A Paucity of Publicity for 'Idiocracy'

If you haven't heard of Mike Judge's film Idiocracy, starring Luke Wilson, you're not alone. Fans and critics are baffled by the lack of promotional effort from 20th Century Fox. The setting is a dumbed-down America hundreds of years in the future.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY. Hollywood is known for hyping films: billboard campaigns, ads everywhere, interviews with movie stars. And then there's anti-hype. That's what 20th Century Fox seems to be doing for one of its new films.

NPR's Nihar Patel investigates the relative quiet of Idiocracy.

NIHAR PATEL: Idiocracy was quietly released in seven cities last Friday, after sitting on the shelf for a year. The film is a satirical comedy starring Luke Wilson as an Army private who is put into a hibernation chamber and awakes 500 years later.

He finds that mankind is devolved into, well, idiots. But aside from the brief synopsis, there is not much else 20th Century Fox wants you to know about this movie.

Mr. ROBERT KOEHLER (Variety critic): The studio - they had absolutely no belief in this film whatsoever.

PATEL: Variety critic Robert Koehler says studios don't always roll out extensive publicity campaigns for new theatrical releases, but with Idiocracy the neglect is noticeable.

Mr. KOEHLER: You know, it's thought now that the studios are really more into the marketing business than they are into the movie business. In this case, whether it's a compliment or not to the film, all the expense was poured into the movie and not at all into the marketing.

PATEL: Here's where I would've played a sound clip from the movie. Clips routinely come in press kits. Studio publicity departments send them to us and Jay Leno and practically everyone else with an FCC license. Nothing came for Idiocracy.

Mr. KOEHLER: When you open a film without a proper communications plan, it's almost as though it's guaranteed to fail.

PATEL: USC Professor David Whitzman(ph) worked in movie advertising at Fox when they released Star Wars in 1977, and he's astonished that Fox this time didn't even circulate a trailer for Idiocracy. It's never happened in his 40 plus years in movie marketing. In his experience if executives felt a movie was going to tank, they wouldn't spend tens of millions of dollars on marketing...

Prof. DAVID WHITZMAN (Film, USC): But even in those cases, we gave it support. We certainly prepared materials for it. We certainly tried to get the public interested in seeing it. If not, why put it out there at all?

PATEL: The why may be that the studio was contractually obligated to release Idiocracy in theaters before releasing it on DVD. Fox or director Mike Judge declined to comment for this story. Fox will only say the film is in limited release, though it's not open in New York where almost every other limited release movie does screen.

Some on the Web have speculated audience test screenings were negative or the studio and Judge couldn't come to an agreement on how to market Idiocracy. Critics are split on the movie. Entertainment Weekly gave it a D, The Los Angeles Time raved. Most critics were looking forward to this latest creation by director Mike Judge, who made the cult hit movie Office Space, and created the animated TV shows King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead.

Variety's Robert Koehler believes Judge and the film are being mistreated by the studio and that the film deserves to be seen.

Mr. KOEHLER: Among the American comedies this year, it's one of the few with any ideas. For me, I will take it any day over a Little Miss Sunshine. It certainly has some original things. And it's daring.

PATEL: Daring because Idiocracy satirizes American consumer culture and many prominent corporations. The list of targets includes fellow news corps subsidiary Fox News, which in the movie is anchored by pro-wrestlers. Judge's previous film Office Space didn't do well at the box office, but is considered one of the more successful video DVD releases of its kind. Something Fox executives are probably counting on to make their money back.

As for disgruntled fans trying to figure out why the studio chose not to advertise a potential hit comedy to the public, many are posting comments like this on the Web. The world of Idiocracy is alive and well, it's called 20th Century Fox.

Nihar Patel, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment.

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