Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Breaching the unbreachable barrier

If you think the "unbreachable barrier" in the title of this post is the Underworld series reaching an unlikely fifth feature -- with one short thrown in there for good measure -- you'd have an excellent point. But that's not actually what I want to talk about today.

Rather, it's that this consummate January release is actually getting released in time for the holidays in other parts of the world.

Underworld: Blood Wars is, in fact, opening in Australia a week from Thursday, a fact I learned about because the editor at ReelGood is going to an advanced screening of it on Monday.

I guess a January release isn't what it once was, or at least, isn't what it once was everywhere around the world.

Even the early Underworld movies came out during the dead zones of the movie calendar, indicating the studio's lack of belief in them. The first one came out in September of 2003, and even though it was successful enough to spawn a 2006 sequel, the sequel was dumped on the 20th of January. The two subsequent sequels were nestled within days of January 20th in their respective years (2009 and 2012), and Screen Gems has shown even one less degree of confidence in the fifth movie, probably with good reason, moving its release all the way up to January 6th of 2017.

In the U.S., that is.

In others parts of the world, though -- like mine -- this Underworld movie is being accorded the same level of respect as, I don't know, Star Wars: Rogue One, coming out only two weeks before the movie that has a decent shot to be this year's box office champion. Underworld: Blood Wars shouldn't even be competing with Star Wars in the same box office year, but in some parts of the world -- a lot of parts of the world, actually -- it is.

I don't really know how to account for it. I suppose it's just a continuation of a recent philosophy to open a movie overseas before you open it domestically, to collect up some good box office numbers and, potentially, good word of mouth (foreign audiences tend to be less discrening toward/more forgiving of genre movies) prior to the U.S. release, which could create a more profitable release.

But the weird thing is it creates a situation where Underworld: Blood Wars is classified as a 2016 release on IMDB. That's the unbreachable barrier I'm talking about. January releases are typically branded with their release year, forever after amen, and though this doesn't mean anything in the abstract, it carries some meaning at a time of year when you are trying to discern what belongs where. Now there's the potential to confuse Underworld 5 with the awards contenders that receive a pre-Christmas release in New York and Los Angeles but stagger out to the rest of the country across the month of January. Now people will look at IMDB in future years and think that Underworld 5 might have come out in January of 2016, not January of 2017.

And that matters because ...

Well, it doesn't really matter. It's just something interesting to note. In part because it's another indication of a marketplace that is changing around us, muddying the meaning of previous assumptions and leaving us a new economy to puzzle over.

It also probably explains the existence of the movie itself. American audiences are probably done with the Underworld series -- and Lord knows Kate Beckinsale can't want to keep doing these movies -- but "they make money overseas," is how some studio exec justifies it. And when a studio's bottom line is the topic, little justification for making money is needed.

So yeah, Americans could well see an Underworld 6, an Underworld 7 and an Underworld 8 in 2019, 2022 and 2024 ... and the rest of the world, the year before that.

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