Will Hollywood Be Annihilated?


Trigger warning; this is an unapologetically film industry-oriented column, but for me it’s an interesting subject.

The Netflix movie ‘Annihilation’ is making waves for all the wrong reasons, but may ultimately turn out to favour the mega-channel and give Hollywood a spanking. Here’s why.

The formerly unassailable studio system had dreams of global domination, but they’re fading; first came the end of shared-experience entertainment (theatrical exhibition) as personal viewing devolved and fragmented into a variety of formats. Then came the shrinkage of the domestic (US) theatrical market. Now India and China are developing their own independent studio systems for huge local audiences.

Meanwhile, Netflix had cleverly set out its stall as a purveyor of quality TV entertainment, but has reached a make-or-break moment; it can stay select or expand wide and fast, and to do that it needs a lot of new product. It can only produce a fraction of that itself, so it needs buy-ins. And along comes Paramount, one of the studios with whom it has struck a beneficial deal; Paramount films have budgets. Netflix gets big quality product. What if the studio sells direct to TV? Everybody wins.

Except they don’t, because Paramount realises it can dump all the movies it fears won’t make money, and although Netflix will gain volume it loses its brand quality.

Because here’s the strange anomaly; Movie companies don’t suffer brand damage. TV companies do. Warners can make ten bad films and nobody will start avoiding Warner films. If a channel does that, it’s undermined.

Netflix wants to forget it’s home entertainment and pretend it’s a studio (so does Amazon now). A few weeks back, Netflix caught a cold. Several of its bought-in films were rated very poorly. I actually thought ‘Mute’ was superb, but you had to think about it to get it. However, the press, scenting blood in the water, started enumerating the amount of bad product on Netflix’s EPG. It’s a non-story, but it stuck.

Paramount is dumping films to Netflix not because they are bad but because they’re not sure bets. They test weakly, they’re ‘soft’, they require a bit of concentration (and some are rubbish, like the film they rebranded as Cloverfield 3). This is also about regime change; studios routinely dump the commissioned films from outgoing execs. But while they rearrange deckchairs, the ship is taking water.

As far as cineastes are concerned, the new system is being misused, because films that were designed for cinemas are being watched on phones. But nobody cares about cineastes; they’re not big money.

Alex Garland’s ‘Annihilation’ is the best example yet of what’s going wrong.  It’s a terrific thinking-SF film, ie. it doesn’t have gunfire in it on every script beat. But it’s not a dead-cert box office winner. It’s an excellent all-female cast, it’s smart and carefully paced. It’s also exciting, just not in a guns-and-spaceships way. Intelligent films win awards but don’t fill studio coffers (although ‘Arrival’ did nicely). However, if Netflix turns ‘soft’ studio product around and makes hits of them, then Hollywood is seeding its biggest rival.

‘Annihilation’ hit screens in the world’s two biggest markets, the US and China, but everywhere else loses out. Paramount is happy to make more Transformers movies but if other studios follow the trend, films for adults will end up on small screens. To Paramount, the biggest sin it commits is to be slow-paced. To me, that’s its chief beauty; the gestation of an intriguing idea. It comes from a book by Jeff Vandemeer, a rather boring writer who nevertheless provided solid base material. Alex Garland has taken the plot core and directed a much better film. Paramount wanted to recut the feature, and Garland fought back.

And what of ‘Annihilation’ itself? The premise is simple. In effect, it’s ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ married to JG Ballard’s ‘The Crystal World’ (right down to the original’s alligator). In fact it’s so Ballardian it’s a miracle no-one has issued a lawsuit. But SF is full of ideas built on by others, and Garland is far more interested in the human effects of mutation. Like ‘Okja’ and ‘Mute’ before it, this is proper SF.

None of the above films can be seen theatrically in Europe. The rest of the world is being treated as America’s dumping ground. But this is a shaking-out process that will continue for some time yet. The prize being sought is global domination but as we’ve seen so many times before, that dream has surprising ways of being dissipated.

14 comments on “Will Hollywood Be Annihilated?”

  1. Steveb says:

    I’m not sure that it will hurt the Netflix brand. A channel is these days more like a menu. I don’t think having a lot of filler or low quality material will hurt it. I watch the BBC mainly via the iplayer too. I’m not bothered what else is on there, only what is there for me.
    As you say the sad thing is missing the oportunity to see some films on the big screen, but actually that was always the case since home video first started.

  2. Denise Treadwell says:

    Not much interested in modern Hollywood, have had nothing to do with Netflix. I watch TCM as l love old films .There is a possibility of seeing an old film on a large screen through Fathom Events. I have yet to go .

  3. Peter Tromans says:

    In an age where the only limits on the size of your TV are house size and the effort of moving walls, going to the cinema for a big screen experience is not so much of an issue. There has to be something special to make me go to the cinema. My most enjoyable ‘film experience’ of the last weeks or months was at home with the LOML watching a DVD of Casablanca on our oversize Sony TV (bought with the excuse that LOML was developing cataracts – happily now resolved, but we still have the TV).

  4. Adam says:

    As much as I enjoy a trip to the cinema, home viewing is rapidly catching up as Peter said in the post above. My film-buff mate James has a fantastic home cinema projecter system, and loafing on a comfy chair watching films without forking out £15 a pop plus parking is beginning to gain traction. I appreciate that cinemas need to turn a profit but I can’t help but thinking the days of multiplexes are numbered.

    I’m pretty impressed with Netflix, having signed up a couple of months ago. There is a huge amount of dross, but I enjoyed altered carbon as a series and there are plenty of quality films hidden away (although not easy to navigate!)

  5. Wayne Mook says:

    Quite a few youngsters still go to the cinema, it has been that way for sometime, the studios will turn out product for whatever medium, they’ve made films and series for the TV before. Still having watched films on the I-max or even cinema scope at Bradford, TV can’t compete. Plus it’s the going out to do things, I guess it appeals to the youngsters more.

    I asked my nieces about Netflix last year (they were 15 & 16) their verdict was it’s OK. It seems a more middle age thing TV. They prefer to watch stuff on YouTube, plus torrent sites. Happily one is a reader and the other niece enjoys going to see live bands. They are on the internet a lot more than watching TV plus they do more gaming than watching TV, either online or against each other on a console. If anything TV as we know it more under threat.

    India (Bollywood) always had it’s own cinema as did China and it’s only in resent times the US has had access to China, so I’m not sure these will make a difference. As to revenue oddly enough since 2009 the US seems to have 2 good years & slips back on the 3rd.

    Still I guess it’s one to watch.


  6. Denise Treadwell says:

    I have to say I have used utube, to see things I want to see , but alot has lately been taken down. I am interested in Fathom Events the latest old film to be screened on the large screen at a cinema is ‘Vertigo ‘ . Tickets have to be booked for the event, and it is only for two days at specific times. I think it’s this weekend.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Chris, you suffer from tinnitis but still enjoy film, plays, and concerts. My husband says he just doesn’t hear properly enough to enjoy it, unless it’s something he’s determined to attend. How much of a problem is it and what can you do to reduce effects?

  8. admin says:

    Helen, I do certain things to combat my tinnitus. I often use headphones, put on subtitles, go to plays and films with subtitles, but the thing that makes the most difference is learning to be calm and screening out the noise mentally. It helps to play low-volume music a lot, and I live in a city that’s never truly quiet. I notice it more at specific times of the day (right now, horrible) but allow myself to forget about it by concentrating on other things.

  9. Denise Treadwell says:

    I have tinnitus terribly, because of the infection I had in October, I have some hearing loss, it didn’t help have another flu in early February. I was determined to go on my trip .But suffering now.

  10. Denise Treadwell says:

    I am inspired by my trip to Yosemite and plan to paint from my photos. . Its true to do something else. I made 7 shawls during the first infection. I had to count multiples, increasing , starting with five stiches, and ending with 315..

  11. Brian Evans says:

    I have had tinnitus for 18 years. I’m so used to it I only hear it when I stop to think about it, though it’s there all the time.

    Side effects are I hate loud noises, and my hearing isn’t as good for TV. Also sudden noise and screeching is a problem. Most Hollywood films are out because they rely so heavily on noisy effects. Babies screeching on buses goes right through me. But most of all it is my partner. Unfortunately he is an opera queen, and the sound of screeching divas really does set my nerves jangling. He plays them in his own study, which is a great help. I do not understand the modern trend for open plan living!

  12. Denise Treadwell says:

    Yes high notes are shrill and so tinny . I don’t want to lose my hearing. Fortunately, II don’t live in an open plan house. I am not going to a theater or Cinema. I have not gone to the Fathom Events films . Noise is odd to me having to learn what I can tolerate.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    Thank you for the information, everyone. Ken has lost a considerable amount of hearing and that is worse than the noise, he says. It all just becomes a bother so he chooses carefully.

  14. Denise Treadwell says:

    I am so sorry Helen . I have felt so trapped , it so debilitating.

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