Sunday, February 11, 2018

Netflix's ongoing impersonation of everybody

First Netflix wanted to be that distributor that released small indie movies that you wouldn't care about missing on the big screen, but were worth watching (I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore).

Then Netlfix got into the business of high-profile (partially) foreign language films by acclaimed foreign language directors, which probably should be seen on the big screen, but oh well (Okja).

Then Netflix thought they can/should be in the business of delivering big-budget blockbuster entertainment with major stars (Bright).

Now, they want to be that distributor that drops a movie by surprise, to capitalize on the type of buzzy viral phenomenon that was sort of launched by The Blair Witch Project and has become the bread and butter of the Cloverfield series (The Cloverfield Paradox).

Pick an identity and stick to it, Netflix.

Then again, Netflix flying out in all directions is nothing new, and has been discussed much before, both on this blog and by everybody else.

Netflix is operating under the -- well, I'm not going to say "misconception," because it may not be -- that any type of cinematic experience you could imagine yourself having can be recreated on the small screen. And if so, they should be the ones to do it.

At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Netflix tried to make itself the exclusive home of one of the next Star Wars spinoffs, though I suppose Disney is actually ending its arrangement with Netflix in order to have their own streaming service, not considering deepening that relationship.

I don't have a lot more to say about this, but I did think it was worth noting. I also thought it was worth noting that the last two of these in particular, Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox, have felt a lot like failures in what they were trying to do. Then again, the business model of Netflix has always allowed the company to absorb failures. Any particular investment is such a small percentage of their overall portfolio that they'll hit with some other thing if this particular thing fails.

We finally saw The Cloverfield Project last night, and I say "finally" because it really does seem like pretty much everyone saw the movie at an earlier point of its first week of availability. I suppose this fact alone suggests that Netflix was successful in creating the type of event buzz that they wanted from this movie. I had to actively dodge discussion of the movie's qualities in various locations on social media, and ultimately couldn't, knowing the movie was supposed to be bad. So I carried in that preconception ... and had it resoundingly confirmed.

This movie is not good. In fact, it earned my first one-star rating of the young year on Letterboxd. It's poorly conceived and tonally scattershot, and what's more, it just doesn't look like a movie. It felt incredibly TV in its design and camerawork. (I was truly distracted by the handheld cinematography of Dan Mindel, with its little infinitesimal movements that were small enough for me to feel like they were not intentional, but large enough to make me feel subtly nauseous.) It's too bad too because some actors I really like are in this movie, particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debecki and Chris O'Dowd, the latter of home is perhaps the embodiment of the movie's tonal confusion.

If you are one of those who hasn't seen it yet, I won't pick apart plot points here, because I don't necessarily expect a Cloverfield movie to stand up to heavy scrutiny. I will say that director Julius Onah has made such an inferior entry in the series that it feels like a step down from Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane by orders of magnitude. While those two are an all-time great in the found footage genre and a very clever thriller that is defined by its success at withholding information from us, Paradox feels kind of like a vomit of exposition, but bad exposition. The movie ends up withholding information from us out of clumsiness in the script rather than actual intent.

Two final, unrelated comments about the movie and/or Netflix before I close out.

We had a paradox of a different sort on our hands last night even trying to watch the movie. As you know if you've done many searches on Netflix, it has an uncanny ability to produce the movie you're looking for just by typing a single letter or two, probably because you're trying to watch one of their buzzed about products and the search algorithm is weighted toward those results. But this did not happen when we searched The Cloverfield Paradox. The original Cloverfield came up, but not its second sequel.

My first instinct was to curse Australia for somehow failing to negotiate the rights to one of Netflix's own bits of original content. I complain about how a lot of things in Australia seem to be done in this inscrutable, backwards way that defies logic, and Australian Netflix not carrying The Cloverfield Paradox would have been a perfect example of that.

I had just sent my wife, who had a computer nearby, to search whether the movie is not available in Australia when I had an idea about a different search to do. I started typing in "God Particle," the original title of the movie, and sure enough, when I got those first two letters in, The Cloverfield Paradox came up. Not God Particle, mind you -- The Cloverfield Paradox. We selected it and started watching straightaway.

I looked online to see if this was one of the "gimmicks" about a movie with a viral release strategy, that it was "hidden" and you had to know to search it under this secret other title in order to find it. But no, that did not seem to be the case, according to my friends in my Flickcharters Facebook group, who checked on the American Netflix just to be sure. It seems as though somebody in the Australian Netflix just failed to update the search algorithm when the title was changed -- and that would be the perfect example of Australian backwardness -- though it surprises me that something like that is even customized at the local level.

The other thing is that I noticed that Netflix has made a subtle change to how they bill some of their original content, specifically their movies -- in response to this post, I would like to think. In the trailer that gets thrust upon you just from landing on the home page, which in this case was for When We First Met, I noticed that they call it "A Netflix Film" rather than "A Netflix Original Film." The omission of that single word is significant -- perhaps an admission that this was not something that originated with them and should sully them by association, but rather, something that they picked up off the scrap heap in their ongoing content dump?

Netflix distancing themselves proactively from their own potential failures. Now they really do resemble every other distributor.

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