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Idiocracy (2006), Re-Visited

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Idiocracy on DVD

(Article orginally appeared on Counterpunch)

In a time when one literally has to argue that exploding nuclear power plants really do pose grave risks to human health -- against people with letters after their names -- the case could easily be made that we're already living in an Idiocracy.  As Japan finds itself irradiated and helpless to stop the radioactive isotopes escaping from multiple reactors, still the President of the United States refuses to put a halt to expanding the nuclear industry here.

Take that snapshot, that microcosm of what's wrong with the world today and expand it out to the food chain, the rainforests, the air we breathe, the drinking water we ingest, the chemicals sprayed on our lawns and between the cracks of concrete.  In every facet of our lives compromises have been made for us, often without our knowledge or consent.  In the case of genetically-modified crops the government has long abdicated its responsibility and refuses to regulate.  Genes from God-knows-where co-exist with the natural genes in all manner of foodstuffs.  These foods are deliberately thrown into the food chain in a manner that we cannot know what's in it, where it came from, or what it does to lab rats.  We're the lab rats!

It's unsurprising that the invisible poisons and genetic experiments can be force fed us when people willingly choose to ingest all sorts of unhealthy junk.

Which leads me, hamfistedly, back to Mike Judge's comedy/sci-fi Idiocracy, a film that takes these trends to their logical conclusions.

There are many factors to consider when a great film doesn't turn a large profit.  Idiocracy does not appear to have done well financially despite being one of the funniest satires of American consumer culture ever produced.

Idiocracy is so bold and so outrageous that it could potentially have alienated its own potential audience.  The target, throughout the film, could be considered stupid people, even people of "average" intelligence who live meaningless lives of convenience and just getting along.  This may have been too close to home for a large swath of American movie ticket purchasers.  Or perhaps the studio marketing gang didn't like the message and simply failed to promote it? *

After all, it's hard to make deals with Carl's Jr. et al. after your last project reamed Carl's Jr. et al. up their posteriors.  And it really is just about the deals, no?

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While Americans are bombarded with advertising messages that promote convenience, sex and greed -- Idiocracy has basically given them everything as promised and then shows the results.  The trajectory is clear and in the downward direction.  So let's give corporate America the benefit of the doubt and say yes -- you win -- here's what will happen.

The film's budget is not available at BoxOfficeMojo, which could suggest a major miscue and loss.  With less than $500,000 theatrical revenues the film did eventually see more than $9M in DVD sales and rentals.  That's good, and it may have pushed it into the black.  Hollywood accounting prohibits us from ever knowing for sure.

The main thrust of Idiocracy is to shine a light on our short-term priorities and our culture's lack of foresight as society today expands and devours up the planet's resources converting everything into large monuments of trash.  Judge also accounts for the reckless breeding where the uneducated pop out more and more children.  This reproductive recklessness is arguably the cornerstone of the other intractable problems.  As population explodes natural resources will disappear.  The world will lurch toward crisis, famine, collapse.

In some respects WALL-E covered similar territory, and with much greater market penetration: $551M worldwide theatrical, plus home video and rentals.

Wall-E (Three-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo)

So, why did Idiocracy flounder where the little trash-compacting robot soared to new heights?

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It's complicated.  The R rated sex jokes throughout Idiocracy would have pushed out certain market segments, obviously.  Adult movies usually under-perform versus kid's movies.  Another facet is that viewers are far more forgiving of their digital worlds lacking big movie stars than they are in live action pieces.

Luke Wilson was funny and pointedly understated as average Army private Joe Bauers.  Still, audiences would sense that Luke Wilson brings only so much clout to a film, and charismatically he's no Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon.

Audiences will no doubt have also considered Wilson's love interest Maya Rudolph who was cast appropriately and acted well enough.  But Rudolph's eye candy factor is not going to draw a lot of casual male browsers.  For better or worse, today's viewers tend to be as shallow as Judge portrays them 500 years in the future.  By casting a less than Goddess-level star in the main female role Judge put the film's financials at risk.  That's the movie business.

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Political Film Blog Author of HELL OF A DEAL: A Supernatural Satire, a tale of Hollywood's accommodation with torture and militarism.

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I thought Luke Wilson was the perfect actor for Id... by Roland Michel Tremblay on Friday, Jun 10, 2011 at 4:58:45 PM
Each time I watch Idiocracy, I think of George Orw... by Paul Sheldon Foote on Friday, Jun 10, 2011 at 11:41:36 PM
Truth is irrelevant. Facts are irrelevant. Global ... by Richard Spisak on Saturday, Jun 11, 2011 at 4:08:55 PM