The lines between news and entertainment, documentary and fiction continue to fade every day. It’s a dangerous trend, as people have begun to believe the fiction, and ignore the facts. This film seems to make that line disappear altogether. The movie is based on a bestselling book of the same name, written by Eric Schlosser. The book is a fascinating investigation of the fast food and meat packing industries in the United States that has really shed some light on this often-overlooked dark secret of the dining indust…y.
While the book was a fantastic expose of the problems that exist, the movie is something else entirely. When I heard they were making a fiction film about a non-fiction book, I wondered how they were going to do it. Turns out, the writers have constructed a thinly-veiled interpretation of the author’s own book research. Greg Kinnear leads an all-star cast (including Wilmer Valderrama, Luis Guzman, Bruce Willis, Patricia Arquette and others), playing an executive from a fast food chain who is sent to investigate the company’s chief meat supplier and find out how feces has gotten into the meat. Meanwhile, we also get to see the story of a group of migrant workers as they work in the plant (Babel style).
The problem is, for all of the big-name talent and the fantastic book that it was based on, the film is just really not that good. The narrative struggles because it serves only to propitiate the truths from the book. What’s worse, just when you feel like you are getting somewhere fascinating with the factual evidence, another supporting character needlessly pops up. The real truth is that if the filmmakers had bypassed the entertainment angle and made a real documentary, this would have been a much better film. After finishing this film, it made me want to read the book. Not to experience the story again, but to find it.
The audio track here is decent, but nothing spectacular. This is a film that is all about dialog, and the mix reflects that. Dialog comes strong from the center channel, but the surrounds and front left and right speakers are pretty low in the mix. It’s a shame, too, because there are some pretty great music cues that pop up, especially in the scenes with the migrant workers. Overall, however, the
I was really disappointed with the picture quality on this disc. With this much star power, I was expecting something pretty decent in the visual department. Unfortunately, the whole film is just a big grainy mess. Colors look horrible too, with overbearing reds and really dark nighttime shots. I can’t believe these personalities agreed to be in this film, and then their faces ended up shrouded in poor lighting and grainy presentations.
The extras start off with a feature-length Commentary with Director Richard Linklater and Writer Eric Schlosser. I found this track to actually be more enjoyable than the film itself, which is just further proof that this material would have been better served without the fictional elements. Manufacturing Fast Food Nation is a look at the origins of the film, and it feels a bit more genuine than the traditional electronic press kit. I was pleased that this piece actually does give viewers a look into the story behind the film.
Next up is a series of three humorous flash animated cartoons that combines the story of The Matrix with the truth about slaughterhouses and meat packers. The segments are mildly amusing, but mostly forgettable. The Backwards Hamburger is a very similar flash animation cartoon, this one filled with facts about the meat processing industry. The extras wrap up with a photo gallery of test shots and promotional photos from the film. All in all, a pretty nice compliment of extras.
I was really surprised that this script was so heavy-handed and clumsy. Everyone in the film that works for a corporation is obviously evil, and everyone else is completely innocent. In reality, there are some really good, decent people who work for corporations; most of them, actually. Likewise, there are plenty of “normal” people who are underhanded and self-serving. As I said before, I really wish this film was a more traditional documentary that looked at these problems in a real way, like Morgan Spurlock did with Super Size Me. There is no question that this is an industry with some serious problems, and Americans need to be informed. I just wish that more Americans still took the time to read.
Special Features List
- Commentary with Director Richard Linklater and Writer Eric Schlosser
- Manufacturing Fast Food Nation Featurette
- The Meatrix Flash Animation Short
- The Meatrix II Flash Animation Short
- The Meatrix II 1/2 Flash Animation Short
- The Backwards Hamburger Flash Animation Short
- Photo Gallery