A Short Aside Before We Start
Jeff Goldblum’s first film role was in the movie Death Wish, where he played an unnamed character referred to in the script only as “Freak #1”. This is perfect.
Chapter the First: “Games, uh, on video?”
Gangly, drawling genius, Jeff Goldblum has, to my knowledge, made only four appearances in video games (not counting archived audio used in Lego titles). 1996’s Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland was a shaky beginning, an FMV role as a vampire in which the cheap jokeshop Dracula fangs forced into his gums are obviously obstructing already peculiar speech patterns, reducing his voice to a barely audible lisp. He dances with a child, and is killed when she fires lightning into his chest.
The next year, he made a more confident performance in Chaos Island – The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Not only did he reprise his storied role as chaos theorist, Ian Malcolm, but even used the game’s final sequence to introduce an anti-games meta-narrative, subverting your ‘achievements’ by saying you needed to go outdoors, begin a heterosexual relationship and “get the stink blown off”. Here it is, look:
Apparently, 1997 also saw Goldblum appear in the Independence Day tie-in game on PlayStation 1, a flight combat game so half-arsed you could dive into rivers and bounce off them, like an overcooked egg dropped by a quivering Jeff Goldblum character. I can find no footage of Goldblum’s appearance – I can only presume that he turned up in character as David Levinson and told you to get a fucking job.
After a 19 year hiatus, Goldblum has returned to the medium.
Chapter the Second: “Duty, haha… calls!”
If you wait for long enough on the main menu screen for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3’s new Zombies mode, Jeff Goldblum’s cracked magician character, Nero – who is tending a fire and eating what looks like beans, sadly, in the woods – will look directly into the camera, unmoving, for about four seconds. It feels like a beautiful eternity.
Technically, each of the mode’s four characters will do this, but you might not know that because you simply wouldn’t want to watch the rest of the (also famous) cast eat what looks like beans for that long. Goldblum, however, might do anything, so you watch him. And when he looks around, you get the sense that he himself must have been the one to motion-capture this particular action, because that stare, that posture, feel as though he knows you’re there, and he’s judging you for being so. In fact, you know he’s judging you (see previous video).
I have no idea how anyone convinced Goldblum to appear in this game – I can only imagine it was someone yelling “you can do exactly what you want” through a thick megaphone made of dollar bills. But to me he’s the best part of what is already a good game.
Mechanically, the Shadows of Evil campaign of which he’s a part is an only slightly twisted version of the Zombies modes of yore, but it couldn’t feel any more different. Set in a Jazz Age crept upon by Lovecraftian horrors, it pits four unsuspecting victims (picked by Star Trek’s Robert Picardio for their overwhelming dickishness) against the hordes of the undead. They shoot, and they quip, and they listen to saxophones in the night, and it’s quite, quite lovely (aside from being gut-clenchingly difficult).
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no point in playing Shadows of Evil unless you are playing as Goldblum (or, at the very least, someone else in your party is, and you follow them around like a bored dog to keep his lines audible). I have now watched the weirdly unskippable three-minute intro to the mode around 12 times, because I restart until I hear his voice as a pistol pops up in the bottom corner of the screen. Also, while writing this, I realised there was a way to restart without watching it, and I’ve just smashed a glass of water in frustration.
His performance is a masterpiece of weirdness, the kind created only by those very rare actors who are truly weird themselves, like Willem Dafoe, or the guy who says “Can you fly, Bobby?” in Robocop. He sounds somehow bored of being insane, his lines delivered louchely, with that trademark sprinkling of ums and ers, in a voice just slightly higher than Goldblum’s own.
Die and get revived, and he drunkenly squeals, “I live! I liiiiive!”, before quietly adding, suddenly perfectly sober, “if only to die again another day”. Land a headshot and he might reason, “this… is a good thing?” Occasionally, he sounds as though he might be pretending to be English, while at others he sounds like, well, the guy from The Fly. I like to think that this is Goldblum manifesting the split between Nero the man and Nero the stage performer, hinting at a psyche as broken as the world it’s travelling through – but it’s probably just that he got bored and tried something else. No one stopped him because he is Jeffrey Lynn Goldblum.
Chapter the Third: “Me? An icon? Oh no, no, no, no. Yes.”
Evidence would suggest that Goldblum not only doesn’t give a toss about being in a video game, but that he’d hold active disdain for those who play as him. There has been much discussion around how GTA 5’s Trevor Phillips is the first truly synchronous depiction of a video game character, someone who would act how we choose to in virtual worlds, a man unburdened by conscience or connection, able to act on impulse and without remorse.
I’m starting to think that if Goldblum had played Trevor Phillips, we would have a truly perfect video game character – one whose voice matches that action and becomes a true metaphor for “I don’t, won’t and can’t give a shit”, while still remaining more interesting and human than almost anyone else can manage.
Jeff Goldblum’s aura is so strong that I don’t think of Nero as a slosh of pixels on my TV, I think of him as Jeff Goldblum in a fake moustache and thousand-dollar shoes running around a virtual sound stage, stifling giggles. I want to play all the way through Shadows of Evil not because I care about the story, or the gameplay, but because I want to spend a lot of time next to Jeff Goldblum’s fake mouth.
He’s so far beyond the normal video game voice actor that he becomes fascinating – he makes Call of Duty, a series built on tropes and cliches, seem like some kind of improvised performance art piece. Every time he speaks, I’m excited. Not even the supremely odd John Malkovich – an actor so strange that he was only a supporting player in a film about his own brain- could manage this in Advanced Warfare.
Give Jeff Goldblum more video game roles. Give Jeff Goldblum an award. Give Jeff Goldblum my email address. He works so well because he doesn’t fit at all. He’s a magnificent anomaly. The last piece of the puzzle, but from a different set. Jeff Goldblum is, truly and completely, freak Number One.