"Let us realize that the privilege to work is a gift, that power to work
"Kill my boss? Do I dare live out the American dream?" - Homer Simpson
"Kill my boss? Do I dare live out the American dream?" - Homer Simpson
The first time I saw Mike Judge's Office Space (1999), I was in the final semesters of college: a time when there's plenty of academic work to be done (or at least procrastinated), though actual paid employment is something of a luxury. Sure, I found the film funny from start to finish, yet it was simply just another comedy...but one with a unique setting, of course.
Two years later, I saw Office Space again. Having gone through the usual post-college haze of "finding" one's self and treading water at a few part-time jobs, I still found the film funny but couldn't completely identify with it. I was fresh off a few internships in local graphic design facilities, so at least some of the characters rang true---and yet, it still wasn't much more than just a funny movie in my eyes. Just six months ago, it started to grow on me even more.
Last night when I watched it for the fourth time? Chills.
Having just "celebrated" three months at my new office job, the characters and events of Office Space now strike a staggeringly familiar chord with my daily routine---almost to the point that watching the film is something like an out-of-body experience. Director Mike Judge's keen eye for the mundane details of office life provide plenty of evidence that he's a recovering cubicle slave himself: the irritating quirks of co-workers, the temperamental copier, the passive-aggressive boss and the mind-numbing tick of the clock crawling towards weekend parole.
As a matter of fact, I'm organizing this very review in the "comfort" of said job. It's Friday afternoon---which may as well be the Sabbath by most workweek standards---and organizing reviews is more interesting than Solitaire and counting the flecks in the drop ceiling. There's a time and a place for productivity (whatever that is); yet writing a review for Office Space while on the clock isn't just necessary, it's practically my civic duty as an employee. It's not quite the same as scribbling a review for Saving Private Ryan from the trenches---but hey, it's pretty darn close.
Even so, I don't hate my job, especially when looking at the big picture: the pay isn't bad, the benefits are a rarity and most of the co-workers are pretty cool. But it's not exactly interesting or fulfilling work here, made just a little bit worse by the bureaucratic policies that prevent us from getting things done at a decent pace. In fact, it's this contradictory sense of "job satisfaction" that provides the foundation to one of the film's most thought-provoking exchanges:
-- "It would be nice to have that kind of job security."
Obviously it's the former statement that defines the film, especially since Office Space doesn't exactly have a rosy outlook during the bulk of its 89-minute lifespan. It's less tongue-in-cheek than, say, Scott Adams' landmark strip Dilbert and much lighter in tone than Gary Burns' Waydowntown (2000), but the film's sarcastic outlook still mirrors that of many under-appreciated office drones the world over. Not since Kevin Smith's Clerks (1994) has a film spoken so clearly to the working class, though Office Space swaps cash registers for computers. All things considered, it's a fair trade.
The film's first half is tightly focused, resulting in an extremely funny portrait of claustrophobic, maddening office life and the paradox of upper management. Our hero is Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston, Band of Brothers), a tired twentysomething whose daily routine began wearing him down since his first day at Initech, a faceless corporation that has no clear directive and doesn't really need one. After succumbing to his quasi-girlfriend's wishes of seeing a hypnotherapist---and encountering a strange twist of fate in the process---Peter's job outlook gets a whole lot more relaxed. Suddenly, the annoying behavior of his boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole, One Hour Photo), doesn't seem quite so threatening any more. The threat of his friends being downsized makes Peter spring back into action, and it's here where Office Space switches from scathing satire to a slightly more episodic adventure. Even so, life is more about the journey than the destination, isn't it?
You know how typical comedies always have one character that ends up stealing scenes? Office Space has at least five. Along for the ride are Peter's job-threatened co-workers Michael Bolton (David Herman, Futurama) and Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu, K-Pax), a pair of disgruntled young workers who offer a great balance to Peter's laid back personality. There's also Peter's next-door neighbor Lawrence (Diedrich Bader, Napoleon Dynamite), who offers plenty of down-to-earth advice to our hero, including a classic answer to the question: "What would you do if you had a million dollars?". Gary Cole inhabits the quirks of Lumbergh perfectly, resulting in what may be the most memorable micro-management performance of the 1990s. Yet none of these characters steal scenes quite like Milton Waddams (Stephen Root, NewsRadio), a squirrelly co-worker with a sincere love and respect for his red Swingline stapler (a product that was incidentally created for the film and put into actual production shortly after). In any case, Office Space is more than great characters and situations: it rings true for anyone who's experienced even a fraction of the environment it depicts.
The inspiration for the movie was Mike Judge's 1991 short animated film of the same name, a curious study of the Milton character (seen here) with an early version of Lumbergh thrown in for good measure. This animated short is perhaps the more pure of the two, especially due to its shorter length and more compact production. As such, its big-screen brother manages to suffer a few minor missteps along the way, including a few jokes that fall flat and the film's slightly less engaging third act. Jennifer Aniston's character (Joanna, a disgruntled waitress at a nearby restaurant that eventually falls for Peter) isn't give a terrible lot to do, especially as the film lurches onward. Yet it's the extreme high points and endlessly quotable scenarios scattered throughout Office Space that make it such a winning comedy: after all, this is a film that ultimately cares about the subject it despises---at least enough so that it's got every little detail, good or bad, nailed down flat.
Unfortunately, the original DVD release---produced all the way back in 1999, when anamorphic widescreen transfers were few and far between---didn't offer much in the way of support, as the bare-bones disc contained little more than a theatrical trailer and a clever menu interface. Time marches on, though the long-awaited release of this Special Edition is still missing a few key ingredients. Even so, it's hard to hate a disc that substantially improves the image transfer and at least attempts to throw a few goodies our way---and with a film as watchable as Office Space to back it up, it's a great package that fans should enjoy. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Reviewer's Note: Sorry, no screen comparisons are available this time around. As such, all statements
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Office Space appears to be substantially improved from its 1999 counterpart. This is, of course, due in no small part to the 16x9 enhancement, though a modest amount of dirt and scratches have thankfully been cleaned up as well. Even so, a few minor instances of dirt remain on the print---usually during the beginning and/or ending of certain reels---but this is still a terrific transfer that certainly gets the job done. It's also worth noting that this disc is virtually free of digital problems (edge enhancement, interlacing, etc.), which really makes the film look sharp and clear on any video setup with the benefit of progressive scan.
The audio presentation remains the same as the previous release, though it was never really a problem to begin with. The English 5.1 Surround mix is often subtle but clean, displaying a mild amount of "office ambience" and other little tricks every now and then. Only the music cues really open up the soundstage, though haters of gangsta rap won't appreciate its wry effectiveness. French and Spanish 2.0 Surround mixes are also on board, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Offering a terrific atmosphere and clever transitions, the menu designs for this Special Edition [seen above] really convey the mood of the film well (and yes, the left image is indeed the chapter index screen). This 89-minute film has been divided into a very generous 36 chapters, while no apparent layer change was detected during playback. The packaging is generally similar to the original DVD, as this one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase. The early screener copy I received didn't seem to include a slipcase or insert, though the final product most likely will.
Next up is a quick assortment of Deleted Scenes (8 scenes, 6 minutes total) that add a few laughs despite their brevity. The titles of each include "Peter Lies to Lumbergh", Happy Hour", "Peter Goes Off on Nina", "Tom's Mixed Heritage is Called Into Question", "Milton and Bob", "Peter's Revelation", "Lumbergh's Dead" and "Another Lumbergh". It's easy to see why a few of these were cut, but they're all worth a look. Winding things down is the film's Theatrical Trailer, presented in 2.35:1 widescreen---and just for the record, it's slightly cropped on the top and bottom compared to the final cut. Last but not least is a selection of DVD-Rom Material, including a fairly dull game called "Road Rage Rally" and a cool selection of downloadable screensavers and audio clips (including Lumbergh's answering machine!). Also, it's worth noting that the DVD extras are all presented in anamorphic widescreen, so it's good to see another disc with 16x9 TV owners in mind.
Even with a few highlights here, I know Fox could've dug deeper with the bonus material. For starters, an audio commentary would've really been the icing on the cake...or how about the obvious inclusion of the original animated short? Though I'm usually not a fan of them, an extended outtake reel would've also been great. Don't get me wrong: it's nice to see some improvement in the extras department, but plenty of fans have been waiting for this Special Edition for years now. It's certainly worth the upgrade, though the lack of a few more bonus features may spoil the party a bit.
Consistently funny and worthy of countless viewings, Office Space stands tall as one of the most underrated comedies of the 1990s. If the daily grind is bearing down and you've yet to see this one, do yourself a favor and bask in its fluorescent glow as soon as possible. Though it's not without a few faults, Mike Judge really gave us office monkeys something to latch on to with this film---and in all honesty, the business world wouldn't feel the same without it. Fox's DVD is a modest upgrade from the original disc, offering an improved visual presentation and a handful of entertaining extras for a very reasonable price. In an endless sea of cubicles, copiers, memos and management, Office Space offers a welcome breath of fresh air for the white collar living dead. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable desk jockey and art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA (how's that for diversity?). In his free time, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.