Posted at 2:06 PM on February 7, 2007
by Euan Kerr
Ah, the delights of home entertainment systems! The late poet John Ciardi used to talk about how books could transport him across time and space. One wonders what he'd think about DVD players.
Having lacked the fortitude to stay up until midnight for the sole Twin Cities screening so far of "Idiocracy" the home viewing was the only option. This is the Mike "Office Space" Judge film, which was in theaters for about a nanosecond last year as Fox went through a very perfunctory release, much to the delight of the chattering classes of the movie world.
The scuttlebutt was Judge's satire about the dumbing down of America, in part through a steady diet of media pablum, struck a little too close to home.
Well, if that's true, the Fox folk must have very thin skins.
"Idiocracy" follows the misadventures of Pvt. Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson) and a woman called Rita (Maya Rudolph,) who are put into suspended animation for a year as part of a military experiment. It goes wrong of course, and they wake up 500 years later, to find a world populated by idiots. Bowers, chosen as an experimental subject for being absolutely average, finds himself fingered as the smartest guy in the world. This is deeply unpleasant for him because anti-intellectualism is now a national sport, and a full contact one at that.
It's an amusing, and slightly horrifying, scenario. The plot suffers because it has the tensile strength of a wet Kleenex, and doesn't make much use of the comic talents of Maya Rudolph. Her character is for some reason pushed into the background, even though under the logic of the plot, she is the smartest woman in the world. Even if we dodge the minefield question of whether that makes her the smartest person in the world, she should be much more of a player in a place where membership in the President's cabinet are awarded as contest prizes.
Yes, Judge takes a swing at Fox News, and yes, he takes pokes at our celebrity obsessed media culture (the President is a pro-wrestler and a porn star,) but it's mystifying as to why this flick might upset anyone at Fox.
It's biggest problem could well be that it is really pretty mild stuff.
Could it be that the Fox folks just thought that it wouldn't sell?
I remember reading that sometimes studios can "dump" a film by not promoting it, pulling it from theaters quickly and purposely killing the buzz around it. They do this to cut losses when they think a movie will tank. I think I remember reading that this is what happened to Return to Oz, the 1984 follow-up to the classic Wizard of Oz film. They sunk a ton of money into it and then worried it would fail in theaters so they snuffed it on arrival and tried to make up for the production costs by video sales.
Anyway, from what I understand, Fox may have been trying a similar marketing strategy for this. Its a middle of the road comedy but has some big names. Probably cost a pretty penny to make. Office Space was a cult video hit and every Judge fan will rent this anyway, why waste money promoting it in theaters? Maybe they thought the rumor that it was too biting for the mother company would intrigue more fans to rent it. Had it made it to theaters a few previews and a review or two like the one above and suddenly any curiosity people had would evaporate.