Film is perhaps the most technological of artforms, and it relies increasingly on computers for its simulations of the real world. Not surprisingly, films have also expressed concern over the directions in which our technology is taking us, and these days, as spyware snoops around our hard drives and governments assume more powers unto themselves, the issue that crops up repeatedly in films is that of control. Who has it? Who uses it? And to what degree have the devices we created to serve us become our masters?
There has always been something a tad absurd about The Stepford Wives, even once you accept its science-fiction premise, but the new film pushes the concept way, way over the top. The original novella by thriller writer Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil) tapped into feminist fears that men would gladly exchange their flesh-and-blood wives for domesticated, hyper-sexual robots if they could, and the 1975 film directed by Bryan Forbes went on to emphasize the even deeper horror that takes place within the men themselves: it is one thing to be killed and replaced by a machine, but it is quite another to allow your own soul to be twisted against your conscience. These days, however, it seems the battle of the sexes is either so complicated or so passé — take your pick — that the only thing a mainstream film can do with the subject is to make fun of it all. So, in the hands of Frank Oz — the Muppeteer who gave life to Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Yoda, and the director of the campy musical version of Little Shop of Horrors — The Stepford Wives has become an out-and-out comedy.