Magnolia Pictures // 2010 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // January 31st, 2011
Six rogue filmmakers explore the hidden side of everything.
As a book, Freakonomics was a runaway surprise bestseller that moved more than 4 million copies during its printed run. Not bad for a 2005 nonfiction book written by a University of Chicago economist, Steven Levitt, and a New York Times journalist, Stephen J. Dubner, who dealt with the intriguing idea of "incentive driven economics." The entire read was six chapters which looked at how desire often dictates how markets behave, and it applied economics to surprising topics with interesting motive analysis. Do Sumo wrestlers cheat? Does what you name your baby matter in the long run? Did legalizing abortion create an unexpected solution to our crime problem? It seemed to blend sociology and criminology into the world of dry old boring "supply and demand" models of how money moves. Academics summarily dismissed their studies as just pop culture nonsense, but it resonated with the reading public as well as literary critics.
In 2010 it was decided that a film version should be constructed to make the messages even more accesible. But how do you deal with a book about economics? What the producers ended up deciding was to hire several well-known documentary film directors including: Seth Gordon (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters), Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), Eugene Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger), Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp), and Heidi Ewing (The Boys of Baraka). It was like a dream team of documentarians, and they each took on one topic and produced it as a segment for the film. And so the big screen version tackles all the same areas as the book, but in particular focuses on the naming of kids, cheating Sumo wrestlers, crime and how it has decreased, and bribing ninth graders to make good grades. The result is like watching four 20 minute movies on economics, all a little different in their approach. It is uneven, but always entertaining. Some segments work better than others, but mostly that depends on the level of interest and the quality of the research.
For Blu-ray, Magnolia Pictures has done an admirable job of giving us even more to chew on than just economic theory spiked with humanist angles. Included are further interviews with authors Levitt and Dubner, who are all too happy to talk more about their theories. The three producers get together to do a commentary for the entire feature, and there is also a track where the directors come in to talk about their segments. Also included is a short behind-the-scenes featurette. The image quality looks great, sparkling with vivid color and impressive clarity. Sound whirls out of all five speakers in a nice DTS master audio track. There is nothing wrong with the technical presentation, although the film feels a bit small in scope to be so tricked out. I imagine standard definition could be fine, but here we have the full treatment. It looks and sounds solid, and the extras are very nice.
This is an enjoyable experience, and I say that as a business major who used to dread economics class. It is definitely not your usual "corn and wheat" discussion of supply and demand, and for that Freakonomics has turned me in to a fan. It may cloud things far too much to introduce incentives and human desire in to these types of models, but it sure is a heck of a lot more entertaining. I enjoyed the heck out the film, and the Blu-ray is a nice way to watch it. Your incentive is it that you get all the bells and whistles all at once in one convenient package. If I can sell it to you at price "XYZ" right now would you take it? What if I changed the name of the movie? What if I cheated to get you to watch it? Can I give you fifty bucks? Would that make it better?
Guilty of getting its freak on with econ.
Review content copyright © 2011 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Freakonomics Blog