Movies Take Another Evolutionary Leap With Diggers

You wanna see evolution in action? Just look at how movies and television have developed in tandem since the 1950s. When TV sprang up to challenge film, king of the entertainment jungle, film responded by going widescreen and Technicolor. When home entertainment hit back with the VCR, movies went gonzo with FX extravaganzas that demanded to be seen on a big screen. So TV got bigger and wider and added surround sound and the digital goodness of DVD. So movies got even bigger -- think IMAX -- and even more spectacularly overblown with noise and color and CGI, and marketed even more as events, something not to be missed opening weekend. You don't want to be the one dork who hasn't seen Super Awesome Movie Flick III: The Reckoning come Monday, do you?

But evolution isn't smart: it merely reacts to immediate pressures. Which is how we ended up with peacocks that can barely support the weight of their gorgeous tailfeathers, and T. rexes with ridiculously tiny and useless arms. Which is how we ended up with movies like Spider-Man 3, rumored to have cost as much as $350 million on production alone, making it by far the most expensive movie ever made. (It's almost impossible to see how it won't be wiped out by a metaphoric meteor.)

How do you compete with that? You do like our dinosaur-era ancestors did: you get small, you scurry around the edges, you scratch out a living in a niche too small for the big guys to care about. Which is how we get lovely little films like Diggers, and more importantly, how we get the clever marketing of lovely little films like Diggers.

You should see this movie -- you should. A bittersweet, wickedly wry drama about the inevitability of change from Ken Marino and director Katherine Dieckmann, it features a terrific cast of smart comic actors -- Paul Rudd, Lauren Ambrose, Ron Eldard, Josh Hamilton, Sarah Paulson, Maura Tierney -- being, for the most part, pretty serious. And they're all doing some of their most impressive work yet as the working-class, small-town society of fishermen and clam diggers on the East End of Long Island in the mid 1970s facing corporate encroachment on their waters, the death of parents and the birth of children, all that complicated life stuff. (It's also a wonderfully evocative reproduction of the place and time on a budget considerably less than $350 million. I'd be shocked if Diggers cost one percent of that.)

Surely, this is the kind of movie that gets lost in the glare coming off summer blockbusters, right? Not if you do what Magnolia Pictures did: it opened the film in limited release (17 venues) last Friday, April 27, and then immediately released it on DVD this Tuesday, May 1. Now, Diggers is far from the first film to have been released on this same day-and-date scheme, but it's the highest profile one yet, and I think it's a smart move: it's a quiet film that's going to appeal, for the most part, to an older, more thoughtful audience than will be flocking to see Spidey and his ilk. (Sometimes we old farts don't wanna fight the crowds of kids at the multiplex, ya know? Even those of us who love Spidey.) Its storytelling intimacy -- so totally the opposite of the gotta-see-it-on-the-big-screen flicks of the moment like 300 in IMAX -- is not diminished on the small screen, and in fact, there's a certain coziness to be had in curling up with a glass of wine or a mug of tea and a movie like Diggers.

Similarly, Snow Cake, featuring possibly the best performances ever from Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver, was also released on April 27 in a few theaters and as an on-demand selection of IFC in Theaters. (Watch it from the couch? Or from the crowd? You've got a choice.) We're gonna see more of this -- a lot more. How can we not? It's survival of the fittest out there.


MaryAnn Johanson (email me)

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