Harrison Bergeron (1961) was one of Kurt Vonneguts earlier short stories. This adaptation was a Canadian-made cable tv movie. The film changes the basics of Kurt Vonneguts story considerably. The original story that Vonnegut wrote is farcical in tone. The principal characters are actually Harrisons parents who are watching tv and constantly being jolted by their handicap devices. Their fourteen-year-old Harrison is so bright he has to wear giant handicappers, thick glasses, scrap metal hung all over him to offset his physical prowess and a clown nose and bad teeth dentures to handicap his looks. As the parents watch, Harrison escapes from jail and commandeers the tv studio, releasing some handicapped dancers and taking one whose beauty has been handicapped with a mask as his lover, before being shot down by the Handicapper General (who is a woman). The parents then return to watching tv, only vaguely remembering what they just saw.
All of this has been considerably changed in the film. The parents are still there and watching tv but are minor characters, and there are some handicapped dancers. However, Kurt Vonneguts farcical tone is replaced by a standard dystopian scenario that is played seriously, not satirically. Harrison Bergeron is now the main character but his handicapping amounts to only a device that looks like no more than a set of headphones worn on his head, while his seven feet height and fourteen year-old-age has been recast with 56 24 year-old Sean Astin. Moreover, another entire story has been padded out around Vonneguts admittedly short piece, in which Sean Astin is inducted into the group that runs the society (something that is never even speculated about in the short story). The film does eventually arrive at the scene where Harrison commandeers a tv studio, although rather than Vonneguts farce, this is a scene that tries to make a poignant point about all that this society is missing. The end of the film tries to conduct an interesting argument of asking whether the ease of having no wars, murders or genocide is worth the price of having no Beethovens and no great works of art anymore.
The fitful satire fails to come across with the sheer bizarreness and wild farce that runs through Kurt Vonneguts writing. At most, the story has been updated to become a mild satire against tv. There is the odd cutely satiric idea like an underground brothel that geniuses are taken to where they can engage in intellectual discussions instead of sex, not to mention an amusing scene where a chess game is conducted as a flirtation. Alas, Bruce Pittmans standard middle-of-the-road tv handling never brings any of it to life. Nor does pudgy Sean Astin, caught at this point between being a forgotten teen actor and rediscovery with The Lord of the Rings, convince us that he is a genius. The film has been given a peculiar 1950s retro look, which is explained away with the cute justification America was happiest in the 1950s.
Other films based on Kurt Vonneguts books are: Between Time and Timbuktu (1972), Slaugherhouse Five (1972), Slapstick of Another Kind (1982), Welcome to the Monkey House (1991), Mother Night (1996) and Breakfast of Champions (1999). Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (2017) is a documentary about Vonnegut.
Director Bruce Pittman has made a great deal of Canadian or Canadian-shot tv. His other genre outings are the twin psycho-thriller The Mark of Cain (1985), the tongue-in-cheek horror film Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987), Alien Tracker (2003) about alien prison escapees and the film set thriller The Last Movie (2012).
Full film available online here:-