Most of the time, I criticize the validity and artistic morals of test screenings that often send nervous studios and directors scrambling to call their actors back to reshoot new material and delete possibly objectionable scenes in order to try and please everyone. While film indeed is a collaborative medium, I’m not sure that rounding up participants from a mall parking lot and screening a movie they may have very little interest in, only to force them to rate each and every aspect of it is the right way to decide what works and what doesn’t. I am a frequent attendee at advanced screenings but seldom participate in test audience events because art shouldn’t be that much of a democracy and we’re forgetting that people spend years developing what’s onscreen for us to pass judgment on within minutes (or sometimes seconds).
However, in the case of Idiocracy which had according to IMDb “disastrous” test screenings, the reaction was sadly warranted and sent Fox Studios into retreat, hiding the reels for more than one year before quietly dumping it into just six markets with very little advertising.
The film had all the promise of a hit—a wonderfully creative premise, hot star Luke Wilson, and being helmed by director Mike Judge of Office Space fame but somewhere along the way they opted entirely for crass over class, lewd over shrewd, and ended up with a movie one can only describe as ugly. It shouldn’t have been this way and in retrospect, I still admire the ingenious set-up which finds under-achieving and statistically average army librarian Luke Wilson, along with prostitute Maya Rudolph being selected for a year-long experiment that would cause the two participants to sleep for an entire year to hopefully save their brightest down the road for them to be all they can be.
The experiment goes off without a hitch although warning flags are raised when the doctor becomes much too fascinated with the pimp lifestyle discovered when recruiting Rudolph and after he’s arrested and the base is forced to close, Wilson and Rudolph are forgotten about for five hundred years. They awaken to discover that the progressive dumbing down of America weaned on video games, sports drinks, that favors brawn over brains has made the country run rampant with idiots unable to speak coherently and prefer instead to sit on lazy boys which double as toilets while watching shows that consist entirely of guys getting hit in the crotch with a variety of implements for laughs.
Although intellectuals and academics have been speculating on the nightly news and in publications that we’re headed in the wrong direction with our fast food styled entertainment and life of convenience over substance, once we actually see this life produced onscreen, we realize that it’s so disgusting, it’s not one we’d like to spend even five minutes in let alone the entire running time of a feature film.
Idiocracy would have made a hilarious short film or an even superior story, although it does beg to mind the question that perhaps Judge’s fans, already preferring visuals to the written word, may never have read it in the first place, thus making his point without their intention.