New Line Cinema | 1992 | 124 mins. | Rated R

A stubbornly independent filmmaker, director Robert Altman was known for making films that no one else dared to touch. MASH, one of Altman’s biggest successes, had been passed over by over a dozen other filmmakers. It was a difficult shoot, but Altman took on the challenge.  In an admission that is decidedly un-Hollywood, Altman said he actually aimed to have his film rated R by the MPAA so as to keep children out of the audience – he did not believe children have the patience his films required. This sometimes spawned conflict with movie studios, who wanted children in the audience for increased revenues.

The PlayerThat said, Altman tended to make films that examined the interrelationships with various characters. Intricate plots weren’t particularly important. Altman rarely wrote a complete, steadfast screenplay. Instead, he sketched out the basic plot of the film, referring to the screenplay as a “blueprint” for action, and allowed his actors to improvise dialogue. As a result, Altman was seen as an actor’s director, a reputation that helped him work with large casts of well-known actors.

All of this brings us to 1992’s The Player, a film that features cameos by more than 60 well known Hollywood figures.

From a screenplay by Michael Tolkin and based on his own 1988 novel of the same name, The Player is the ultimate satire about Hollywood and the film industry. The story centers on a studio executive named Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) who we meet as he’s listening to a series of screenplay proposals that set the tone for the film.

Among them is Buck Henry’s pitch for The Graduate: Part 2, which is presented as the story of Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson, who, 25 years after eloping are living with Mrs. Robinson. “I like it, I like it,” says Griffin. When I first saw The Player in theaters, not only did I think the premise sounded vaguely intriguing, but I found myself wondering if Hollywood just might do it.

Despite his success, Griffin’s life is precarious. There are rumors that a new young genius named Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) is being hired with the obvious intent of replacing him. If that isn’t bad enough, someone is sending him threatening postcards. Through a series of convoluted circumstances, the latter event leads to murder. Despite the fact that Griffin claims to have approved only 12 out of about 50,000 scripts and we know he committed murder, Tim Robbins makes him seem somehow vulnerable and impossible to truly hate.

Dean Stockwell and the fabulous English actor Richard E. Grant show up as tough screenwriters whose movie idea becomes a story within the story of the film; Fred Ward plays the studio’s head of security, whose job it is to keep Mill’s involvement in the murder quiet; and, as the detectives assigned to investigate the murder, Whoopi Goldberg and country singer Lyle Lovett make a perfect, if unlikely, pair of cops. Even director Sydney Pollack turns up, as Mill’s sleazy studio attorney. Further, Jeremy Piven, Gina Gershon and Dina Merrill all have roles as secondary characters. If you want to people watch, the following folks are scattered in various scenes casually playing themselves: Steve Allen, Rene Auberjonois, Harry Belafonte, Karen Black, Gary Busey, Robert Carradine, Cher, James Coburn, John Cusack, Peter Falk, Louise Fletcher, Terri Garr, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Elliot Gould, Joel Grey, Angelica Huston, Sally Kellerman, Jack Lemmon, Andie MacDowell, Malcolm McDowell, Martin Mull, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Rod Steiger, Patrick Swayze, Lily Tomlin, Robert Wagner, and Bruce Willis, to name only a few.

In truth, The Player doesn’t offer up too much of a story, but what’s there is undeniably fun and engrossing. At times, the film feels like a big Hollywood party where big stars cropped in to be seen with other stars in a movie. There’s little doubt everyone had a great time. Whether their roles were large or small, it’s clear all the actors respected Altman and responded to his generosity and directorial style. After all, he got some pretty big names to appear in a movie that had a relatively meager budget of $8 million.

Though a maverick, Altman didn’t bite the hand that fed him. As satire, The Player goes for laughs, rather than attempting to draw blood. The director’s most blatant message may be that it’s possible to get away with murder in Hollywood; It’s a far worse sin to make a movie that tanks at the box office.

Shot at an ordinary 1.85:1 ratio, New Line’s video engineers transferred it to Blu-ray disc using a dual-layer BD50 and a VC-1 codec. Unfortunately, the video quality of the original print varies from scene to scene, sometimes fuzzy, sometimes sharp; sometimes rough and grainy, sometimes clear and clean; sometimes soft and faded, sometimes vivid and colorful. While The Player is far from reference quality stuff, it is still an acceptable transfer.

The audio is delivered via a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Unfortunately, There isn’t much 5.1 sound of any kind for the lossless audio to work with. This is a fairly plain soundtrack, mostly front center-bound, with hardly any surround activity most of the time. For the first half of the movie there’s hardly any front-channel stereo. However, the soundtrack does become a little more active as it goes along, throwing a little ambient noise into the rear speakers: wind noise, cars, crowds, and occasional music.

The disc includes English and French spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

You won’t find a bounty of special features, and what there is are presented in standard definition.

Commentary with Robert Altman and Michael Tolkin: The two participants are recorded separately and edited together to form one commentary track. Both come across as a bit dry, and there are some long pauses throughout, but when Robert Altman does talk he is quite interesting with regards to defending some of the plot points in the film. Tolkin is featured less frequently, and talks about his original novel and some of the differences between the book and film.

Deleted Scenes (13:00): Five deleted scenes are included, all of which wouldn’t have added much to the film.

One On One With Robert Altman (17:00): This featurette has Robert Altman discussing why he made the film, along with explanations as to why the deleted scenes were cut.

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