpness appeared positive most of the time. A few wide shots showed a smidgen of softness, but not to a substantial degree. Instead, the majority of the flick provided good clarity and accuracy. I saw no issues with jaggies or shimmering, and edge haloes remained modest. No print flaws became an issue here, as the film looked clean.

Circa 1992 film stocks didn’t boast the greatest colors, and the hues seen here could be a little heavy at times. Still, they usually appeared fairly well-rendered. Blacks seemed dark and tight, and shadows presented good delineation. Overall, this was a quality transfer.

Don’t expect much from the lackluster DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack of The Player, as it remained restrained. Music showed passable stereo imaging, but the mix could seem more monaural in that regard than I’d anticipate. The music spread to the sides without a lot of clarity.

Similar issues impacted effects, which used the various channels in a mediocre manner. These added mild breadth to the proceedings but never turned into prominent partners. The soundscape wasn’t monaural but it also wasn’t engaging, as the restricted scope made it bland.

Audio quality always satisfied. A little edginess occasionally affected speech, but the lines were usually natural and distinctive. Music showed nice range and definition, while effects were clear and concise. Though a story like The Player didn’t require an active soundtrack, I still thought this mix felt flat.

The Blu-ray comes with a slew of extras, and these mix old and new materials. In the “old” category, we find a circa 1992 audio commentary with director Robert Altman, writer Michael Tolkin and cinematographer Jean Lepine. Recorded separately for this edited piece, they discuss the source novel and its adaptation, story/character areas, cinematography, music and editing, cast and performances, and related areas.

Despite the potential to become disjointed, the commentary holds together well and delivers a solid view of the production. Though the chat concentrates on story/character domains, we get a good mix of subjects and learn a lot about the film.

Created in 2016, Planned Improvization runs 45 minutes, 53 seconds and offers info from Tolkin, actor Tim Robbins, production designer Stephen Altman, and associate producer David Levy. The show looks at the movie’s origins and development, visual design, Robert Altman’s approach to the material, cast and performances, sets and locations, story/characters, the flick’s opening shots, and other production elements.

Though it occasionally repeats tidbits from the commentary, “Planned’ usually sticks with fresh material, and it provides a compelling overview. We get a good mix of perspectives and learn quite a lot about the production in this engaging documentary.

Made for the 1990s laserdisc, an Interview with Director Robert Altman goes for 21 minutes. Altman chats about his approach to films, The Player’s connection to other aspects of the movie business and his take on the material, stylistic and genre choices, working with all the guest actors, and other topics.

A moderate amount of this interview repeats from the commentary – sometimes literally, as I think a few quotes come straight from that track. Still, we get a decent number of new insights, and Altman discusses his work pretty well. The chat merits a look.

Shot during the movie’s debut, a Cannes Press Conference lasts 55 minutes, 50 seconds and features a panel with Robert Altman, Tolkin, Robbins, Stephen Altman, producers David Brown, Cary Brokaw and Pierre Kalfon, and actors Dina Merrill, Whoopi Goldberg, and Brion James. This group offers reflections on then-current Hollywood, cast, characters and performances, and filmmaking techniques.

Some decent moments emerge here, but overall, the press conference seems like a bit of a mess. Robert Altman gets the lion’s share of the questions, and he tends to get preachy/pedantic – especially when he acts like a jerk to a reporter from People. We do learn a few unique notes but overall, the chat seems lackluster.

Another archival piece, Robert Altman’s Players fills 15 minutes, 47 seconds and takes a look at the gala shoot at the LA County Museum of Art. Most of this comprises of behind the scenes footage, and “Players” provides a fun view of the proceedings.

A gallery called Map to the Stars follows. It features 48 screens of shots that help identify the various stars who did cameos in the movie. This turns into a helpful compilation.

Five Deleted Scenes ensue. We see “Arrival at Dick Mellen’s Party” (0:43), “Columbia Bar and Grill” (4:38), “Jeff Daniels Swings a Club” (1:24), “Patrick Swayze Spars with Stuckel” (0:47), “Al Capone’s Hideout” (3:56). We also get “Outtakes” (1:58) of the fake movie with Lily Tomlin and Scott Glenn.

“Grill” gives us more of the rivalry between Griffin and Levy, and “Club” and “Spars” offer a bit more exposition. “Hideout” adds a smidgen to the Griffin/June relationship, while “Party” and “Outtakes” are just fluff. None of these clips seem especially significant, and they don’t expand the story in any useful ways.

Next we look at the film’s Opening Shot (8:11). We can view it either with commentary from Robert Altman or from Tolkin and Lepine. Altman’s chat does little more than describe what we see, but Tolkin and Lapine give us a smattering of insights.

In addition to two Trailers and four TV Spots, the set finishes with a 12-page Booklet. This mixes art, credits and an essay from author Sam Wasson. It’s not one of Criterion’s best booklets, but it adds some value.

After nearly 25 years, The Player seems to be regarded as a classic satire, but I don’t see much of the appeal. The film feels spotty and without the necessary coherence or bite. The Blu-ray provides generally good picture along with mediocre audio and an informative collection of bonus materials. Maybe 25 years from now I’ll finally embrace The Player, but right now, it continues to leave me cold.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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