Throughout time most people have complained about their jobs. No matter where you work the proverbial pastures are always greener elsewhere. Okay, we are on a terrible economy now and for an increasing number of people any job is a good thing but the fact remains that most will have some complaints about even the best forms of employment. While I have had my share of non office work ranging from pushing a hot dog cart in Queens to waiting tables at a diner most of my job experience has been in the setting of an office. This is the case for millions of people around the world, especially those that are employed in the computer programming field. The people that diligently work on the computer software that we all take for granted was most likely written in part of whole by some guy sitting in a cubical for endless hours each and every work week. Offices that are laid out for such types of office work are usual referred to cubical farms. For those that have never had to work in such an environment they are basically an office floor lined with row after row of identical cubicles each one holding what used to be a vital human being with a love for life. Life in a cubicle oriented workplace can be dehumanizing; just think of the real life equivalent of the old folk song ‘Little Boxes’ as a way of life. There have always been offices with rows of desks but the addition of the cubicle walls makes for an entirely different mindset for those so afflicted.
This has also given rise to a new comic theme for television and movies; the plight of the wage slave in the dreaded cubicle. People who work in the technology industry have embraced any source that makes fun of their work conditions. I doubt there is not a single cubicle in the software industry that does not have a ‘Dilbert’ comic strip tacked on the wall. In 1999 this cubicle culture was becoming widespread in the world and a film came about that would define this very specific brand of humor; ‘Office Space’. It was not a large success in its original theatrical release, perhaps the wage slaves were too busy at work in their own cubicles to go out and see it. In any case it has done well on DVD, a technology that most programmers are well acquainted with. Now it has a chance to keep up with the changing times with a new Blu-ray release through 20th Century Fox. Like most studios they have been combing through their catalog of films and re-releasing them in high definition. For those of us that have worked under these conditions this film is far more than a cult classic; it is a look at our way of life. It has moved beyond the technical work sector to become a must see movie for office workers around the globe. Now you can experience it with the best possible presentation.
The movie was written and directed by Mike Judge. It is loosely based on his ‘Milton’ Saturday Night Live animated shorts but goes much farther in its scope. Judge is one the leaders in the field of animation. He came to most people’s attention with his MTV hit ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ which then lead to a loose spin off with ‘King of the Hill’. The story here does for office workers what those previous cartoons did for slackers and red necks. It is a slice of life kind of story that is able to resonate with the audience. Cubicles were intended to provide a modicum of privacy and lessen distractions in an office environment. What this story shows is that these half walls homogenize the work place adding to the feeling held by the employees of being nameless cogs in some giant corporate machine. Bosses are shown as petty empire builders who see their tiny part of the corporate world as the most important part of the company. To them life is all about the miniscule rules and regulations that they live to enforce. The workers are just trying to put in their time and get their paycheck. At every turn they are beaten down and stripped of any form of individual expression or thought. Within this framework there are some classic themes being played out. First is the eternal class struggle. This is almost a return to the feudal days of the dark ages with the nobles as the executives in their far away corporate offices and the law of land imposed on the working class by the local enforcers. We may think that such a hierarchy is long in the past but it is alive and well in corporate America. Next there is a perennial favorite, the underdog story. Audiences love to see the down trodden, hapless victim strike a blow against the establishment. At first glance this may seem like a silly flick but take a deeper look and you will find a well crafted and pointed comedy and great parody of reality.
Judge also does a great job in directing this film. He refrains from the usual tricks of the trade and presents the movie in a refreshingly straightforward fashion. At times it is as if this was a documentary and it may have influenced ‘The Office’ television series both here and in England. The all important cubicles are shown as claustrophobic with only the barest touches contained within them to show an individual human being works there. While there is a central theme and story line a lot of the movie is episodic in nature. This can often result in a choppy feel but in Judge’s talented hands it is perfect. This is a reflection of how life in this environment actually is; one moment after another that has to be survived.
Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is like a countless number of people who are chained for their workday in a cubicle. Let’s just say he is not a happy camper and thinks of everything but his work load which happens to be preparing a bank for the Y2K. Also working in this cubicle farm are Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu), Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Milton Waddams (Stephen Root). All of them are close to the edge of being disgruntle. Milton is one of the most hapless characters ever constantly having his cubicle move to one bad location after another. His only touchstone to sanity is his beloved stapler. The nemesis of the group is the local despot, vice president Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole). He is picky to the extreme and loves to project an image of caring even though it is completely false. Two men are sent from head office to look into downsizing known as the ‘Bobs’ (John C. McGinley and Paul Willson). Peter has his girlfriend Anne (Alexandra Wentworth) gets him to agree to be hypnotized to improve his performance but it instead it makes him an overt slacker. The ‘Bobs’ take this as a good thing and put Peter up for a promotion. This is a rambling plot that makes sense especially to all of us who have lived in this strange culture.
You may have thought you have seen this film before but until you get the Blu-ray version you do not know what you are missing. The 1080p video is crisp and clear with an incredible color balance that brings the movie to life. The attention to detail is remarkable. The DTS HD audio doesn’t so much leap off the screen it gentle enfolds you pulling you in. You can now hear the tiniest sound in the background. Blu-ray is great with films like this and more people are bound to go this route for every film possible.