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Culture: Review: Free Enterprise Extended Edition
Wednesday, 01 March 2006 Written by Philipe Rubio

We all have obsessions. We all have day dreams where we're more heroic than we really are, or we dare to do the things we wouldn't dear to do under normal circumstances. Some of us might have thing for lawn care, and dream sweat dreams of growing that perfect, transcendent lawn, which will will bring us fame and fortune, and the admiration of lots of scantily clad sexy people.

Or we might be Trekkies. First off, an explanation might be in order for non-US readers as to what sort of creatures Trekkies actually are. While there are quite a number of people who have watched "Star Trek", even the original series when they where growing up, it could probably never have the same impact as the series had in the US. One of the reasons is that "Star Trek" in many ways was the apotheosis of the liberal post-war vision of the United States. It was made at a time before the great society vision of Lyndon B. Johnson had been discredited of the war, and the optimism of the early sixties had foundered on the rocks of crime and race riots. The crew of the USS Enterprise was an ideal vision of the US marine corps, comprised of all creeds (or that is, no creeds) and colours, travelling to distant places doing good and spreading good cheer.

The point is, that after the original run of "Star Trek" ended in 1969, a lot of the fan were so invested in the show that it took on it's life on it's own. They, and new fans who had seen the show in syndication, started publishing fanzines, writing petitions and organising an ever growing circuit of conventions where they show up dressed up as caricatures from the show. It's these diehard fans who laid the real ground work for the later revivals both in the cinema and on television. It might, from the outside, look like a bunch of overgrown kids dressed up as Klingons or whatnot, but in a very real way they where, and are, rooting for the American dream.

Mark, played by Eric McCormack (Who would later go on to play Will in the television series "Will and Grace") and Robert , played by Rafer Weigel, were diehard Trekkies. They are the main characters in the movie "Free Enterprise". They are also Mark A. Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett, the makers of the movie. Which bring us back to day dreams. You see, this film is in many ways the ultimate wish fulfillment daydream.

Geeks and the people who love them

"Run, Logan, run!"
Altman and Burnett, had an idea. Wouldn't it be like real awesome to make a movie based on ourselves and our Trekkie and cult movie obsessed lives, and get the one and only Captain Kirk, William Shatner, to headline it. As Trekkie dreams go, it's probably not that original, what set Altman and Burnett apart from the garden variety guy (and lets face it, being a Trekkie is predominantly a guy thing), is that they actually went ahead and did it.

Growing up as geeky kids in the seventies, their role model and spirit guide was Captain James T. Kirk. Their real problem is that as young men who are no longer that young in the present, they are still basically geeky kids. Mark is outwardly the most successful one, but he's an anal retentive control freak with some serious intimacy issues. Robert, on the other hand, is an irresponsible man child and serial philanderer, who would rather buy an action figure than pay the gas bill.

In short, in many ways they are a bit loony, though perhaps not more than the rest of us in our own ways. But what they discover, when they accidentally come across what they think is their great hero, Captain Kirk perusing a porn magazine in a bookshop, but what is in fact the actor playing him, William Shatner, played by William Shatner (this is getting more meta than an Escher painting), they are in for some toppled and crushed illusions.

It seems Shatner too has a dream. His dream is to stage the full text of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", as a musical with him playing every part, except Calpurnia. This of course involves the rather odd paradox of having to stab himself, as Caesar, in the back, as Brutus.

The two friends are pulled into this mad scheme, and along the way Robert stumbles upon his ultimate wish fulfillment girlfriend, one who is just as into cult movie and comic book arcana as he is.

Big dreams and low budgets

"Your 30 years are up.
And do not make fun of my wig!"
This movie is also something of a litmus test. If you get it, you're definitively Generation X. It is shock full of cult movie lore and trivia. These are people who are so much apart of the TV generation that hardly a sentence passes their lips without it being a quote from, or an obscure reference to, some movie or television show. They have lived their lives vicariously through the medium of film, television and comic books. Their ability to connect to the real world, or to acknowledge that such a thing even exists, or is relevant, can only be described as minimal.

It is quite obvious that the people involved in making this film, on both sides of the camera, where having a ball. But the fact that it was made on a minuscule budget and with scant time for retakes and re-thinks shines through at some points. After having started out as comedy, the film ventures into more dramatic territory, with darker undertones. But as this point it seems that the script and the budget for re-shoots gives away a bit. And the ending, though charming, has something of a tacked on feel. The later actions of some of the characters, while not out of character, are not really fully motivated by what we are shown on screen.

But, notwithstanding the constraints of time and budget, it is a thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy. And it ends on a bizzare and exhilarating high point, with Shatner performing a demented rap version of Mark Anthony's eulogy for Caesar that should have been a complete and utter train wreck, but somehow works. It's not to much of a leap to imagine that this musical experiment was what rekindled Shatner's interest in music and lead to his 2004 album "Has Been", which surprised just about everyone by being one of the better albums of the year.

The facts, Mme.

"Yo! Shakespeare, check this out, dude!"
This extended edition DVD comes with 2 discs. The first one contains a new enhanced cut of the film, some 7 minutes longer than the theatrical release. There's also 2 separate audio commentary track, the first one by Mark A. Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett, the writer/producer/director team behind the film, and the second one by William Shatner, Eric McCormack, Rafer Weigel and Robert Meyer Burnett.

The second disc contains the making of documentary, "Where no fan has gone before", deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer and TV spot, actors' screentests, clips from Altman and Burnett's short lived TV show "Cafč Fantasique", the screenplays in Adobe PDF format, and, not least, the music video for the Shakespearian rap "No tears for Caesar".

Anchor Bay has given "Free Enterprise" a new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen Divimax transfer that brings out more crisp image than the 1999 DVD version. However the added scenes, new audio commentaries and the new extra features not present in the 1999 edition are not enough to completely dispel the impression of double dipping.

The final verdict is that where are big Hollywood productions far less deserving your time than "Free Enterprise", but if you already own the 1999 DVD edition, you probably can do without this extended edition, unless you're a Trekkie.


PS! You can view the trailer for the movie and several clips from it at this site. And you can enter to win the DVD by sacrificing a goat at the altar of Shatner at the promotional web site.