The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 171 | Lessons from Dredd‘s home media resurgence

Leaving Proof 171 | Lessons from Dredd‘s home media resurgence
Published on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 by
Dredd‘s surprising performance in the home media market after flopping at the box-office could redefine the concept of the hit film. ALSO: We check in on FUNimation’s YouTube Simulcast of Season 4 of Minami-ke and link to the latest trade and hardcover reviews.

dredd_movie_poster02Last week, I finally got around to seeing Pete Travis’ Dredd (a.k.a. Dredd 3D) on Playstation Store video-on-demand (VOD), and I found it to be pretty entertaining. The camera work is solid, fight scenes are appropriately hard-hitting, and even though there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of overt, whiz-bang special effects apart from super-stylized slow-motion—the use of which is actually justified by a plot device—and digital squibs/blood-splatter and gun muzzle flashes, the production overall looks very much the part of the summer sci-fi actioner. Alex Garland’s screenplay is reasonably faithful to how Judge Dredd and the dystopian future world of Mega-City One were portrayed in the original comics (Judge Dredd co-creator and 2000 AD writer John Wagner actually served as an advisor to Garland). As in the print version of the character, Garland’s Dredd is less a human being than an unbending and brutal implement of the penal code, almost sociopathic in his brutal and single-minded adherence to rules and procedure, practically devoid of anything approaching the normal complement of human emotion in his dispensation of his duties.

Effective, too, is Karl Urban in his role as the eponymous future law enforcer/magistrate/executioner. The Kiwi thespian manages a delicately balanced portrayal, giving audiences a cartoonishly ruthless and driven Judge Joe Dredd without descending into an over-the-top caricature or a winking parody. Olivia Thrilby acquits herself well as the point-of-view character Judge Anderson, a popular supporting character in the 2000 AD Judge Dredd serials and a serial-carrying character in her own right. Lena Headey turns in a gleefully evil performance as the villain Ma-Ma. Dredd doesn’t really do anything exceptionally well and it is a curious anachronism in many respects—it features characters, a story, and a dystopian future setting informed by the paranoia and neuroses of the Cold War 1980s dressed up in a post-Matrix aesthetic and brought to life by 21st century film technology—but the overall package rises above mere by-the-numbers competence into genuinely enjoyable popular entertainment.

dredd_movie_poster04Nevertheless, Dredd bombed spectacularly at the box-office, even with the push provided by mostly favorable reviews (it currently has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Forbes listed the film as one of the ten biggest flops of 2012, making slightly more than half of its relatively modest $50 million budget during its original theatrical run. Various reasons have been proffered by armchair analysts for the film’s disappointing take. The film’s R-rating, long regarded by producers as the kiss of death at the box-office, is one. Others have speculated that the film was the victim of the success of The AvengersThe Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man (love it or hate it, Sony’s film franchise reboot proved its commercial mettle by grossing $750 million worldwide), reasoning that summer movie audiences had already had their fill of comic book movies by the time Dredd made it out to theaters, or that the film was on the receiving end of a backlash against 3D movie ticket prices. Whatever the reasons for its struggles, all signs pointed to Dredd being remembered as a financial fiasco, a disappointing reminder that the one-size fits all PG-13 model is still the safest route to take in today’s action film-making milieu.

dredd_movie_poster03Still, the potential was always there for Dredd to achieve the status of a cult favorite in certain circles due to its comic book heritage and generally positive critical reception. What is genuinely surprising though, is Dredd becoming a full-blown hit on DVD, Blu-Ray, digital download, and VOD: As a Lionsgate Home Entertainment press release dated 22 January 2013 noted, Dredd‘s home media performance “overconverted” its box-office take by selling 650,000 copies of the film (DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital download, with Blu-Ray purchases making up almost 50% of all POS transactions) in the first week of its home media release. The fact that a film can make a load of money in DVD/Blu-Ray/VOD/digital download sales isn’t really the news here—it’s happened before, with 1999’s Fight Club as perhaps the quintessential recent example of a film whose performance in the home media market financially compensated for unexpectedly low box-office returns—but what is particularly newsworthy is the enthusiasm and speed with which new audiences took to the home media release of the film. The traditional thinking is that box-office performance predicts home media performance. That is to say, if a film does well in theaters, chances are that sales of the home media editions will track similarly, and that many of the home media buyers will have already seen the film during its theatrical run. The exceptions to this pattern, such as the aforementioned Fight Club, make what can be referred to as “slow money,” profits from home media sales earned over months and even years that, while welcome, isn’t quite as desirable as the rapid payout a good theatrical run gives. Dredd didn’t follow that model, either, as its smash “opening” week in the home media market basically amounted to a second, more successful theatrical run in terms of the grosses generated by sales within a short time frame.

dredd_movie_poster01What the “fast money” Dredd earned from its home media release suggests is that the audience was probably always there for the film, but the majority of that population held off on paying for the experience of seeing it until Dredd was available in a format and price that they deemed as more acceptable and convenient. It underscores just how much of a commercial impact giving consumers their choice of viewing format can have. Now more than ever, audiences want to get their entertainment on their own terms, because they know that the technology and infrastructure (both virtual and physical) is in place for them to get what they want, when they want, where they want, whether it’s on a DVD/Blu-Ray player or a video gaming console or or on their computer or on their mobile Internet device, for a price comparable to or even less than the cost of a movie ticket. We are at a point where the relative convenience and reasonable fidelity of the home and mobile viewing experience can now weigh against and challenge the advantages offered by the cinema, such that a traditional measure of commercial performance and audience engagement like box-office returns doesn’t necessarily capture actual market sentiment on the ground.

A day after Lionsgate Home Entertainment sent out the press release trumpeting Dredd‘s breakthrough on the home media front, a message posted by actor James Van Der Beek on Facebook regarding the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of the network television show Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 highlighted the growing disconnect between the metrics we use to measure how media products are performing in the marketplace and how audiences actually consume those products, writing that

Sad to say ABC has pulled Don’t Trust the B in Apt 23 and will not be airing the 8 remaining episodes any time soon. Translation: we’ve basically been cancelled.

I know most of you watched us on your own time schedule & that the competitive network scheduling game is irrelevant to you…

But network TV is a business dictated by Nielson [sic] ratings. And while that’s an antiquated business model, it’s the only one they’ve got. For now. 

I don’t know what evidence Van Der Beek has for writing what he wrote (and to be honest, I’ve never sat down to watch an episode of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23), but even if his contention that significantly more people were watching the ABC sitcom via alternative methods not measured by Nielsen Set Meters (a.k.a. “Nielsen boxes”) turns out to be wrong, it still seems strange and downright inaccurate that the primary method Nielsen Media Research uses for determining a show’s ad rates and audience share relies on non-random population samples and doesn’t take into account people’s viewing habits outside of the home setting (such as in college dormitories, for example) and subscription or ad-supported Internet viewing platforms such as Hulu, YouTube, or even a network’s own web-based video streaming site.

It seems quite obvious to state it now, but advances in home and mobile media hardware and streaming technology have changed the way people get and use content, whether we’re talking about comics, music, television shows, video games, or films. If the gatekeepers and the supposed tastemakers of all things entertainment—the publishers and the studios and the networks—insist on doing things the way they’ve always done without a major rethink and rapid appreciation of those advances’ disruptive implications on their business models, well, they just might find themselves on the outside looking in sooner than later. It’s not likely that Lionsgate anticipated Dredd‘s home media resurgence—at least not to the degree which it happened—but what’s more important now is what lessons Lionsgate and other companies in similar positions will learn from it.

On FUNimation’s Minami-ke Season 4 Simulcast on YouTube

minami_keFor the past couple of weeks I’ve been watching episodes of the fourth season of the “slice-of-life” anime comedy Minami-ke on YouTube. Like similar comedies Azumanga Daioh and Hidamari Sketch, Minami-ke is based on a yonkoma (four-panel gag comic strip) and the show’s episodes features low-stakes—though occasionally bizarre—conflicts, if they feature conflict at all. I find the show, with its slow pacing and funny-but-not-mean-funny dialogue, makes for an oddly relaxing diversion.

My interest in the fourth season of Minami-ke extends beyond just enjoying it for what it is, though. FUNimation is simulcasting the series; which means that it’s posting the subtitled episodes on YouTube almost immediately after the originals air in Japan. Among other things, this strategy is meant to circumvent piracy. Perhaps more than any other popular entertainment community outside of video game fandom, anime and manga fans are particularly tech and Internet-savvy, and that means online piracy of anime and manga is rampant. It’s not unusual or particularly difficult to find “fan-subbed” anime online scant weeks after the originals are broadcasted in Japan, way before the officially licensed translated editions are available for purchase in North America and Europe. It is the same story for bootleg “scanlations” of popular anime.

Minami_Ke_02While I don’t want to come off like I’m encouraging or even condoning the piracy of copyrighted material (although I hold the view that the current state of copyright law is outmoded given today’s technology and emergent business models), the impact of fansubs and scanlations can sometimes be overstated. A lot of the bootlegged material will never find licensors interested in selling translated versions outside of Japan in the first place. But for the material that does have a retail presence in North America, Europe, and elsewhere in the form of translated editions, the competitive threat posed by piracy is a real thing. In doing free, ad-supported YouTube simulcasts of Minami-ke and other shows, FUNimation is banking on the idea that the majority of people the world over who resort to viewing bootleg subtitled anime online only do so because it is the most convenient way they can watch the shows they want to see in a language they understand. As with the example of Lionsgate’s Dredd cited above, FUNimation is leveraging technology and the Internet to give consumers what they want, when they want, on their viewing platform of choice, and in doing so trumping whatever conveniences and advantages bootleggers might offer, all whilst still generating revenue.

Minami_Ke_03In recent years, overly-litigious copyright holders have been too eager to treat media consumers as potential intellectual property thieves, forcing people to take one of two sides in a situation that is too complex to be broken down into a simple binary argument and unfairly penalizing law-abiding members of the audience with overly-restrictive, mandatory copy-protection measures in home media products that leave the viewer feeling like a criminal without having done anything illegal. In producing free, ad-supported, and widely available simulcasts of popular shows on YouTube, FUNimation is taking a “middle way,” using an active approach in controlling the properties they hold the license to without preemptively treating the consumer as a pirate. It demonstrates a refreshing level of trust in both the audience’s ethical instincts and the stability of YouTube and similar services as a free, ad-supported Internet TV platform, and it’s in our best interest as consumers to see FUNimation’s efforts pay off.

Recent trade paperback and hardcover reviews

CPG Preview - CoverIf you missed them, here are links to my most recent trade paperback and hardcover comics reviews:

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One Response
    • I don’t think Dredd itself will redefine a “hit.” Surely its ancillary market performance can easily outpace the box office, but since the box office is actually in decline that is not surprising. Many films make more money after the box office than they do at the box office.

      Stallone’s version was panned by critics and fanboys, lives in my DVD collection, but is nearly always running on some cable channel somewhere whenever I pick up a remote. It may not be a VOD hit, but it is making some dough even after all these years. Insert mental replay of Stallone saying, “I am the law” here with your mental voice. Barbwire. Blade. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Punisher: War Zone.

      Consider a movie like Playback starring Christian Slater. Playback may not be a film that you’ve heard about which would not be surprising since it is considered the lowest grossing film of 2012. Its gross total is $264, which doesn’t sound hopeful for a movie that cost $7.5 million dollars to create. If the filmmakers are only concerned with box office totals then this film is sunk. Luckily, low box office numbers can trigger a cult following as people post-Zyxx Road, post-Plan 9, and post-other notable cult low money makers become legendary in time. The internet makes movies balloon faster post-box office than in previous generations. Remember the Sam Raimi slasher movie set in a grocery store that you had to order from Asia on VHS but only if you knew the right people to know it existed? Fanpages exist for all sorts of movies good and bad now.

      By the way, I want to watch The Ghastly Love of Johnny X so bad I can
      taste it. That film, like many others, was created to become a hit
      after the box office “flop” of $117. Other sources report this as the movie that made less than Playback.

      As you noted in the article, Dredd may be newly 3D and newly VOD in this form and doing well, but it has some vested stake holders. Dredd, based on the British comic character from 2000AD will have to split the profits—box office, VOD and ancillary—with various stake holders involved in the project and in previous creators. I’m sure someone could swim lawyerly through the contracts and fine print, but essentially the studio has to payout. Marvel, DC, and other big comic companies also stake hold in summer blockbuster movies that do well VOD when based on comics. Luckily DC owned by WB and Marvel owned by Disney seem to be working to streamline the system. Dredd is not the first comic movie to pick up momentum beyond the box office. Punisher: War Zone leaps to mind as an example although I’m not going to take the time to look up the numbers.

      One of the great things about comic movies that help the overall revenue stream is the ancillary possibilities. Comics may not see significant spikes when comic book movies win or lose at the box office. Comics probably won’t see a significant sales spike when the VOD causes late interest to trickle in steady money.

      Speaking of Sam Raimi, now would be a perfect time for the auteur director to create another Darkman type project. Darkman(1990) created a comic book hero with no comic book—okay he later had a comic. Unfortunately, Darkman is from a generation before Avengers excited the Box Office as a cape and cowl domain. Apparently the Tim Burton Batman didn’t raise enough comic interest to make Darkman profitable in the 90s although it made enough money to warrant sequels for at least the home box office market—a brick and mortar precursor to the VOD. Now with at least some comic movies ruling the popcorn crowd’s attention, an auteur creator that could properly capitalize on at least the VOD market and not be bled off by stake holders could really rack up. Someone like Raimi can negotiate that and bring in his post-Spiderman comic book name power.

      Digressing a moment, one of the under rated aspects of Darkman is the shifting faces. That allows for an in-story reason why the actor changed every film. Brilliant!

      I agree that the metrics need to be properly updated to reflect the changing market. They will. John Ford wouldn’t make a western the same way he did if he was trying to create a movie today. The sweeping landscapes of the theater screen, the big screen, don’t work well on game systems, portable small screen devices, and the new way people watch movies. Modern directors are addressing the multiple sizes of screens by doing more faces, extreme close ups, and other framing that translates. Directors know the media is changing. Studios and networks are realizing it too. Look at all of the social media buzz and push for shows like Heroes or Smallville that had show related content on websites and Facebook along with the serial TV. The metrics that judge a movie like Playback or Zyxx Road point toward a new way to judge film success. TV will change too. TV will change slower but it will change.

      Personally, I’m waiting for superbowl ad prices to start dropping drastically in the next few years. Advertisers are abandoning TV ads in favor of social media diversification. The big shows ad prices will drop the way other slots do eventually.
      When the ad prices keep dropping the networks will have to rejudge their own metrics. Nielson is overly conservative. Times will change.

      While you are checking out comic type movies VOD that you may have missed or not been able to watch in a theater I recommend tracking down the Indian film Ra.One (2011).


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