This is a guest post by Elizabeth Eckhart:
Today is the fifth anniversary of Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan's iconic Best Picture Oscar-winning SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (reviewed on 12/16/08). The film, which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30th, 1998, follows Jamal, played by Dev Patel, from his less-than-humble beginnings in the slums of Mumbai, India to his appearance on the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Though he was raised with little to no formal education, Jamal is able to correctly answer every question, resulting in Jamal’s torture and interrogation -- which is how the film opens. The show’s host and other authorities are convinced that Jamal has cheated, but through a series of flashbacks we discover the life experiences which gave Jamal every answer to the show.
The film takes away much of the tension that might have been aroused watching Jamal in the hot seat since audiences are aware he succeeds. However, this allows for more attention to be given to Jamal’s story, much of which still needs to be resolved after the game show concludes.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE was famed for its cross-cultural music, vivid imagery, and unique game show plot line. Game show movies, though rare, have a special ability to create an introspective audience. While watching the cheering audience on screen, real viewers are given the opportunity to become quite self reflective. One audience may be cheering, while the other nervously sits on edge, waiting for the unavoidable catastrophe.
In honor of SLUMDOG’s anniversary, let’s look at five more of the best game show movies available today:
THE RUNNING MAN (Dir. Paul Michael Glaser, 1987)
It is the year 2017 (oddly close to us now) and the world economy has collapsed. In this new, military controlled police state where everything from TV, movies, art, and communication is censored, the government has discovered a new way to deal with criminals: prisoners can either serve jail time, or take part in a violent game show called The Running Man. Based off of Stephen King’s novel by the same name (written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman), we follow Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former LA police officer who has been framed for murder, and then forced to compete on the show. As a contestant, he is viciously followed by “Stalkers,” the futuristic version of a bounty hunter.
Though Arnold disliked the way director Paul Glaser shot the film, claiming he “shot the movie like a television show,” some may argue this is the very factor which makes the film exciting. The look and feel of the film does feel similar to television shows, heightening our own anxiety as we wait to see if Ben succeeds in revealing the government’s secrets and proving his own innocence.
QUIZ SHOW (Dir. Robert Redford, 1994)
QUIZ SHOW is based on the 1950s game show scandal, when the show Twenty One was discovered to have been rigged. Though not completely accurate, the film stays pretty true to form, only adding slight embellishments to dramatize and turn the movie into an appropriately exaggerated version.
If we can recall, Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) is the more physically appealing contestant. It’s discovered that Charles is being fed answers in order to defeat his less-attractive competitor, Herb Stempel (John Turturro). Herb, who had been the legitimate reigning champ, is setup to fail due to his approval ratings being leveled out. After Doren defeats him, Herb fades into the background and Doren becomes an instant celebrity. Doren’s winning streak begins to take a toll, though, as he becomes more dependent on producers to feed him correct answers. Herb Stempel, in the meantime, brings in a lawyer that begins to investigate the show. From there, the secrets of Twenty One slowly begin to fall apart.
The film is definitely worth a watch, as it provides a surprising look at the crumbling and downfall of multiple men, both the contestants and those running the show.
STARTER FOR TEN (Dir. Tom Vaughan, 2006)
Possibly one of the least known films on the list, STARTER FOR 10 is a British film set in 1985 about a young student named Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) who wins a place on the University Challenge quiz team. While on the team, Brian deals with a hopeless crush on a teammate and the clashing worlds of Bristol University and his less posh friends and family back home. Brian represents that trivia geek and information sponge everyone knows (or possibly is himself).
Though James McAvoy is enough reason to give this film a shot, it was also produced by Tom Hanks. The film is wittier than most rom coms, since the leads are all intelligent people and their romantic entanglements are set against this unique, competitive atmosphere.
CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (Dir. George Clooney, 2002)
Directed by George Clooney who also stars in this film as the CIA operative Jim Byrd who recruits Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell), a TV producer and game show host of The Gong Show, to become an assassin. It’s unclear if the spy life of Chuck is real or imagined, but in reality Chuck Barris did exist, and did claim to work for the CIA. The real Barris was heavily involved in the production, ensuring that the film accurately reflected his memoir and point of view.
The plot follows Barris as he becomes increasingly successful in the realm of game show hosting, while at the same time lives out his double life as a spy. Though odd, and difficult to take as an honest biography, the film is fun to watch and features large names like Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, and Michael Cera.
THE HUNGER GAMES (Dir. Gary Ross, 2012)
The most recent and popular game show film today, THE HUNGER GAMES is the only film here advertised to a younger audience. The plot, as many know, follows young Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) after she takes her sister’s place as a chosen tribute for the only game show that exists in a dystopian future.
The game is a duel to the death between preteen and teen competitors from each of the twelve poor districts and the wealthy Capitol. The Hunger Games is used both as a vehicle for gruesome entertainment, but also as the means of controlling disenfranchised districts, employed by the Capitol dwelling authority figures who rule in this bleak, post-apocalyptic future.
Though marketed toward children, the movie deals with heavy themes, such as starvation, government abuse, the role of reality TV and the media in societal mores, and of course, murder. Based off the trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, THE HUNGER GAMES follows Katniss as she first tries to survive the games, then subsequently spurs a rebellion, whether she wants to or not.
Author Bio: Elizabeth Eckhart is an entertainment and film blogger for DirectTVcomparison.com where she covers everything from new releases to retrospectives on forgotten cinema classics. She is highly anticipating the release of the next HUNGER GAMES sequel.