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Film Company Calls 'The Crazies' a Movie With a Message

February 26, 2010
By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Participant Media is an entertainment company not very well known outside of Hollywood. The group finances lots of movies and happens to be explicitly in the agenda business.

Participant is into both film and television. They finance, produce, and distribute what they call socially relevant movies, typically based on current events and topical subjects but have the additional goal of changing beliefs of the audience.

By the end of its second year in business, its films had been nominated for 11 Academy Awards, which says a lot about what turns on the typical Academy voter.

The company was founded in 2004 by a guy named Jeffrey Skoll, eBay’s first president, who took the fortune he made at that Internet auction site and went into the movie biz.

Skoll apparently never heard movie mogul Jack Warner's famous reply when asked to approve a script with an ideological slant, he said, "If you want to give a message, send a telegram.”

Participant went into the “movies with a message” business.

What kind of message?

A look at Participant's portfolio reveals a clear pattern. The company produced Al Gore's Oscar-winning, anti-global warming film “An Inconvenient Truth,” which we now know should be reclassified as a science fiction movie.

This year the company produced another Oscar-nominated documentary, “Food Inc.,” an expose of Big Food; a movie titled “Countdown to Zero,” which seeks to expose the evils of nuclear weapons and explores the idea of chucking our nukes.

Participant helped bring to the unsuspecting public “Syriana,” a flick that tried to show the noble motivations of suicide bombers, and also gave George Clooney an Oscar.

The group also brought the umpteenth movie dealing with one of Hollywood's favorite subjects, the black list era, in the form of another Clooney movie, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

The company currently is partnering on a film titled “Furry Vengeance,” a family comedy that purportedly deals with the issue of deforestation. The movie stars Brendan Fraser as an Oregon real estate developer who meets up with animals willing to defend the Earth from greedy capitalist businessmen.

Despite winning all that Oscar gold and receiving lots of mainstream media critical acclaim, Participant has not been successful with the kind of audience that likes to go to the multiplex and watch movies.

Participant's in-your-face, agenda-driven stuff sometimes doesn't bring enough bucks, so what is a self-respecting, progressive, social-change-seeking outfit like Participant going to do?

The company decided to enter a lucrative new genre. The Participant execs sat in the board room and said to each other that what America needs is another cheesy horror movie.

So the company partnered with Overture Films to produce a remake of a '70s movie called “The Crazies.” It was just released nationwide.

You would think with a title like “The Crazies” that this movie dealt with cult members, terrorists, or Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

Not exactly.

“The Crazies” is a remake of a low-budget movie originally shot by the filmmaker best known for “Night of the Living Dead,” George Romero.

He’s the zombie guy. Romero has a career that has stayed with theme of the “Dead.” His filmography is a long list of living-dead zombie flicks like “Dawn of the Dead,” “Land of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead,” and “Brain Dead Democrats.” Well, the last one is a title he didn’t really make and never would.

Film writers find subtexts about racism, consumerism, and class warfare in these horror movies.

Romero is 70 years old and is working on another “Dead” film called “Survival of the Dead” (coming to video-on-demand April 30 and theaters May 28).

The original “The Crazies” released in 1973 was one of those Roger Corman-style drive-in flicks.

The original dealt with the idea of biological weaponry leaked into a small town’s water supply. The townspeople turned into homicidal killing machines and the military over-responded, so, as is the norm for George Romero movies, lots of killing ensues.

The 2010 version of “The Crazies” adds the dimension of the new 21st century technology that is now available to the government, which allows locating, monitoring, and killing using high tech.

Just like the original, something has poisoned the people of a typical American town and turned them into homicidal maniacs.

There is, of course, a quarantine imposed, with the streets filled with black SUVs and swarming trigger-happy soldiers. The wrong people are being shot, so citizens are rebelling and fighting back with deadly force.

Participant should actually make a lot of money with this film, but the company insists that they made “The Crazies” because the movie has an underlying politically and socially progressive theme.

The issues of weapons security, anti-biological warfare, and the purity of water fit the Participant game plan as originally created by its founder, the eBay magnate Skoll.

In fact, Participant has launched a campaign to coincide with the release of the movie focusing on it being an ecological and military cautionary tale.

More than 50 environmental groups will use the horror flick to push the environmental envelope and, in addition the Participant campaign will advocate the passage of a federal chemical-security act.

The film feeds into the current lack of trust in the government, but, its focus is the demonization of the military, depicting a part of the armed forces that has gone bad, just like its Vietnam-era predecessor did.

But part of the movie's appeal may be unintended by Participant. It explores in imagery what government is capable of when martial law is declared. A peaceful day in a typical American community turns very quickly into a police state.

It reminds me of the Will Smith film, “Enemy of the State,” released in 1998. A corrupt politician finds out that Smith’s character, a lawyer, has powerful evidence in his possession that could bring down the politician. The power-drunk government official secretly uses the resources of the National Security Agency to stop Will Smith’s character.

The hero finds his assets frozen and his loved ones being watched and hunted by NSA agents while he is on the run, ducking sophisticated surveillance technology.

Slogans for the movie included, “It's not paranoia if they're really after you” and “In God we trust. The rest we monitor.”

“The Crazies” is a movie with two sets of monsters. But the government monsters end up being even scarier than the infected zombies.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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