2019/01/02

The Other Hollywood Formula

Dredd

This recent review at Bleeding Fool of 2012's buried gem of a movie Dredd gave me occasion to meditate on Hollywood's continuing implosion. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dredd, which sadly is most of you, here's a quick primer.

The second film iteration of a cult British comic book lawman--the first being the eminently forgettable 1995 Stallone vehicle--Dredd had all the ingredients of a niche middle market success. It was a true indie picture shot on a shoestring budget that, by necessity, eschewed the franchise bloat of every other comic book film and delivered a refreshingly taut, breakneck-paced action flick. Unfortunately, since the all-consuming quest for blockbusters has killed the middle market, Dredd flat-out bombed.

Read the Bleeding Fool article, and you get the accurate impression that Dredd was the anti-cape movie we desperately needed but didn't deserve. The reviewer rightly points out the total absence of self-indulgent infodumps and the laser focus on perfectly paced and choreographed action. I'll go BF one better and assert that Dredd's action works because it is action, not the kind of empty violence that too many action movies get lost in. The startlingly well-realized characters of Judges Dredd and Anderson set against the tragic yet vicious Ma-Ma elevates the proceedings from mindless blood 'n' guts to genuine conflict.

If you haven't seen Dredd, give yourself a little present today and check it out. For a thematically resonant double feature, follow up with 2011's The Raid: Redemption, an Indonesian film so similar in plot and conflict that many suspect it served as Dredd's template.

Fans of the Judge Dredd comic and action movies in general started clamoring for a Dredd sequel before the movie ended its short theatrical run. Because we can't have nice things in Clown World, that's not going to happen. Here, Dredd producer Adi Shankar lays out the other Hollywood Formula to mathematically explain why a second Dredd film is not forthcoming.


For the video-impaired, the reasons why Dredd is dead are quite simple. For a movie to get made, it must satisfy the following equation:

Cost < D + I + S

Where D is the fim's projected domestic value, I is the international value, and S = government subsidies/rebates.

These days, if a movie's cost exceeds D + I + S, it doesn't get made.

Pay special attention to the I in that equation. Hollywood has become more and more reliant on foreign box office revenues as their visceral hatred for the domestic audience grows. As Shankar points out, I used to account for roghly 10 percent of a movie's value in the 90s, but it had skyrocketed to upwards of 60 percent by 2015. Shankar had already observed that the Chinese bubble had burst, as Mouse Wars' dismal underperformance in the Middle Kingdom shows.

Hollywood's long-term prospects aren't looking any better. They've shunned their original audience, shut out mid-market films people actually enjoy, and bet all their chips on a conjectural third world revenue stream that's failed to materialize.

Get the popcorn.

37 comments:

  1. So the moral of the story is that globalism ruins everything. Why, it’s almost as if we’ve been being lied to about the benefits of the interconnected global economy and unfettered free markets for generations!

    Anybody with eyes to see already intuited this. Movies are lowest common denominator slop for pigs on an international scale. I guess trash is truly the universal language. American filmmaking: another casualty of the free market race to the bottom.

    At least I learned that the recent Dredd movie is worth watching. I never cared for the character—or knew anything about him—so the movie came and went without me giving it a second glance. Now I’ll have to check it out, so thank you Brian.

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    1. Correct on all counts.

      How to describe Dredd? In food terms, it's not the lavish multi-course banquet of, say The Dark Knight. Neither is it Justice League gas station vending machine weenie tots. Dredd is a hearty burger and fries from the workmanlike cook at the family-owned place on the corner. Fewer of those each day.

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  2. Dredd went into production first, but The Raid was released first.

    That whole 'trapped in a building/frontier town of baddies' is a well worn trope anyway.

    At least we've got the 'Dredd: Mega-City One' TV series to look forward to - hopefully.

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  3. Quite a good movie. The only thing I wish it had was more of the sorta ridiculous, humorous aspects from the comics. Not humorous in the awful MCU way though. I felt the movie took itself just a bit too seriously.

    But the pacing, action and characters are just fantastic.

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    1. Garland apparently wanted to include more elements from the comic, but budget constraints forced him to do some drastic streamlining.

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  4. While Dredd didn’t get a sequel The Raid did, and it’s even better than the first impossible as that may seem

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    1. That's what I've heard. Gotta track that one down.

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  5. The reason why a DREDD sequel died is because an offer to fund one in 2014 required key people involved in the original prduction to return. That did not happen to the offer collapsed.

    It's academic now because the rights lapsed to the original owners, Rebellion and the only way Dredd can return to TV or film is as a reboot.

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    1. Who were those key people, out of curiosity?

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    2. It was the observation that the film did well after it left the cinema that prompted the offer but from what the person connected to the production told me (and this was more or less confirmed later on in interviews for Annihilation), it was implied that Alex Garland, and by connection DNA Films, wanted to move on to other projects as they felt the film had failed in the marketplace.

      From an interview with The Ringer podcast: Alex Garland Leaves Nothing Behind (Feb 23, 2018).

      "...studios want franchises. I understood that. But I made it very, very clear that I’m not going to be a person who’s going to be involved in a franchise. And I’m not interested in franchises. I tried it once with Dredd and, in a weird way, was incredibly relieved that I didn’t have to follow through on the promise, because after three years of working on a film, the last thing I want to do is stay in that world. I actually never want to look at the film again, let alone make another version of it."

      https://www.theringer.com/movies/2018/2/23/17036466/alex-garland-annihilation-interview-ex-machina

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  6. I liked Dredd. Only thing I disliked was Judge Cassandra Anderson. It was another “grrrrl power” character who avoids being mary-sued because there actually happens to be a progression arc for the character. But trying to make Thirlby, who looks like the prettier younger sister of Anne Hathaway, with her lithe frame and a height of 5’3”, look tough and hardened in body armor equivalent of the 80’s shoulder pads....was laughable. I have no beef with Thirlby, and appreciated the eye candy as opposed to them hiring a more believeable but ugly actress, but the character was written as a young male apprentice with a vagina and boobs strapped on.

    But hey, check out “Miss” Spain for Miss Universe. Maybe Anderson was really a tranny.

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    1. Similar issue here. To cut and past from an earlier comment:

      But by far the worst offender is Anderson herself, for one simple reason: she doesn't wear a helmet.

      She never wears a helmet.

      And no reason is given for her not wearing a helmet.

      If she'd started out wearing a helmet and it was damaged or shot off early, forcing her to take it off, that would at least be believable.

      Indeed, my whole issue with Anderson could have been remedied if they made it clear that she was not a street judge and had no business being in the field during a dangerous situation. If the movie had made it clear that she was just there for investigative purposes, to scan witnesses under secure conditions and got caught with Dredd, that would be fine. It would even be an improvement, since she would have to rise to the occasion, but a prospective street judge? I didn't believe that for a second.

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    2. Dredd explicitly points out her lack of helmet just before their first entry (into the drug den), and she says she doesn't wear a helmet because it interferes with her telepathy.

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    3. I must have missed that part. But it's still jarring, and she should still wear it in the field, unless in controlled situations.

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    4. It's a character/plot point.
      "It interferes with my abilities."
      "Woulda thought a bullet would interfere more."
      However, her ability to know a persons intent right before someone draws a bead on her saves her several times.

      She doesn't go toe-to-toe with a trained combatant and beat him with grrrl power at any point in the film. Her vulnerability is played on heavily. I understand being hyper-sensitive to ridiculous "female badass" tropes, but there basically AREN'T any on display here.

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    5. "Only thing I disliked was Judge Cassandra Anderson. It was another “grrrrl power” character who avoids being mary-sued because there actually happens to be a progression arc for the character."

      I'm guessing based on this that you've never seen the comics? Anderson was created in 1980, and the movie's portrayal of her is reasonably faithful although emphasizing her as a rookie far more than the comics, in which she's an experienced and extremely powerful psi-judge. She's never worn a helmet in the comics, either, just as Dredd never EVER removes his helmet (this was a massive sticking point for fans when the Stallone version came out).

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    6. Guilty as charged: not familiar with the comics

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    7. @Andy - I’m not familiar with the comics but I knew Anderson was a big character from the comics. From why I had read, movie Anderson is different enough from Anderson 1.0 of the comics to be considered a variant.

      I take no issue with a female with special abilities being a warrior in a fictional tale, I can suspend my disbelief. My issue was the movies need to do feel power like things with Anderson in the script when none was needed. At the very least, they didn’t Mary Sue her, which is probably more than I should ask of corrupt Hollywood.

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  7. I wanted to like Dredd a lot more than I did, but the plot holes just kept shaking me out of the mood. Worst of all: they were unnecessary plot holes.

    SPOILERS

    When the corrupt judges ask Ma Ma if she knows who it is she's dealing with, she said no, but Dredd had just identified himself over the loudspeaker system! And even if his rep isn't enough to have spread to Ma Ma's territory, she's got enough resources to quickly find out who Dredd is.

    And I just couldn't buy that she could seal off that entire building, openly put a hit out on a couple of judges, and expect nobody to talk when it was apparently such a threat that they had apprehended one member of her gang. All she would have needed to do was get a sniper to take out the captive gang member as Dredd and Anderson were taking him out of the building.

    And after the building is sealed, a couple of judges are called to help, they know a brother and sister judges are in the building, but they just wait outside instead of blasting their way in?

    But by far the worst offender is Anderson herself, for one simple reason: she doesn't wear a helmet.

    She never wears a helmet.

    And no reason is given for her not wearing a helmet.

    If she'd started out wearing a helmet and it was damaged or shot off early, forcing her to take it off, that would at least be believable.

    Indeed, my whole issue with Anderson could have been remedied if they made it clear that she was not a street judge and had no business being in the field during a dangerous situation. If the movie had made it clear that she was just there for investigative purposes, to scan witnesses under secure conditions and got caught with Dredd, that would be fine. It would even be an improvement, since she would have to rise to the occasion, but a prospective street judge? I didn't believe that for a second.

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    1. The 90s Dredd movie had faults, but the plot was coherent: the bad guys were a small, highly-skilled unit, hard to detect and backed by a powerful city official.

      And it would only take a few little fixes to solve all the Dredd plot holes and make it perfect, while still keeping all the strengths.

      Have a powerful, corrupt official backing Ma Ma, possibly with the idea of controlling gang and drug activity rather than trying to wipe it out, ala Sicario.

      Instead of Ma Ma's gang being the sole power in control of the building, have at least one other rival gang. Ma Ma and her mystery backer frame the other gang and set them up for the judges to destroy.

      Dredd and Anderson get caught in the chaos and sealed off from help. Maybe their 'deaths' are blamed on the patsy gang. The corrupt judges can be in charge of the crackdown, so they can still cut off communications and have that awesome fight with Dredd.

      Have Anderson be there in an investigative role as a non-street judge. She could even push her way into the field because she - like Dredd - suspects something off. Somewhat earning Dredd's respect. But have their interactions initially be adversarial: Anderson is by the book and academic, and disapproves of Dredd's methods, but she rises to the occasion when they have to fight their way out.

      For some added fun, Ma Ma's slimeball backer could make an appeal to pragmatism and compromising with corruption before Dredd offs him.

      And have a sniper take out that prisoner in the beginning. But have it be a sexy female sniper. Because that always makes things better.

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    2. "But have it be a sexy female sniper. Because that always makes things better."

      The Kojima school of sniping FTW!

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  8. I didn't watch Dredd at the time because it was sold as 3D, and I can't stomach 3D films. That was a bad way to sell it. The average moviegoer has never wanted that 3D junk they keep pushing. Not to mention it still had baggage from the Stallone movie being a disappointment, which is the same reason we'll never get a proper Prydain movie thanks to Black Cauldron flopping. Dredd had a lot going against it.

    Saw it later and enjoyed the movie quite a bit. But it would never get made now for the same reason the recent comics were hot garbage. More terrible political writing to demonize half the audience is all it would be filled with.

    It's probably too late for Hollywood, at this point. After John Wick 3 I don't know when I'll be bothering to see another newer movie. There's plenty of older ones to catch up on anyway.

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  9. I agree. I enjoyed the Stallon version. I found him surprisingly disciplined. He stayed in character although he could've improvised some humour.

    The action was fun, pulpy and very taunt.
    I saw the remake with Keith Urban. It was good too but I found the Stallon version a tad better.

    xavier

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  10. The movie Dredd was basically Anderson's story, showing how she changed from a naive cadet to a kick-ass street judge, with Dredd as the guide/mentor.

    Dredd is often a supporting character in his own strip. Mega-City One itself is the main character.

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    1. Yep, and I'm glad they did it that way. We got a decent character arc without having to suffer through a Dredd origin story or any other such nonsense.

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    2. Yeah, Dredd is basically supposed to be an inhuman force of nature that either protects or destroys everyone around him. It's why you never see his face: He's not meant to be humanized in any way.

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  11. On a positive note, how about we all contribute classic films worth seeing? I’ll start:

    Gettysburg
    Bridge on the River Kwai
    Zulu
    Waterloo
    Tora Tora Tora

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    1. Movies from any particular time period? What's the cutoff date?

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    2. Arsenic and Old Lace

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    3. Force of Evil
      Citizen Kane
      The Searchers
      On the Waterfront
      Nosferatu

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    4. Captain Blood
      The Third Man
      Casablanca
      Shadow of a Doubt
      True Grit
      Witness for the Prosecution
      Key Largo
      Stalag 17
      The Guns of Navarone


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  12. I'm pretty bummed Alex said he'd wanted to do the dark judges for the third film if his trilogy had taken off. Maybe we'll get them in the new tv-show tho.

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  13. Good to see some Film Noir and Classic Westerns being recommended here. I sometimes feel like I am the only one of my generation who watches any movie that came out before 1990(hell, before 2000). Trying to get anyone from my generation interested in classic movies is about as successful as getting me to watch a modern one.

    Here are some of my recommendations:

    Double Indemnity
    Kelly's Heroes
    Das Boot
    The Wages of Fear
    The Spoilers
    Rio Bravo
    The Warriors
    Out of the Past
    Dead Reckoning
    The Great Escape
    Gunga Din(old but really good adventure movie)
    Cool Hand Luke
    The Dirt Dozen
    Thief (1982)
    The Great Silence(underrated Western)

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    1. Several of those turn up on the list from Today's post.

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