Thursday, July 16, 2009

Series 7

Film: Series 7: The Contenders (2001)
Dir: Daniel Minahan
Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Nowadays, the need to satirize reality television is obsolete, since shows like Flavor of Love or I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here are already a big joke. Furthermore, it's virtually impossible to shock audiences with what reality TV could become when it has already churned out countless shows based on depraved people and immoral behaviors. But back in 2001, when reality television was only just beginning to rear its ugly head, Series 7 caught onto the satire early.

The film is presented as a marathon of reality show episodes from a program called "The Contenders." In its seventh series, six American citizens are randomly chosen by a lottery to participate. They are given a handgun and told they must kill the other contenders. Among the contestants are a teenager, a terminally ill man, and an eight-month-pregnant woman who is the reigning champion due to her complete ruthlessness. Needless to say, this program knows no moral bounds.

The film never strays from the reality television format, giving it an unsettling level of realism. There is also the obligatory relationship drama, just like your average reality TV show - two of the contenders have unsettled romantic history. Obviously, the movie is lampooing television's need to constantly push the envelope with sex and violence. I could easily imagine a show like The Contenders really existing, hence the film's effectiveness. While not as bloody as I expected, the violence is still pretty harsh.

The biggest problem working against Series 7 is that it doesn't age well. At the time of its release, this was very fresh, topical, and even ahead of its time. It came out right at the start of the reality television takeover. But now, it has sorta lost its shock value. It will always be an interesting idea, but one that has been done better in other films (Death Race 2000, The Running Man, Battle Royale, etc). The movie also feels a bit too self-indulgent sometimes, and occasionally dull. But for its effective satirical effort and intriguing format, I enjoyed the movie and believe it should be seen at least once. If that doesn't convince you - it has Will Arnett in it!