Title:  The 70’s

Release Date:  2000

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 156 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Distributor and Production Company  NBC (Universal), DiNovi

Director; Writer: Peter Werner


Cast:   Rob Love, Guy Torry, Venessa Shaw


Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:

TV Movie Review: The 70’s

NBC Films; about 180 Minutes; PG-13; 8.0/10


This miniseries was aired on April 30, 2000 and May 1, 2000 on NBC.  I took the trouble to view it both nights (and I usually am annoyed by miniseries monopolizing several evenings), as I wondered whether it could give the sense of history that I envision for a possible “Do Ask, Do Tell” film.  I do long for the absorbing drama of Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance (from the 1980’s), or of Oliver Stone’s JFK and Nixon.


The action starts off strong, with the Kent State national guard killing of four student protestors (Nixon called them draft-dodging, privileged scum), and it’s pretty terrifying to see civilian students (albeit those with high draft numbers, maybe) going down.  The Vietnam war has come to the home-front, as if a topic for a high school term paper.  


The premise is interesting enough. A handsome young Columbia law student Byron Shales (played by Rob Lowe, from The Stand) quits school and, making his establishment parents proud, goes to work for the Committee to Re-Elect the President.  Nixon, that is.  A staunch Republican—yuppie-like, not Christian—he pretends to be a Democrat and annoys McGovern supporters with really tacky telemarketing calls.  He gets further into the dirty tricks, then gets the inevitable subpoena.


So far, OK.  Does the end justify the means?  Do two wrongs make a right?  Good stuff here. But then the script becomes hurried as it tries to cram in the stories of several other characters, all with the constant din of 70’s disco 54-style music.  Shales testifies and tells the truth, but never gets punished; he goes off to Alaska to do well-paying grunt work on the Alaska pipeline. We need to see him go to jail and get roughed up.  It never really happens.  He does redeem himself, at the cost of his parents’ love—well, eventually, his parents do start to grasp their own hypocrisy, but not until Ronald Reagan is getting sworn in.  The other episodes ought to be interesting.  For example, a workplace gender discrimination lawsuit is briefly played out in court (an older woman “secretary” tells of being addressed by her first name while younger men are addressed as “Mr.,” even as will go down fast themselves.  Shales’ sister joins a cult—the one that would turn into the Jonestown; and, yup, Byron is a good enough family to rescue “April” and turn her over to a deprogrammer.


You just don’t get a chance to really care about the characters here.  The stories move too fast to matter. The bee-bop is distracting.  A film like this really works best on a big screen, and the script needs to let every character announce who he or she is.  That never happens here.  Maybe that was the trouble with the collectivist 70’s (the time of gas lines and of Jimmy Carter’s moralizing, even if it seemed to loosen those male dress codes enough to allow flared slacks), and help explains how some people became vulnerable to dropping out and joining the cults.  


I can do better with a story like this.


This has no relation to Fox’s That 70s Show, a comedy series with Ashton Kutcher.


Related reviews: Latter days etc.


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