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 Post subject: GTA4 as cinema
PostPosted: Fri Jul 25, 2008 10:34 pm 

Joined: Tue Apr 24, 2007 10:57 pm
Posts: 90
Grand Theft Auto 4 (GTA4), the video game released to great acclaim by Rockstar last year is also extremely cinematic - in fact perhaps just a different kind of cinema, as it begins and ends with credits just as if a film of the same name had proceeded to a conclusion, and lists its own director and cast. It utilises all of the traditional elements of the filmic experience - characterisation, visual suspense, acted out scenes, relationship interraction and building across complex charactersation, the ability to swop between 'shots' within scenes, including a 'cinematic' viewpoint and then utterly democratises them. In this sense it can be seen as a striking expression of the American experience. It has a distinctive soundtrack, being either the the convincingly natural sounds of the city or the multitude of radio stations on offer within every vehicle. The lead character can sit and watch TV with several channels, surf the net for dates, in addition to undertaking social activities, including having sex with selected partners. The game may be continued or the character can 'free range' with the audience through colourful environs during which time passes, days change into night and even the weather varies each day.

Events are set in Liberty City (loosely modelled on New York-Los Angeles?) and, in the HD version especially, realised with intense realism through a game program which allows almost complete freedom of movement for the cyber cast to move about amidst lovingly rendered detailed exteriors (only the number of interiors are limited). Dialogue is presented as natural, supporting 'players' appear to act, within some bounds, spontaneously and objects, surfaces and optics obey all of the expected laws. When watched on a large screen such an imitation to dramatic life, in all its beautiful casualness, is breath taking.

The plot, assuming one wishes to cease cyber site seeing in order to progress matters is surprisingly complex, viz: [SPOILERS]

'Niko Bellic is an Eastern European immigrant and a veteran of the Bosnian War who, after persuasion from his cousin Roman, comes to Liberty City to pursue the American Dream. After his arrival, Niko quickly learns that Roman's tales of riches and luxury were lies, concealing Roman's struggles with debt and gangsters. Niko aids Roman in his troubles while hoping to carve out a new life for himself in the city.

It is later revealed that Niko came to Liberty City primarily to search for the person he blames for the betrayal of his old army unit: Florian Cravic. Niko soon creates ties with the Liberty City Bratva through Vladimir Glebov and later makes acquaintance with a major figure of the Bratva, Mikhail Faustin and his associate, Dimitri Rascalov. Niko completes jobs for Faustin before joining Dimitri's plot to betray Faustin and take over the organization. Niko assassinates Faustin on Dimitri's orders and later meets with him to collect his reward for the killing. Dimitri, however, betrays Niko and reveals that he is in collusion with Rodislav Bulgarin, a former employer of Niko who orders his men to kill him. Little Jacob arrives on the scene and rescues Niko, however Dimitri escapes and Jacob suggests dealing with him later.

Niko receives a phone call from Roman, who is hiding in a remote location after having received several silent calls. The two meet up and they drive back to find both Roman's apartment and taxi depot in flames. The two escape to Bohan, after receiving death threats from Dimitri, and Roman reveals his plans to propose to his girlfriend Mallorie. Niko progressively obtains new allies in the city, gaining the money to provide for his and Roman's life while furthering his connections towards locating the person he is searching for. Niko discovers that Florian has changed his name to Bernie Crane and ultimately, Niko determines that Bernie is not the person responsible for his unit's betrayal leading Niko towards the only remaining suspect, Darko Brevic.

Towards the conclusion of the storyline, a shadowy government agency (under the name of "U.L. Paper") that had forced Niko to help them in collusion with an aging mobster, Jon Gravelli, locates Darko in Bucharest and arrange to have him brought to Liberty City as a final reward. Niko confronts Darko, who has become a drug-addicted, guilt-ridden wreck ...

In line with this work arguably being the most democratic form of 'cinema' possible, with full audience participation guiding and influencing the various permutations of action, and 'living' or 'dieing' along with the success (or not) of the main character, the story features two possible endings. But when the structured play is over the viewer can return to the city and relive the dream in countless variations.

If all of the above sounds obvious to game enthusiasts, then to the newcomer fresh from the traditional cinema experience, I would imagine the great strides evident now in computer generated verisimilitude of 'life' on the streets will come as rather a shock. Immoral maybe, satirical perhaps, richly detailed certainly, GTA4 is worthy of the praise given it. I think it a masterpiece of the modern age.

"It's too short!
We need more monkeys! "

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