Filmism.net Dispatch April 2, 2021

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The economy of making movies in Hollywood is a funny thing. There are a lot of institutions that cycle up and down as a movie is announced, approaches, comes out and goes to its ultimate fate on VOD, TV, home video, etc.

One is the media coverage, and how many column centimetres and/or pixels are filled to talk about it. One is box office. One is social media and online chatter and the fan community devotion it reveals or expresses. One is awards circuit recognition. Have a guess which one of the above movie studios and production companies care about.

Actually it's a trick question. Many of the others (particularly awards circuit recognition) can lead intangibly to box office success. But you were right, the brutal truth of the balance sheet is the only one executives or producers ultimately care about.

We tend to believe all the above areas of activity are pretty closely linked, and in many cases they are. But there are entire slices of moviedom which retain very rude health while completely decoupled from the others.

Faith-based movies are one, with production and marketing done through very specific and very narrow channels that are totally separate from the mainstream. The heyday of pornography in the 1980s and 1990s is another obvious example, commanding revenues that made many Hollywood studios at the time green with envy without any mainstream press coverage and long before the internet existed.

The intersections between the 80s heyday of practical on screen special effects and the horror genre has a particularly devoted fanbase, enabling a kind of league where their fans all talk very much the same language and implicitly understand each other.

It's all completely decoupled from the economics of Hollywood because the money's long since been made and banked apart from the odd small license fee. The mainstream press doesn't talk about it a real lot and hasn't for decades.

Connections online is where all that 80s horror love is found, and it contains enough people and information (and the thirst for that information) to generate its own potted industry of analysis. 1984 documentary Terror in the Aisles was an early expression of the zines, message boards, Twitter posts and Kickstarters we'd see decades later, and now we have love letters like the In Search of Darkness movies (disclaimer; the writer/director's a friend of mine).

But I was struck by all the above when I read the news Sony is rebooting the Resident Evil series. Milla Jovovich, former model and wife of director Paul W S Anderson, who was behind most of the series' instalments, has played the hero Alice about forty seven times, and the fact that they're rebooting it says something very telling.

Ask anyone who works in the media and talks about cinema and they'll tell you the same thing about the Resident Evil franchise, it's universally reviled. Critics hated it from the get go and liked each subsequent entry less than the one that came before. Of course you'll find outliers. I'm one myself; I was struck by how well art directed the second-to-last outing, Resident Evil: Retribution was.

If the franchise was talked about online as much as films from the Star Wars or Marvel canons it might be more immediately obvious why they keep making them. I move in plenty of movie social media circles and trust me, there isn't a heaving morass of fandom hidden under the surface of the online chatter firmament. Loving Resident Evil is like watching porn; a very solitary pursuit and not something you shout from the rooftops.

In this case, the only thing from the list of film industry sectors of influence I talked about before that applies here is box office. Six films that have cost only $271m total (less than the total budget of Avengers: Endgame by itself) have made $1.23bn. If Resident Evil was on the stock market it'd be doing better than most other industries in the world right now.

Still, if you're one of the apparent majority who hates the franchise, here's an exciting side note. The reboot is being directed by Johannes Roberts, who made the cracking little creature feature 47 Meters Down, about being trapped on the ocean's floor in a shark cage.

On small screens lately, because there still hasn't been much around (although I'm disappointed I seem to have missed Aussie director Robert Connolly's thriller The Dry) and the last time I was in a movie theatre was for Tenet, I got a real kick out of Australian western drama Jedda.

It's more interesting as a document of my home country's film past as the story kind of veers between ideas and themes without really finalising any of them. But the technical achievement as well as the way writer/producer/director Charles Chauvel understood the language of Hollywood movies at the time can't be overstated.

I also couldn't help but like meatheaded Chris Hemsworth action flick Extraction. The characters are paper thin. The plot is borderline nonsensical. The dialogue is as deep as a slice of paper. But there's so many bursts of gunfire and blood, hammerblow punches thrown and whip-crack movement in car and foot chases you don't have an instant to see how stupid it all is. It's the kind of thing action movie directors in the 80s wish they could have made and if you're a Gen Xer like me you'll have a big goofy grin planted on your mug throughout.

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