A well made movie with thoughtful bonus features make this a DVD worth owning.
If you're going into this movie wanting the book you can forget it.
In Richard Linklater's interpretation of Fast Food Nation we get a bunch of stories that deal with the social effects of meat packing plants, illegal immigration, student protesters and corporate America. Greg Kinnear plays everyman Don Henderson who is summoned to look at a meat packing plant after it is discovered that there's been feces on some hamburgers. He travels to the plant, sees that everything is fine and doesn't see what the problem is. Then he meets Rudy Martin (Kris Kristofferson) and realizes that he hasn't seen the whole picture. After talking about this problem with ambivalent businessman Harry Rydell (Bruce Willis), Don seems convinced that something has to be done and that people's health is more important then profits. At this point, Don literally leaves the film.
This whole time we have seen a story about illegal immigrants who crossed the border to work in this meat factory, mixed in with student protesters who, although their intentions are noble, have inadvertently made life hard for the aforementioned Rudy Martin. We get into these people's home lives a bit and are treated to some idealistic thoughts from Ethan Hawke's character Peter, but all in all Fast Food Nation is a movie of ideas. It shows the symbiotic relationship between the worker, the food they create (and eat), the money it makes and who benefits because of it.
The Meatrix I, II and II 1/2 and The Backwards Hamburger
The The Meatrix section is a take off on The Matrix in which see characters like Neo and Morpheus going on this adventure to learn about where hamburgers and meat come from. The idea, as you may or may not of have guessed, is that most Americans are living in a dream world as far as their food is concerned. We just get it, we eat it, and we don't think about how it got on our plate. These were interesting, well done, and thought provoking. The Backwards Hamburger functions with pretty much the same idea and if you have to choose between the two, I'd say watch The Meatrix.
Manufacturing Fast Food Nation
In this "making of" piece Richard Linklater and Fast Food Nation or Eric Schlosser describe how these two worked on the script together, and mixed in with that are shots of the cast, as well as thoughts from producer Jeremy Thomas. Greg Kinnear discusses the subject matter of this book, and we also get to see different scenes from the multiple stories that make up this film being shot.
Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser open up this commentary by freely admitting that they have not done a faithful adaptation of Schlosser's book. They also discuss how they didn't want to make this movie a satire or a comedy. Then these two launch into a discussion on immigration, the history of world progress, politics and how the hamburgers in the film look like happy faces. Linklater then muses on such things as making a character unappealing by showing them eating, and then he makes fun of Screenwriting 101 citing how his script would be vilified by many in the know because it presents ideas and characters that don't really go anywhere. I'd expect nothing less from the man who burst onto the scene with Slacker.
Widescreen. This movie looked about as good as it did when I saw it in the theater. Richard Linklater hasn't done anything that amazing with the structure of this film, but the byproduct of that is that without all the flash it makes following this story much easier. The compression on this disc was good even though Fox did not send me a regular DVD but rather a burned copy. Still everything was up to par and I experienced no problem with the picture.
Dolby. The audio on this DVD was also solid. Richard Linklater has really captured the primal essence of eating a hamburger. The noises that we make, the way we chew, all the sound effects seem to underscore this idea of it being a manufactured experience. The audio wasn't something that completely knocked me out, but the way the music is sparingly used really underscored the tone and feel of this story.
Fox sadly didn't send me any packaging with this DVD. I simply got it in a white envelope. I review a lot of DVDs from Fox, so I thank them for hooking me up with this movie early, but I would like to have been able to tell people what the case of this DVD looked like. Sadly, I cannot.
Some people might have a problem with this film because ideas are bandied about, plots are hatched, and then nothing becomes of them. Fast Food Nation is not a mainstream movie but it is accessible. It gets you thinking about this country and the levels of inhuman conduct that greed will push people to. It is both fascinating and scary. I don't think there was any way of turning the book upon which this movie is based into anything other than a multi-narrative film. They could have gone the documentary route but I think that that is doing the film a disservice. Perhaps more people would have seen it, maybe it would have become the next An Inconvenient Truth, but I think this movie works even if it doesn't tie everything up.
Richard Linklater is a bold filmmaker who really seems to make the movies he wants to make. He may not be as arty as some of the filmmakers he admires, but he as an artist and he keeps making films that are important to him.