Office Space (1999), writer-director Mike Judge’s trenchantly funny look at the contemporary white-collar world, was overlooked by most audiences on its theatrical release, but nevertheless became a bona-fide cult comedy classic after a DVD release and screenings on cable television.
Judge, provided with a larger budget for his live action follow-up (he had also previously brought his animated MTV creations to the big screen in 1996′s Beavis and Butt-Head Do America), began production on a satire with a science-fiction spin that remained officially untitled during its filming and for several months after shooting wrapped in 2004. Idiocracy, as it was eventually called, was finally released in September 2006, but only in a handful of cities (not Rochester, or even New York City!), and without any advertising at all, save for a movie poster that said absolutely nothing about the movie.
The story revolves around an underachieving military careerist (Luke Wilson) and a prostitute (Maya Rudolph) who are cryogenically frozen in the present day and meant to be awoken in a year’s time. Things naturally go awry, and when our heroes are unfrozen 500 years later, they find they are the smartest people in the United States of Uhhh-merica, a nation overpopulated with illiterate, slack-jawed citizens who make the Three Stooges look like downright geniuses. Judge envisions the future of our country as an ugly, garbage-strewn, and corporate-controlled hell on earth where the president is a former wrestler and porn star, and the most popular television show is called Ow! My Balls!
Idiocracy is, like Office Space, another clever blend of knee-slapping jokes and social satire that recalls Woody Allen’s Sleeper and bears more than a few resemblances to this summer’s Pixar smash Wall-E, particularly its depiction of a laid-to-waste-by-consumerism future Earth. The film’s token theatrical release remains a mystery. Some have suggested that Judge’s hilarious but angry vision of a dumbed-down world was unappealing to test audiences and prompted the distributors, 20th Century Fox, to shelve the movie for so long that only a contractual obligation brought the film, however haphazardly, into cinemas. The Dryden’s screening of Idiocracy on September 7 will be the first 35mm theatrical showing of the film in New York state. Don’t miss your chance to see it on the big screen.
Jim Healy was the Assistant Curator, Exhibitions in the Moving Image Department at George Eastman House from 2001-2010. He is currently the Director of Programming for the University of Wisconsin - Madison Cinematheque.
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