Saturday, August 4, 2012
No "short wait" to revisit the original
I'll be seeing Total Recall this weekend.
The 1990 version, not the 2012 version.
Call it the remnants of an Arnold Schwarzenegger binge from earlier this year, when we watched both the second and third Terminator movies. Or call it the remnants of a Paul Verhoeven binge, which has included viewings of Starship Troopers and Robocop since the beginning of 2011.
In a way, I was a bit surprised it was so readily available from Netflix. I tend to think there are certain real-world events that put a strain on Netflix' finite supply of any given title. Like, the curiosity about the original movie created by its remake.
Not the case here. Total Recall never slipped into "short wait" status even briefly, that I saw.
And that's actually what I want to talk about today -- not the predictable antipathy I feel toward Len Wiseman's version of Total Recall, opening today, but the demand on that supply for the original Total Recall.
Shouldn't there be others out there, like me, who rebel against our perpetual cycle of remakes by wholeheartedly embracing the original? And want to share the pleasures of the original with those who have not previously had, er, the pleasure?
I've wondered about this before. Like most businesses, Netflix surely structures its inventory based on expected demand. If a title is really popular -- say, Star Wars -- then Netflix probably keeps a dozen copies at any given distribution center. (I'm just throwing out numbers here -- I only have a vague idea of how large each distribution center is, and how many distribution centers there are.) But if the movie is not very popular -- say, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain -- then one or two copies per center would suffice.
But what happens if a real-world event comes along to throw the predictable supply-demand ratio out of whack?
This idea occurred to me first in relation to Filmspotting, my favorite film podcast, which I seem to be referencing more and more regularly on this blog. As often as they can manage to squeeze it into their overstuffed viewing schedules, the hosts of Filmspotting like to host marathons based on certain themes: a particular director (Robert Bresson was a recent subject) or a particular subsection of the cinematic world (see: Contemporary Iranian Cinema).
The idea behind these marathons is to expose their listeners to films they haven't seen, and might not be likely to see if not for this artificial creation of a viewing appointment. And Filmspotting has many, many listeners. This is again something that's hard to measure, but each week they read a list of new donors, listeners who have seen it fit to help subsidize the costs of putting on this podcast. (To my great shame, I have yet to donate.) So if you add all the new donors to all the previous donors, as well as assume that there is a much greater number of freeloaders like me, you could reasonably guess that the podcast has as many as five thousand listeners. But really, that could be on the conservative end. There could be 10,000, even 15,000. It's hard to say.
Okay, let's assume that there are 10,000. If even 1/10th of those listeners choose to participate in one of these marathons, and at least half of them are getting their movies from Netflix, that's 500 more copies of Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar than would be needed under ordinary circumstances. Okay, Filmspotting has a pretty sizable foreign audience. So let's say that only 300 more copies are needed.
Shouldn't the demand for 300 extra copies of Au Hasard Balthazar make it an extremely rare commodity?
I didn't participate in the Bresson marathon, but I did watch two of the films in the Contemporary Iranian Cinema marathon, one of which, Jahid Jahidi's Close Up, I had to acquire as a physical disc through the mail. Yet there was no lack of availability of this movie on Netflix. I got it delivered to my home in a timely manner.
How many copies of this movie might Netflix bother to house nationwide? Fifty? In an ordinary year, they might not even rent Close Up 50 times all year, to all of their customers.
There's a lot of speculation here, and only a little to do with Total Recall.
Well, I've got my copy, and either tonight or tomorrow night, my wife and I will be traveling to a version of Mars full of three-titted prostitutes. Jealous?
I hear that a new version of Miss Three Tits appears in Wiseman's remake, so you have an easy mechanism for getting your own mutant boobs this weekend. They just won't be as good as the mutant boobs I'm seeing.