Monday, November 13, 2017

The original use of original

I have watched a lot of movies on Netflix recently, but none of the type I used to. Before Netflix spent ten gazillion dollars on content and began releasing three new movies per week, I primarily used it as a way to watch older titles, and as one of a couple alternatives for receiving a steady flow of new releases, particularly independent films. It was fun to go on the site and never know what new movie I’d heard of discussed on film podcasts a couple months ago might suddenly be available. It was especially handy as the clock on the calendar was winding down to December and January, and my year-end rankings were due in only a few weeks.

But lately, all the movies I’ve watched have been the ones that are available only on Netflix. In 2017 alone that list includes (in alphabetical order) The Babysitter, The Discovery, Gerald’s Game, Girlfriend’s Day, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Collected), Okja, Tramps and War Machine. There may be one or two others. There was a time when I could count on one hand the number of Netflix originals I let onto my year-end list; this year, it will take three hands or more. And to show you how quickly this whole thing has moved – as everything does with Netflix – last year was only the first year I had any movies on my list that existed only on Netflix. (I even remember the first: Hush.)

This past weekend I thought I finally had a movie that represented the way I always used to use the service, for recently released theatrical independents debuting on streaming: The Bad Batch. Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (which would make a good companion piece to I Don’t Feel at Home in This World anymore in terms of lengthy titles) played theaters – I knew that for sure. I figured that then, in an unrelated deal, Netflix secured rights to show it on the service, rights that might have simultaneously gone to the likes of Hulu, Amazon, or Stan here in Australia.

But nope. As I started watching the movie, there was that banner “A Netflix original film” right at the start.

Netflix kind of seems to have forgotten the original usage of the word “original.”

What happened in the case of The Bad Batch is only slightly different than most of Netflix' more traditional scenarios, which is either to commission a film entirely from scratch or to acquire it at a festival before it has any other affiliations or distributors. It appears that Netflix only bought the SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) rights to the film, while theatrical went to first Screen Media Films, but then ultimately into Neon. (I won’t even get into that part of it, the exchange of distribution rights from one company to the other, but I have to figure that’s something that happens from time to time.)

I guess having the sole right to stream the movie also confers the right to put your name in the credits?

I have to figure that Netflix, bent on world domination as it is, makes the ability to slap its name all over a movie a precondition to becoming involved with it at all.

I suppose there are still a few comparatively new releases that Netflix cannot claim any creative involvement in, such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. However, I almost wouldn’t be surprised if I cued that up one night -- and I’m tempted to even if I didn’t like it, just to see if I missed something – and found that Netflix had wormed its way into the opening credits on that one too. “Disney, Lucasfilm and most importantly, Netflix presents … A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away …”

Stop blurring the lines, Netflix. I like my lines clear and with defined edges.

Oh, and The Bad Batch? Damn, that sure is a vapid and pointless film for something that looks so good. 

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