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Series 7: The Contenders

01/12/2003. Contributed by Mark R Leeper

Buy Series 7: The Contenders in the USA - or Buy Series 7: The Contenders in the UK

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Six people hunt and kill each other in a futuristic satire of today's 'reality TV'. But Mark reckons this movie comes off a little phony, exploiting the violence it appears to condemn.

CAPSULE: Six people hunt and kill each other in an exaggerated satire of today's "reality TV." Shot on video on an ultra-low- budget and with melodramatic sub-plotting, the result is still surprisingly entertaining considering its modest origins.

The film is a sort of latter-day EL MARIACHI, entertaining like a film that cost many times more in production costs. Still, it comes off a little phony, exploiting the violence it appears to condemn. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)

Curiously for so cynical a film as this, my first thoughts were of the film's naivete. I remember as a young teenager sitting in friend Lester Meyers's basement playing with his new tape recorder. One of the first things we thought to do was to create a little science fiction drama.

The Contenders movie review

It was a satire of violence on TV taken to an extreme, supposedly a public broadcast of an execution complete with commercials. I guess it was a sort of obvious comment on the bad taste and sensationalism of television.

It lacked polish but was not very different for its day from pieces I have actually seen produced since. For example, Peter Watkins did THE GLADIATORS, a film in which war was replaced by teams from different countries trying to kill each other off with the action covered on TV sponsored by a brand of pasta.

The idea of sensationalism and public voyeurism, watching something real and bloody seems to be one that comes naturally to young minds and to television executives apparently. It is the young in mind who crave seeing violence but also seem to blame their elders for its extremity. SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS does not actually have a public execution at its center.

Instead it borrows idea ideas from reality TV together with a concept I first saw presented by Robert Sheckley in his short story "The Seventh Victim," later adapted into the film THE TENTH VICTIM. The story's idea is that at some point in the future life is cheap and people hunt and kill each other on television, turning life and death struggles into public entertainment.

Though the idea for the story has been well-trodden before SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS, the current popularity of "reality TV" gives filmmaker Daniel Minahan topicality and a set of publicly familiar stylistic conventions to imitate.

The story is very straightforward. We are in a world that looks like ours but has one major difference. At birth people are registered for the game, much like they might be for the draft. And like the draft if randomly chosen a person must participate regardless of his current circumstance.

In fact the main character Dawn (played by Brooke Smith) is nearing term on her pregnancy. The government supplies the players chosen with guns, and then it is up to them. There is some mention of cash prizes for winners, though the main inducement to play seems to be that once chosen it is "kill or be killed."

Daniel Minahan, who wrote as well as directed, wanted to give a reality TV effect which I have heard he did very well (though I cannot claim to have ever watched an episode of a reality program, so cannot judge for myself). The production was shot in a short twenty-one days on videotape.

Minahan claims that to this end he chose actors in part for their unfamiliarity to the public. That should make the story seem more real. But Brooke Smith played Sonya, a major character in VANYA ON 42ND STREET and I was familiar with that particular unreality film.

The game has a diverse, if melodramatic, selection of characters playing the life and death competition. There is a pregnant woman, a devout Catholic Nurse, a man dying of cancer, an elderly man, a teenager, and a middle-aged father. We get to see a little about these people's families, but they are developed only superficially. The writing is a bit over-the-top. The dying man was Dawn's high school sweetheart before they went their separate ways. Oh boy.

In the early days of film Cecil B. DeMille was told that he could no longer make the sexy films he had been making. Instead he turned to Biblical films where he could be staging the sexy scenes and at the same time appear to be condemning them.

Minahan is using a similar approach here to show violence and at the same time appear to be condemning it. His film is moderately successful as entertainment until the ironies get a little thick toward the end.

I rate SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Mark R. Leeper

(c) Mark R. Leeper

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