Dredd‘s surprising performance in the home media market after flopping at the box-office could redefine the concept of the hit film. ALSO: We check in on FUNimation’s YouTube Simulcast of Season 4 of Minami-ke and link to the latest trade and hardcover reviews.
Last week, I finally got around to seeing Pete Travis’ Dredd (a.k.a. Dredd 3D) on Playstation Store video-on-demand (VOD), and I found it to be pretty entertaining. The camera work is solid, fight scenes are appropriately hard-hitting, and even though there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of overt, whiz-bang special effects apart from super-stylized slow-motion—the use of which is actually justified by a plot device—and digital squibs/blood-splatter and gun muzzle flashes, the production overall looks very much the part of the summer sci-fi actioner. Alex Garland’s screenplay is reasonably faithful to how Judge Dredd and the dystopian future world of Mega-City One were portrayed in the original comics (Judge Dredd co-creator and 2000 AD writer John Wagner actually served as an advisor to Garland). As in the print version of the character, Garland’s Dredd is less a human being than an unbending and brutal implement of the penal code, almost sociopathic in his brutal and single-minded adherence to rules and procedure, practically devoid of anything approaching the normal complement of human emotion in his dispensation of his duties.
Effective, too, is Karl Urban in his role as the eponymous future law enforcer/magistrate/executioner. The Kiwi thespian manages a delicately balanced portrayal, giving audiences a cartoonishly ruthless and driven Judge Joe Dredd without descending into an over-the-top caricature or a winking parody. Olivia Thrilby acquits herself well as the point-of-view character Judge Anderson, a popular supporting character in the 2000 AD Judge Dredd serials and a serial-carrying character in her own right. Lena Headey turns in a gleefully evil performance as the villain Ma-Ma. Dredd doesn’t really do anything exceptionally well and it is a curious anachronism in many respects—it features characters, a story, and a dystopian future setting informed by the paranoia and neuroses of the Cold War 1980s dressed up in a post-Matrix aesthetic and brought to life by 21st century film technology—but the overall package rises above mere by-the-numbers competence into genuinely enjoyable popular entertainment.
Nevertheless, Dredd bombed spectacularly at the box-office, even with the push provided by mostly favorable reviews (it currently has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Forbes listed the film as one of the ten biggest flops of 2012, making slightly more than half of its relatively modest $50 million budget during its original theatrical run. Various reasons have been proffered by armchair analysts for the film’s disappointing take. The film’s R-rating, long regarded by producers as the kiss of death at the box-office, is one. Others have speculated that the film was the victim of the success of The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man (love it or hate it, Sony’s film franchise reboot proved its commercial mettle by grossing $750 million worldwide), reasoning that summer movie audiences had already had their fill of comic book movies by the time Dredd made it out to theaters, or that the film was on the receiving end of a backlash against 3D movie ticket prices. Whatever the reasons for its struggles, all signs pointed to Dredd being remembered as a financial fiasco, a disappointing reminder that the one-size fits all PG-13 model is still the safest route to take in today’s action film-making milieu.
Still, the potential was always there for Dredd to achieve the status of a cult favorite in certain circles due to its comic book heritage and generally positive critical reception. What is genuinely surprising though, is Dredd becoming a full-blown hit on DVD, Blu-Ray, digital download, and VOD: As a Lionsgate Home Entertainment press release dated 22 January 2013 noted, Dredd‘s home media performance “overconverted” its box-office take by selling 650,000 copies of the film (DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital download, with Blu-Ray purchases making up almost 50% of all POS transactions) in the first week of its home media release. The fact that a film can make a load of money in DVD/Blu-Ray/VOD/digital download sales isn’t really the news here—it’s happened before, with 1999′s Fight Club as perhaps the quintessential recent example of a film whose performance in the home media market financially compensated for unexpectedly low box-office returns—but what is particularly newsworthy is the enthusiasm and speed with which new audiences took to the home media release of the film. The traditional thinking is that box-office performance predicts home media performance. That is to say, if a film does well in theaters, chances are that sales of the home media editions will track similarly, and that many of the home media buyers will have already seen the film during its theatrical run. The exceptions to this pattern, such as the aforementioned Fight Club, make what can be referred to as “slow money,” profits from home media sales earned over months and even years that, while welcome, isn’t quite as desirable as the rapid payout a good theatrical run gives. Dredd didn’t follow that model, either, as its smash “opening” week in the home media market basically amounted to a second, more successful theatrical run in terms of the grosses generated by sales within a short time frame.
What the “fast money” Dredd earned from its home media release suggests is that the audience was probably always there for the film, but the majority of that population held off on paying for the experience of seeing it until Dredd was available in a format and price that they deemed as more acceptable and convenient. It underscores just how much of a commercial impact giving consumers their choice of viewing format can have. Now more than ever, audiences want to get their entertainment on their own terms, because they know that the technology and infrastructure (both virtual and physical) is in place for them to get what they want, when they want, where they want, whether it’s on a DVD/Blu-Ray player or a video gaming console or or on their computer or on their mobile Internet device, for a price comparable to or even less than the cost of a movie ticket. We are at a point where the relative convenience and reasonable fidelity of the home and mobile viewing experience can now weigh against and challenge the advantages offered by the cinema, such that a traditional measure of commercial performance and audience engagement like box-office returns doesn’t necessarily capture actual market sentiment on the ground.
A day after Lionsgate Home Entertainment sent out the press release trumpeting Dredd‘s breakthrough on the home media front, a message posted by actor James Van Der Beek on Facebook regarding the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of the network television show Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 highlighted the growing disconnect between the metrics we use to measure how media products are performing in the marketplace and how audiences actually consume those products, writing that
Sad to say ABC has pulled Don’t Trust the B in Apt 23 and will not be airing the 8 remaining episodes any time soon. Translation: we’ve basically been cancelled.
I know most of you watched us on your own time schedule & that the competitive network scheduling game is irrelevant to you…
But network TV is a business dictated by Nielson [sic] ratings. And while that’s an antiquated business model, it’s the only one they’ve got. For now.
I don’t know what evidence Van Der Beek has for writing what he wrote (and to be honest, I’ve never sat down to watch an episode of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23), but even if his contention that significantly more people were watching the ABC sitcom via alternative methods not measured by Nielsen Set Meters (a.k.a. “Nielsen boxes”) turns out to be wrong, it still seems strange and downright inaccurate that the primary method Nielsen Media Research uses for determining a show’s ad rates and audience share relies on non-random population samples and doesn’t take into account people’s viewing habits outside of the home setting (such as in college dormitories, for example) and subscription or ad-supported Internet viewing platforms such as Hulu, YouTube, or even a network’s own web-based video streaming site.
It seems quite obvious to state it now, but advances in home and mobile media hardware and streaming technology have changed the way people get and use content, whether we’re talking about comics, music, television shows, video games, or films. If the gatekeepers and the supposed tastemakers of all things entertainment—the publishers and the studios and the networks—insist on doing things the way they’ve always done without a major rethink and rapid appreciation of those advances’ disruptive implications on their business models, well, they just might find themselves on the outside looking in sooner than later. It’s not likely that Lionsgate anticipated Dredd‘s home media resurgence—at least not to the degree which it happened—but what’s more important now is what lessons Lionsgate and other companies in similar positions will learn from it.
On FUNimation’s Minami-ke Season 4 Simulcast on YouTube
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been watching episodes of the fourth season of the “slice-of-life” anime comedy Minami-ke on YouTube. Like similar comedies Azumanga Daioh and Hidamari Sketch, Minami-ke is based on a yonkoma (four-panel gag comic strip) and the show’s episodes features low-stakes—though occasionally bizarre—conflicts, if they feature conflict at all. I find the show, with its slow pacing and funny-but-not-mean-funny dialogue, makes for an oddly relaxing diversion.
My interest in the fourth season of Minami-ke extends beyond just enjoying it for what it is, though. FUNimation is simulcasting the series; which means that it’s posting the subtitled episodes on YouTube almost immediately after the originals air in Japan. Among other things, this strategy is meant to circumvent piracy. Perhaps more than any other popular entertainment community outside of video game fandom, anime and manga fans are particularly tech and Internet-savvy, and that means online piracy of anime and manga is rampant. It’s not unusual or particularly difficult to find “fan-subbed” anime online scant weeks after the originals are broadcasted in Japan, way before the officially licensed translated editions are available for purchase in North America and Europe. It is the same story for bootleg “scanlations” of popular anime.
While I don’t want to come off like I’m encouraging or even condoning the piracy of copyrighted material (although I hold the view that the current state of copyright law is outmoded given today’s technology and emergent business models), the impact of fansubs and scanlations can sometimes be overstated. A lot of the bootlegged material will never find licensors interested in selling translated versions outside of Japan in the first place. But for the material that does have a retail presence in North America, Europe, and elsewhere in the form of translated editions, the competitive threat posed by piracy is a real thing. In doing free, ad-supported YouTube simulcasts of Minami-ke and other shows, FUNimation is banking on the idea that the majority of people the world over who resort to viewing bootleg subtitled anime online only do so because it is the most convenient way they can watch the shows they want to see in a language they understand. As with the example of Lionsgate’s Dredd cited above, FUNimation is leveraging technology and the Internet to give consumers what they want, when they want, on their viewing platform of choice, and in doing so trumping whatever conveniences and advantages bootleggers might offer, all whilst still generating revenue.
In recent years, overly-litigious copyright holders have been too eager to treat media consumers as potential intellectual property thieves, forcing people to take one of two sides in a situation that is too complex to be broken down into a simple binary argument and unfairly penalizing law-abiding members of the audience with overly-restrictive, mandatory copy-protection measures in home media products that leave the viewer feeling like a criminal without having done anything illegal. In producing free, ad-supported, and widely available simulcasts of popular shows on YouTube, FUNimation is taking a “middle way,” using an active approach in controlling the properties they hold the license to without preemptively treating the consumer as a pirate. It demonstrates a refreshing level of trust in both the audience’s ethical instincts and the stability of YouTube and similar services as a free, ad-supported Internet TV platform, and it’s in our best interest as consumers to see FUNimation’s efforts pay off.
Recent trade paperback and hardcover reviews
- Trades & Hardcovers (Jan. 1–16, 2013): includes reviews of Archaia’s Cursed Pirate Girl, Vol. 1, Dark Horse Manga’s Oreimo, Vol. 2, Image Comics’ Frank Cho: Women, Selected Drawings & Illustrations, Book 2, and more.
- Trades & Hardcovers (Jan. 17–31, 2013): covers Dark Horse Books’ Deva Zan and The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia as well as Image Comics’ ZED: A Cosmic Tale.
- Debris trade paperback (Image Comics)