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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Big Rig
Big Rig
Universal // Unrated // June 3, 2008
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted May 7, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Product:
They remain the last living link to America's formative fiscal past, a cog in an economic machine that mandates fresh produce, new inventory, and available stock be shipped around the country in the quickest, most efficient, and cheapest way possible. Their gripes are many and more than legitimate. They are consistently screwed by the very social and political fabric they serve. Equally frustrating, their reputations have been ruined by crybaby country songs, sloppy sketch comedy stereotypes, and a true lack of understanding as to what exactly their job entails. Make no mistake about it - the trucker stands as a sturdy cultural icon, the all night convoy constituent who, legend has it, snorts coffee and shoots speed. Of course, none of this is true, just mangled media mythos passing as personal sketchpad. A documentary like Big Rig wants to change all that. It hopes to turn parodies into living, breathing people. Instead, it ruins its own arrangement by avoiding some to address all.

The Plot:
From Maine to California, from the warm Gulf waters of Florida to the rain swept streets of Washington State, the US literally lives off the long haul trucker. While we all sleep, they trek the endless miles that make up the nation's highways and byways, all to guarantee your corporate coffee is fresh, your belongings make it to their new home, and your franchise pizza is city to city similar. Typically reduced to rednecks with learner's permit delusions of grandeur, they're actually the backbone of a slowly globalizing America. On the plus side, they can't be outsourced. On the downside, their chief commodity is fuel, and with prices poised precariously at $4.50 a gallon (in May 2008 dollars), it sometimes costs as much to make a run as the contract payout delivers. And they're a dying breed to boot. After conversing with and compiling hundreds of hours of footage, documentarian Doug Pray (Hype!, Scratch) presents Big Rig, a documentary that tells the story of these amazing men and women.

The DVD:
Big Rig is a brilliant idea sideswiped by some rather distracting directorial choices. Following the path (and the plight) of the modern long haul trucker, Doug Pray sets us up for several compelling tales of real life road jockeys and the issues they face. From unrealistic fuel costs to the significant dangers they encounter everyday (accidents, the criminal element), we anticipate experiencing what documentaries do best: taking us into a heretofore unknown and specialized world. Where the problem lies is in Pray's approach. Instead of giving us six solid stories, he provides us with somewhere closer to 16. Instead of looking for substantive story arcs, we get snippets and soundbites. What's most disconcerting about handling the material this way is that we meet such inherently compelling folks. We instantly want to know more about each one, and yet Pray is determined to keep them at arms length. By the end, we've overdosed on homespun humor, roadside philosophy, and more anti-government tirades than George Bush and his war-prone staff ever had to face. Not only that, but we realize things could have been handled differently, and more successfully.

Specifically, Pray should have focused solely on people like Claude, the rare African American driver cruising through a still racially insensitive South. His comments are the true voice of the often marginalized minority. Then there's Jessie, a terminally ill veteran who has a son in the Middle East, and a limited amount of time on this planet. His predicament represents everything that's great - and ungrateful - about this country. He would be perfectly juxtaposed against Bear, a born anarchist who views everything about America's corrupt government stinks like a conspiracy theory waiting for Oliver Stone to uncover it. Or how about Doug. After an accident cost him his arm, he's become more than Born-again. He truly believes that the Earth is Hell, and that when the Rapture comes, he'll be transported to Heaven for a cloud-side seat as the planet literally burns. Sure, we enjoy a side trip to a Nevada brothel (complete with no-nonsense hooker and her "heart of gold" spiel) and the truck stop material has the makings of something special. But Pray can't put it all together. Instead, Big Rig frequently meanders like a tourist whose forgotten how to use their onboard GPS device.

One thing that works here is the gorgeous U.S. countryside and feeling of open road wanderlust. Pray and his sound man traveled the country, approaching truckers at various locations. They then asked for rides, taking the supposedly best material out of over 100 interviews. The vistas they come up with offer a colorful canvas of the spectacular nature that makes up this great land of ours. Sadly, we get very little of the nuts and bolts of trucking, from the paltry pay, to the grueling hours and CB shtick. It's clear that the director designed this project to be a cumulative catch-all, but scope without scrutiny becomes almost unbearable. For every Doris, a determined driver who wants to put her previous abusive marriage (and her current nuptial strife) behind her with every mile she makes, there's a compassionate - and clich├ęd - character like John. Sure, he loves the pigs he transports to slaughter, but he also makes no bones about the bacon he consumes. Had Pray narrowed his look, we'd have something of a national treasure here. And the participants deserve such a treatment. Without them, our economy would crumble and fold. Pray and his problematic movie fail to give us enough information to fully appreciate the sacrifice and struggle they must endure.

The Video:
Screen Media Films pulled a fast one on DVD Talk and this critic. Instead of sending final product for this review, they provided a screener dressed up in digital packaging trappings. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks direct from video viable, but without the real tech specs, it's impossible to judge the overall quality. One imagines that a camcorder to film conversion may be in order, but that's for the company to expound on once the official DVD arrives.

The Audio:
Presumably, we have a Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix offered. The disc itself isn't saying, and the ultimate aural presentation could very well be different than what's provided here. While the interviews come off without a sonic hitch, and the retro-road songs reverberate with a nice urgency, a final judgment is again reserved.

The Extras:
Talk about the biggest cheat of all - the bonus features menu promises intriguing added content like a commentary, additional scenes, an original test promo, some music videos, a look at show trucks, a behind the scenes featurette and a peek at the Road Dog radio program on Sirius. None of this material is accessible on the screener, however. It makes an already frustrating experience seem downright pointless.

Final Thoughts:
As an elephantine effort that doesn't know when to quit, Big Rig undermines it own noble motives. Still, there's enough insight and intrigue offered to warrant a Recommended rating. Even a perfect set of non-screener tech specs couldn't save what is, aesthetically, desire crashing into design. If anything symbolizes the problems with this film, it's the segmented story of Dale. While traveling through Colorado late one night, his engine light flickers on and his truck peters out. Unable to get help at such an ungodly hour, he tries everything in the book to get his vehicle back on the road. Throughout the entire running time of Big Rig, Pray cuts back and forth between his collection of talking heads and Dale's dilemma. Oddly enough, we never learn what caused the problem in the first place - or why a simple phone call fixes it. It's the lack of detail that undermines this otherwise compelling documentary. It's what tends to happen when a movie like Big Rig bites off much more than it could ever cinematically chew.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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