Surviving the Game
|Surviving the Game|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ernest R. Dickerson|
|Produced by||Fred C. Caruso|
|Written by||Eric Bernt|
|Music by||Stewart Copeland|
|Edited by||Samuel D. Pollard|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
Surviving the Game is a 1994 action thriller film directed by Ernest R. Dickerson and starring Ice-T, Rutger Hauer, and Gary Busey. It is loosely based on the short story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell.
Jack Mason is a homeless man from Seattle, Washington who loses his only friends—Hank, a fellow homeless man and his pet dog—on the same day. Dejected, Mason attempts to commit suicide when a soup kitchen worker, Walter Cole, saves him. Cole refers the man to businessman Thomas Burns, who kindly offers Mason a job as a hunting guide. Despite his misgivings, the lure of a well paying job causes Mason to accept.
Flying to a remote cabin surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods, Mason meets the rest of the hunting party, all of whom paid $50,000 for the privilege of being there. In addition to Burns and Cole, the party includes Doc Hawkins, the founder of the hunt and a psychopathic psychiatrist who specializes in psychological assessments, Texas "oil man" John Griffin, and wealthy executive Derek Wolfe Sr. and his son Derek Wolfe Jr., the latter of whom is at first unaware of the true purposes of the hunt. On the first night, all the men are eating a nice dinner and engaging in conversation. Mason receives a pack of cigarettes from Hawkins and learns a little about the latter's past. Hawkins relays a brutal story from his childhood when his father forced him to train and then fight his dog as a lesson in being a man.
The following morning, Mason is awakened with a gun in his face by Cole, who explains that the men are not hunting any animals, but rather Mason himself. Mason is given a head start with only the time it takes the others to eat breakfast. Mason quickly flees the area, but comes to a realization and turns back. The hunters finish their meal and set off after him. Wolfe Jr. is horrified at the thought of killing a man, but is pushed into it by his father. The hunters race off into the forest, but by now Mason has returned to the cabin in search of weapons. He finds none, and instead makes the disgusting discovery of the hunters trophy room behind a locked door: the preserved heads of the victims of previous hunts.
Mason decides to burn it down using chemicals found outside the cabin. The hunters quickly assume Mason's return to the cabin and go back. Wolfe Sr. enters just as Mason lights up the cabin and engages in a fist fight with Hawkins out back, away from the others. Hawkins is knocked back into the cabin as the preserving agent explodes, killing him in the inferno. Wolfe Jr. saves his father, and spots Mason fleeing in the process. The hunt resumes and Mason begins to use his wits to beat the hunters, luring them with falsely-planted lit cigarettes to lead them in the wrong way. Mason manages to lure Griffin away from the others, and takes him hostage.
Over the night, Mason learns why Griffin is taking part in the hunt. Years earlier, his daughter was murdered by a homeless man and he's venting his rage. Mason, in turn, relays his own tragic tale of losing his family in an apartment fire. This leads Griffin to have a change of heart in the morning. Upon rescuing him, Griffin reveals his decision to not continue the hunting, but is murdered by Cole to prevent any future legal conflicts. By now, with their numbers dwindling, the remaining hunters seem more intent on killing Mason. Mason sabotages one of their ATVs, causing it to explode. The explosion rips off most of Cole's lower body, mortally wounding him. Burns then uses his fingers to apply pressure to Cole's jugulars in order to kill him and spare him from the pain. As they pursue Mason, Wolfe Jr. is killed by accident when he falls in a ravine, and Wolfe Sr. vows revenge in a fit of rage.
The second night sees Wolfe Sr. and Mason fighting one on one with Mason the victor and Burns escaping to the city, knowing that Mason will most likely be searching for him. Days later, Burns is back in Seattle, preparing to leave his current identity, hoping to escape both Mason and the legal responsibilities resulting from the disastrous hunt. But Mason has escaped the forest, returned to the city, and tracked him down. A quick fight ensues, but Mason chooses not to kill him. Instead he walks away, but Burns attempts to shoot Mason in the back. Taking to heart a lesson he learned from Hank, Mason had blocked the barrel of Burns's gun with cigarettes and it backfires on the man, killing him as Mason walks out into the dark.
- Ice-T as Jack Mason, a homeless man suffering from depression after the death of his wife and child.
- Rutger Hauer as Thomas Burns, a businessman that leads the hunting team.
- Charles S. Dutton as Walter Cole, Burns' partner who picks the "prey".
- Gary Busey as Doc Hawkins, a CIA psychologist and the founder of the hunting team.
- F. Murray Abraham as Derek Wolfe Sr., a Wall Street executive.
- John C. McGinley as John Griffin, an oil tycoon still grieving over the murder of his daughter.
- William McNamara as Derek Wolfe Jr., the son of Mr. Wolfe Sr. and the only one in the team oblivious to their game.
- Jeff Corey as Hank, another homeless man and Mason's best friend.
The film city scenes are set in Seattle, Washington. However, in some shots, the skyline of Philadelphia is used. The outdoor scenes are supposed to take place across the Oregon border, in the U.S. Northwest. However, they were filmed in locations of Entiat and Wenatchee, Washington. Lake Wenatchee and Wenatchee National Forest are both featured in the film.
Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman called the film "Cliffhanger with one third the firepower," saying that Dickerson does little to differentiate from other films in the genre. He did give praise to the cinematography and the efforts of the main cast, singling out Ice-T for having on-screen charisma but being a bit unconvincing as an action star, concluding with, "Still, for a few moments there, the movie gives Robert Bly just what he deserves." Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle was critical of the script's characters and overall message as being "out-of-whack and sophomoric" but gave credit to the actors portraying them and the production team for being a vital element in Dickerson's filmmaking, saying that, "[H]e has a definite flair for action pictures but the stunning contributions from cinematographer Bojan Bazelli add immeasurably to the movie."
- Surviving the Game on Rotten Tomatoes
- Gleiberman, Owen (April 29, 1994). "Surviving the Game Review". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
- Baumgarten, Marjorie (April 22, 1994). "Surviving the Game". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
- "Weekend Box Office : Hey, Chevy, the British Are Coming". Los Angeles Times. Tronc. April 19, 1994. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
- Surviving the Game on The-Numbers.com