Scribe Arthur Crimm has created a good adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, adding plenty of texture and twists to an already interesting premise. Telefilm’s top-notch production design is as appealing as the acting.
Though the story is set in the year 2053, the vidpic is peppered with the styles of the 1950s, from hair and dress fashions to June Cleaver-type moms and black-and-white TVs. But the population is forced to wear metallic headbands to receive electronic impulses that stifle synaptic signals; this serves to “handicap” the population by turning everyone into a Hamer Simpson.
In this society, average is considered the pinnacle. Students earning C’s are rewarded, while those receiving A’s are chastised. Intellectuals are the minority, while dolts dominate.
Story centers on Harris on Bergeron (Sean Astin), an A student who tries desperately to underachieve, but cannot. Worried that the government’s Handicapping Guidelines will foist some unthinkable punishment onto her son, Bergeron’s mom (Linda Goranson) seeks the help of Dr. Eisenstock (Nigel Bennett).
The wacky but respected doctries to adjust Bergeron’s headband to block his intellectual impulses and dumb him down. Unsuccessful, Eisenstock suggests an operation that will permanently dull the boy’s senses.
Add to the mix some government intervention, a bordello called a “head house, ” where the free discourse of ideas without protection is illegally proffered, and Bergeron’s desire to change the system, and the result is a spirited offering likely to spark office water-cooler debate.
Director Bruce Pittman weaves all the elements into a cohesive package. Astin convincingly portrays the earnest Bergeron as a kid who wants to play by the rules but knows down deep there’s something inequitable about the whole deal.
Cameos by Buck Henry, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin and Howie Mandel add spark, while Diana Reis as the sympathetic schoolmarm credibly helps advance the backstory as she instructs her charges.
But the telepic’s standout is Bennett, who scores big points spinning his Dr. Frankenstein-meets-Mr. Roberts character into a wickedly wonderful, twisted sort.
Production designer Susan Longmire and art director Alta Louise Doyle team to create an eyecatching presentation that tells as much of the story as the wellscripted dialogue.