BOOTLEG FILES 721: “Energy: A National Issue” (1977 educational animated film narrated by Charlton Heston and starring Fred and Wilma Flintstone).
LAST SEEN: On YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It seems to have fallen through the proverbial cracks.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.
Last week’s column served up the worst production in “The Flintstones” canon. This week, we serve up the second worst.
Back in 1977, the phrase “energy crisis” began to seep into the American lexicon because those shmata-clad sons of fun in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to turn down the global oil spigot and drive up prices on their precious commodity. If you were around back in the day, you will remember the long lines at gas stations when automotive fuel shortages became an expensive reality.
It was a complex problem, to be certain, but the good folks at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies believed it was necessary to create an educational film to explain the miasma to children. But rather than offer a mature and serious presentation, it was decided to dumb down the facts so even the stupidest of youngsters could comprehend what was happening. As a result, the Georgetown geniuses tapped Hanna-Barbera Productions to create a short documentary using their characters from “The Flintstones” cartoon series. After all, if kids would digest vitamins shaped like Fred Flintstone, why couldn’t the animated caveman explain the most challenging socioeconomic problem of that era?
Well, the resulting production of “Energy: A National Issue” deserves to be ranked among the crummiest endeavors in the educational film genre. Not only did this film fail to offer a cogent explanation of the issue of the day, but it utterly trivialized it with the dreariest animated entertainment ever concocted. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it hijacked “The Flintstones” franchise in the crummiest manner imaginable.
“Energy: A National Issue” was narrated by Charlton Heston, who took this gig during a period when his career descended into the realm of campy disaster films. Heston must have believed that his narration would be a career revival vehicle, because he took himself way too seriously in reading the script given to him. Unlike Orson Welles, the era’s greatest narrator of woefully stupid documentaries, Heston invested a surplus of sincerity into what he was narrating. Whereas Welles wryly used his brilliant voice to wink at the audience that his words carried little intellectual heft, Heston proceeded as if the fate of mankind depended on his enunciation.
“Energy: A National Issue” attempts to address the issue of shortages in energy supplies by tracing energy consumption across the span of human civilization. Thus, we begin in prehistoric times when Fred and Wilma Flintstone rely on a dwindling wood supply for their thermal and cooking needs. While their pet dinosaur Dino watches, Fred begins to chip away at strange black rocks, believing they could offer a power that is not immediately apparent by their inert state. Wilma is less interested in chemistry than in cooking – she refers to herself as Fred’s “ever-loving slave” while serving him an elaborate vegetarian lunch. (He is on a diet, hence the absence of meat on his plate.)
Fred tells Wilma that he encountered a traveling stranger who agreed to accept those odd black rocks in exchange for a “cat gut on a stick spear thrower” device. That is actually known to non-caveman as a “bow and arrow,” but it seems that phrase never bubbled up in Neanderthal times. Fred uses this new device as a toy, unaware of its full potential.
From that shaky platform, “Energy: A National Issue” propels Fred and Wilma across the span of post-caveman civilization. (Minus Dino – his presence would be impossible to explain.) The characters turn up in ancient Rome, the Renaissance, colonial America, post-Civil War America, and the suburban 1970s while addressing the difficulties in creating an energy self-sufficient society. Some of these unlikely interpretations are startling, especially with Wilma as a then-contemporary politician trying to appease an agitated rally crowd that is doubting her competency on energy-related issues.
But, alas, too much of “Energy: A National Issue” is wasted on stupidity, particularly when Fred Flintstone is dumped into Busby Berkeley-inspired musical sequences where he is singing and dancing about energy efficiency. (Henry Corden dubbed the singing while Alan Reed did the character’s voice performance.) If that wasn’t bad enough, Fred Flintstone also engages in politically incorrect ethnic stereotyping of Japanese and Indian nationals worried about their energy sourcing.
And that is why this well-intended but misdirected little film goes wrong. “Energy: A National Issue” believes the young viewers need to be amused rather than informed. The animated antics of Fred and Wilma Flintstone don’t mesh with the serious concerns that this film wants to put forward. As a result, it fails as both a serious consideration of a major socioeconomic problem and as a light entertainment. It also doesn’t help that the animation is crude and ugly – the film’s depiction of Bedrock is less Hanna-Barbera and closer to the hippy-dippy animation of the early 1970s features of “Fantastic Planet” or “The Point,” which is not in keeping with the classic style of “The Flintstones” series.
“Energy: A National Issue” was offered for broadcast on a syndicated basis in November of 1977 and was distributed on 16mm to schools. To date, it has been absent of commercial home entertainment release, but a faded print has turned up on YouTube for anyone who is devoted to viewing every piece of Flintstones-related footage.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.
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