"Das Millionenspiel" is the holy grail of German TV-movies. This 1970 science-fiction satire gave viewers a glimpse into the future of TV-entertainment.
At a time when private, consumer based television was in itself still science-fiction for the German audience, the brilliant script and imaginative direction of Wolfgang Menge and Tom Toelle, are still outstanding after almost 40 years.
"Millionenspiel" is a game-show that follows a volunteering candidate for seven days while a group of armed killers are out to get him. Should he survive he will get a Million Deutschmark. Many men have lost the game and one guy who had quit the show later commited suicide because he couldn´t live with the public shame.
Now, if this set-up sounds familiar: It is! The story, which was originally written as "The Price of Peril" by Robert Sheckley, inspired two further movies in the 1980s: "Le Prix du Danger" and "Running Man" with Arnold Schwarzengger. Although "Running Man" is credited to Stephen King, he just varied the story slightly (and made it much less provocative in the process).
"Das Millionenspiel" is a remarkable sci-fi film. It creates a hyper-realism by casting well known TV-hosts and reporters as moderators in the fictional show. By doing so it is dissecting and mocking the hollow phrases and rotten ethics of these show-hosts, which ironically haven´t changed at all during the last 40 years.
The downright cynical manipulation of the audience is acidly shown by peeking behind the scenes of "Trans Europe TV". Producers, who hope to prolong the hunt by planting helpers and traitors along the way, discuss the ratings while planning the best camera-angle for the desired killing-shot in the "Spiral of Death" (a glass-tunnel with bullet holes that the candidate has to pass through on his final way to survival, fame and wealth - or death!).
His mother is shamelessly used for sappy comments ("Take care! We are proud of you"). Passengers on the street are interviewed about the show: "Very modern", or "repulsive" are some of the numb reactions.
The film even deconstructs our expectations of the hero protagonist. How should we feel empathy for him, when greed for money and fame made him beat other candidates in preceeding shows? In backflashes we see him fighting his way through shows like "Case of Emergency" where he finds himself waking up in a descending Cessna after the pilot left the machine with a parachute.
The production-design of the film stays relatively close to the modern style of 1970. Lots of silver, op-art and abstract ballet-dancing were common in German tv-studios of the time. One give-away that the film was fiction were the numerous ads shown throughout the show.
Sponsored by the fictious "Stabil Elite Corporation", the art department really had a ball with these short clips that broke up the film and are clearly an imaginative highlight.
"Stabil Elite" is a sort of ACME that sells everything from over-the-counter abortion syringes to funeral cosmetics, diet pills and amphetamine saturated spring water.
After the film was shown for the first time in october 1970 the broadcast was flooded with letters. The producers had clearly expected to cause a stir with their provocative film but they were baffled by the kind of reaction the mailman brought in. Hundreds of people wanted to be part of the show! Most of them were up for the money, but some also requested to join the "hunters" and bragged that they were better shooters than the ones on TV.
There was also a letter from an American lawyer who claimed that the broadcast was violating copyright laws because film rights were not part of the deal the author had with the publisher of the story.
Sadly they had a point and the film was never shown again for the next 32 years!
In 2002 the broadcast was able to track down the current holder of the rights and bought back the rights to their own film. Seeing "Das Millionenspiel" after all this time is like un-earthing a time-capsule, that despite its nostalgic value still surprises with its acidic social satire.
Sadly, it is unlikely that "Das Millionenspiel" will find its way to DVD any time soon. Due to the fucked up legal situation the broadcast would have to make new contracts with all surviving members of cast and crew. This would also include the soundtrack which was done by CAN under the name Innerspace Productions.
Innerspace Productions (CAN): Title music
Youtube is not of big help to unearth good parts of the film. One clip shows the intro and end-title sequence with original music by CAN. (Still recommended).
Then there is another excerpt which shows the end of the hunt, the "spiral of death" and also one of the "Stabil Elite"-ads (starts at 3:15). I actually wanted to edit this with Omnisio, but this service was recently bought up by Google and is currently discontinued.