Saturday, March 01, 2008

In the Year 2000

I recently had the pleasure of viewing Death Race 2000 for the first time. If you aren't a fan of B movies, you can stop reading right now. If you are a fan, this is definitely a must-see. It was made in 1975 and set in what was then the not-too-distant future and what is now the recent past. In the movie, the America of the year 2000 looks a lot like the America of 1975, except that the country is ruled by an absentee authoritarian regime headed by the inscrutable Mr. President and an annual coast-to-coast, no-holds-barred car race is the opiate of the masses. I didn't realize that it was a Roger Corman picture until the ending credits rolled, but in retrospect, I should have known from the ample amounts of T&A and completely unrealistic gore.

The movie has an unmistakable 1970s feel. The main character, Frankenstein (David Carradine), is the race favorite and the only current surviving champion. Frankenstein is a broken man, both physically and mentally, and a textbook 1970s anti-hero. His main rival, Joe "Machine Gun" Viterbo (Sly Stallone), is a tightly-wound ball of rage. The Resistance, an underground movement that is determined to stop the death race by any means necessary, fills the role of the progressive anti-establishment group. Rather than trying to explain how America wound up in such a sorry state, the movie makes allusions to works such as 1984 and assumes the viewer can fill in the details.

There's an interview with Roger Corman in the DVD extras. He makes a comment about how prophetic the movie turned out to be. I don't know exactly what he was talking about, but I will give him credit for a couple of things. The first is how Mr. President blamed the French for all of the acts of sabotage committed by the Resistance. I'm guessing that the blame the French meme existed before this movie was made, but the way that it was used was nearly identical the our last flare-up of anti-French hysteria during the run up to the Gulf war. The other thing that really stood out was how the political party that ruled the country was called the Bipartisan Party. That name reminded me of the "a pox on both their houses" sentiment that you often hear expressed by pundits and voters. I've always felt like that sentiment is much more common today than it was 30 years ago, so I'll give Corman some credit for that.

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