Century- Fox suppression of Idiocracy remains a mystery
Satire comes to DVD, leaving many to wonder why it got such poor backing
There’s a certain malicious appeal in the idea of a futuristic movie satire in which the cement- brained heirs of Beavis and Butthead are now running America. Indeed, some might argue that, given recent White House history, the arrival of a film like Idiocracy couldn’t be more opportune.
Unfortunately, Mike Judge’s scathing indictment of the dumbing down of America scarcely was permitted to arrive at all when 20th CenturyFox finally gave it a “ theatrical release” in 2006 after two years of dithering.
And now that this virtually unknown movie has shown up on DVD, it’s all the more bewildering that the studio was so anxious to suppress it. The film stars Luke Wilson as Joe, a lazy, unambitious army private who participates in a military experiment aimed at finding out whether humans can be stored indefinitely in deep- freeze hibernation. His civilian partner in this enterprise is a sassy hooker named Rita, portrayed by Maya Rudolph. Unfortunately, things go terribly wrong, and the two don’t wake up until 500 years later in a United States so dumbed down that Joe, a guy with no more than an average intellect, is deemed the smartest person in the country.
Judge — the often outrageous iconoclast behind television’s animated Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill — actually completed Idiocracy in 2004, only to discover the studio was so hostile to it that it wanted to dump it into the home video market immediately.
After months of angry arguments, not to mention threats of lawsuits, Fox finally agreed to give Idiocracy a theatrical release. But what kind of release? It opened at the tail end of last summer, traditionally a dumping time for unwanted movies, on a handful of North Ameri- can screens in seven cities, including Toronto, but not New York or San Francisco. According to Judge’s hometown newspaper, The Austin Chronicle, Fox did “ zero marketing for the movie — no trailers, television spots or even press kits for media outlets.” An understandably bitter Judge’s response was to refuse to publicize Idiocracy in any way.
Now that Fox Home Entertainment has issued Idiocracy on DVD, those viewers smart enough to seek it out will no doubt remain mystified over the treatment it received from a studio that certainly wasn’t too embarrassed to give Date Movie and Garfield: A Tale of Two Kittens major launchings last year. Indeed, when it did receive its insulting theatrical release last summer, those who did manage to see it were outraged at the way Judge had been treated.
“ What does Mike Judge have to do to get a movie released and marketed?” Los Angeles Times critic Carina Chocano asked sarcastically. “ He could stop making satires as merciless and spot- on as this one.” She saw the studio’s treatment of the movie as potentially disastrous. “ It’s this sort of vote of no- confidence that gets people wondering — just how bad can this movie be?”
Overseas, Britain’s Guardian newspaper got into the act, suggesting the studio bosses couldn’t stomach the movie’s anti- corporate message or its savage lampooning of such sacred cows as Starbucks, Costco, the Carl’s Junior hamburger chain and, most significantly, the right- wing Fox News Channel and the U. S. health system.
Judge’s earlier feature comedy, Office Space, also ran afoul of Fox, but managed to find a cult following on DVD. With Idiocracy, he thought that legal safeguards in his contract would ensure the movie a proper launching, but that didn’t happen. In fact, even before the movie was ready for release, the studio was throwing up such roadblocks that director Robert Rodriguez, a close friend, had to come to his rescue by doing some of Judge’s special effects for free.
The movie’s cutting edge is evident from the very first scenes with their premise that by the start of the 21st century stupid people were procreating in North America at a far more rapid rate than smart ones. Five centuries later, society has devolved to the point where junk culture rules, corporate tyranny runs rampant, a wild- haired black porno star occupies the White House and the general population is so stupid that it no longer knows how to grow crops or deal with garbage and suspects anyone with a modicum of intelligence to be a sexual deviant. And that’s why mild- mannered Joe finds himself secretary of the interior because he’s the smartest guy around and therefore able to solve these problems. The story moves to a predictably chaotic conclusion.
So what about the actual movie? Idiocracy may be rough at the edges — and Judge, whose background is animation, sometimes may falter in composing a scene featuring real actors — but the film is repeatedly redeemed by the hilarious edginess of its satire and at its best by a loathing of contemporary society worthy of a modern- day Jonathan Swift.
In fact, given a chance, it could still overcome studio hostility and become a cult hit.