2017 is supposed to be the year of RottenTomatoes, the year of quality winning out over crap or mediocrity. To put butts in seats this year films have to be good, really good in fact. The days of phoning it in and lazily relying on brand recognition are over. You hear that, Hollywood. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going….

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Oh, come on! 2049, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi masterpiece, bombed (to the tune of $31m domestic, $81m worldwide on a $155m budget, after rebates)?

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You know, earlier this year when War for the Planet of the Apes surprisingly turned into the lowest-grossing film in the franchise I wrote it off as an exception. For whatever reason, that movie just didn’t click with audiences despite the glowing reviews. However, for the most part the rest of the year has uncommonly seemed like a meritocracy. The best movies have made the most money (well, apart from Despicable Me 3, which quietly crossed a billion worldwide). Ergo, Blade Runner: 2049 would surely ride its euphoric word of mouth into box office glory.

Sure, Tron: Uprising already showed us the folly of trying to convert a sci-fi cult classic into a blockbuster franchise, and similar cases like Mad Max: Fury Road were never quite as financially successful as we mistakenly believed them to have been.

Sure, the 2049 trailers didn’t do jack squat to get non-Blade Runner fans interested, other than shouting “look, there’s Ryan Gosling” and “look, there’s Harrison Ford being a mean old man again” and “look at all dem there purdy pictures.”

Sure, the marketing department enacted draconian guidelines for reviewers and journalists which prevented them from using any actual plot details to try and help hype up the movie.

Sure, an R-Rated, 163 minute-long movie is a big ask in this day and age. To many of the parents who might want to see 2049, that’s simply too much babysitting time to pay for.

Sure, 2049 is slow and ambiguous at a time when audiences want instant gratification.

Sure, 2049 doesn’t completely require you to have seen Blade Runner beforehand but is definitely best enjoyed if you have.

Sure, if you did try to seek out Blade Runner on Blu-Ray to catch up you most likely found one store and online retailer after another that was either completely sold-out or had only a few left they were hawking for over sixty bucks, forcing you to simply rent a digital copy from somewhere or just give up.

Sure, 2049’s advertising didn’t do much to reach out to female audiences, other than to maybe lean back on “the ladies love Gosling, right?”.

Sure….

Actually, hold on. Why are we supposed to be surprised 2049 flopped? Oh, yeah. The reviews. Right. Right, right, right. Well, even in 2017 good reviews can only get you so far.

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The real problem, as Deadline explained, is this: 2049 is ultimately a one-quadrant movie that was made and sold as a four-quadrant movie. That’s just a fancy way of saying they spent too much money on something that was always going to have a limited appeal:

You don’t build a movie that costs in excess of $155M net for just one quadrant –older males (guys over 25 rep 53% per PostTrak)– and mount a campaign that’s shrouded in secrecy, thus sidelining a brand new potential generation of fans. Also, if you’re looking to hook the Marvel or DC crowd into this reborn franchise, a PG-13 rating could have assisted Blade Runner 2049 without selling its quality short (there’s nothing really dicey in the movie violence or sex wise). If you’re going to build a movie for one quadrant, it can’t be at a $100M-plus price. Plain and simple.

Alcon Entertainment, which has handled the marketing and financing whilst leaving the distribution duties to WB (domestic) and Sony (international), was clearly banking on quality carrying the day. They gave 2049 the same mystery-box-marketing treatment as Disney did with The Force Awakens, but in so doing they massively miscalculated how many people would be enticed by the mere tease of more Blade Runner. You say, “Here’s the new Star Wars and we’re telling you nothing about it,” and millions upon millions will show up because, dude, it’s Star Wars. You say the same thing with Blade Runner, and you get what just happened.

To be fair, Alcon also made several poorly-promoted 2049 prequel shorts, like this one: 

It’s all such a depressing shame. Two major studios and one production company aggressively backed the uncompromising vision of a director who was fresh off of an impressive run of critical and financial hits (PrisonersSicario and Arrival, the latter of which became Villeneuve’s first film to break $100m domestic). They trusted him to honor the spirit of a beloved cult classic that has influenced a generation of filmmakers and fans while also updating it for the modern day. And then they ran an outwardly confident marketing campaign that was eventually matched by reviews which indicated the film is exactly as good as the trailers seem to think it is.

But it’s not that simple. Quality doesn’t always win out, especially if you massively overpay to achieve it. These days, there is always some amazing film playing (or streaming) somewhere or some amazing TV show available to stream on some device, and there are always people online screaming to the heavens that we’re all idiots if we don’t make the time to see these masterpieces of film and TV. That is the steady drumbeat of critical response, and to become more than just another little-watched, but ardently adored product you have to somehow monetize that response and galvanize audiences through enticing advertising, a multi-pronged social media strategy, a fair bit of luck in terms of timing and competition and an oversupply of good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth that spreads to people of all ages. 2049 did exactly enough of that to be a success if it was a movie that cost a fair deal less than $100m to make. As is, though, it’s a disappointment, but it was probably always going to be, modern classic or not.

Or maybe this world just isn’t worthy of/ready for 2049 yet. I don’t know if that’s true or fair, but it sure makes me feel better to say it.

Source: Deadline

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

11 Comments

  1. I am not in that one quadrant. I am female. I freely admit that I have never seen bladerunner. Well, if I had come across it some way I might have, but if it ever run on free TV I didn’t see it and it is not something I would actively seek out, no matter how influential it was. Alone the “multiple cuts” thing is off-putting for me.

    Consequently my interest in the sequel was limited, and not just because I always feel old when I see Harrison Ford rehearsing one of his old roles (honestly, the main issue I had with “Hook” was that I didn’t want to see Peter Pan grown up, and I certainly don’t want to see the heroes of my childhood in old, I want to pretend that the froze somewhere in time, can’t he play something new and more fitting for his age?). But I did have look at the reviews and at least the one I read weren’t mostly that good either. I mean, they very complimentary, but there wasn’t much excitement in them, more a surprised “huh, this is really watchable and honours the original”. Which is in my book just the minimum hurdle, it shouldn’t be the end goal. I mean an 8.2 isn’t bad, but it is not high enough to convince me to try a movie with limited appeal to me.

    And honestly, they should have figured out by now that the fanbase of those cult movies is not that big to begin with and adjust the budget accordingly.

    Reply

    1. “honestly, the main issue I had with “Hook” was that I didn’t want to see Peter Pan grown up, and I certainly don’t want to see the heroes of my childhood in old, I want to pretend that the froze somewhere in time, can’t he play something new and more fitting for his age?”

      I completely get that. That was actually the gist of my initial reaction to when they announced the new Star Wars movies. I didn’t want to see old Luke, Leia and Han for the same reasons you listed above.

      I also get your reaction to Blade Runner. Well, kind of. I can’t 100% relate because I’m male, not female, meaning I do fall in the quadrant 2049 went after. However, as of three or so weeks ago I had never seen Blade Runner. I, too, was thrown off by the confusion over which “cut” to watch. So, all of the nostalgia-leaning 2049 trailers meant nothing to me. I eventually made a point of seeking out Blade Runner because I didn’t want to be left behind, though, and to be honest I didn’t love it. It’s a mercilessly slow affair with an uncertain central performance from Ford and some serious plot deficiencies. It’s the type of film where you respond to the atmosphere and philosophizing, but stay for the story.

      So, wasn’t a huge fan but I at least appreciated Ridley Scott’s accomplishment enough to want to check out 2049, which ultimately blew me away. However, it’s a complicated film to recommend for the same reason that it’s a complicated film to market: you kind of need to have seen or at least read a bit about the first Blade Runner to not so much follow but fully appreciate what 2049 is going for. On top of that, 2049 continues the franchise’s troubled history in the female character department. For example, there is one scene where a giant holographic lady is topless for no real reason (in the trailers, they’ve cropped out the nudity), and it was impossible not to notice the women two chairs down from me expressing letting her boyfriend know just how much the scene was annoying her. There are also several standout female performances from mostly unknown actresses who manage to upstage Gosling and Ford, but a lot of those women also end up having something violent done to them. So, yeah. There’s that.

      “And honestly, they should have figured out by now that the fanbase of those cult movies is not that big to begin with and adjust the budget accordingly.”

      Agreed. Breaking the bank on 2049 was always a fundamental misreading of the market and the franchise’s peak potential.

      Reply

      1. Heroes growing old. Crystal skull is a case example. Killed indy for me. Doesnt work. The only time i have seen it work is rocky balboa and never say never again.

      2. To be fair, I’ve never seen the newest Rambo movie because I was never a Rambo fan to begin with, but I remember lots of people saying it was a surprisingly strong sequel that did the character justice. I do know, though, that Stallone managed to pull it off for real with Rocky Balboa and Creed.

        And that’s about it. Most cinematic heroes don’t need to be revisited decades later unless the inevitable reminder of both their and our mortality makes some kind of dramatic sense.

      3. And lets not forget the king of reprising roles James Bond. Seems to work even with aged stars or replaced actors. Why cant Indy fall suit. Has no one seen a Carry On movie? You can have a franchise without keeping the same tired leads in it.

  2. Couldnt agree more KK. Just watched it and thought it was amazing and epic and a true sequel. Then on the drive home I thought who can I spread the word too? Girls wont shell out to watch this. Young guys wont either unless they want to try and stand out by caimign to atch the original. It is a sequel to a 1982 film which i itself was based on an even older short story after all. So I do wander what the intention was when it got greenlit other than to say thank you for the first movie.

    Reply

    1. “So I do wonder what the intention was when it got greenlit other than to say thank you for the first movie.”

      That pretty well sums it up. This sequel is a treat to the fans, new and old, but it mostly insists that you are already a fan. It’s too connected to the first film to truly win you over.

      The question I grapple with is whether or not 2049 would have ended up as the near-masterpiece it is if they’d gone with a more sensible budget in the under-$100m territory. That would have been the more economically prudent decision, and it would have certainly reframed our entire discussion of the film’s box office performance. However, with $50-$100m less to play with would Villeneuve’s achievement would have been quite as grand. Is the story compelling enough and themes enticing enough to be carried by something that might not have looked so spellbinding? Because part of the appeal of this film is how you much it hooks you and leaves you wanting to jump right into its universe, walk around on those big sets, put on one of those clear plastic coats and walk out in the rain, etc. How much of that would have been compromised if they had significantly less money to work with? Necessity is the mother of invention, of course, and they could have found a way. I just don’t know what it would have looked like.

      Reply

      1. I dont think it had a choice. In the same way Tron Legacy had to up the budget to pay true homage to the then mind blowing original it wouldnt work if after 35 years there was no superiority. Besides Harrison’s salary would have gone up somewhat since 1982. The real question was why bump off sean youngs character? What is it with mobies that male actors can grt old and still carry sequels but the lady actors cannot be banked on for the same? Carrie fisher was still alive and well for rogue one. Likewise sean young was a lookalike akthough i heard she was/is as crazy as gary busey.

      2. “The real question was why bump off sean youngs character? What is it with mobies that male actors can grt old and still carry sequels but the lady actors cannot be banked on for the same? Carrie fisher was still alive and well for rogue one. Likewise sean young was a lookalike akthough i heard she was/is as crazy as gary busey.”

        All respect to Vulture. They had a great article about this very topic. Strong recommend: http://www.vulture.com/2017/10/blade-runner-2049-recreated-22-year-old-sean-young-why.html

        The situation is a little more complicated than they make it seem, though. Carrie Fisher had more or less stopped acting, but she’d moved on to writing, performing one woman show’s. She was still a visible celebrity, and the thought of her reprising Leia for the new Star Wars movies wasn’t all that crazy. However, the thought of her playing Leia in Rogue One made no sense because her body had changed so much and her voice had been ravaged by years of smoking and alcohol. So, they did what they could with a stand-in with Fisher’s permission.

        As for Sean Young, fewer actresses burned as many bridges as her. Sure, here in 2017 she might seem like a tragic victim of Hollywood’s systemic sexism in that she was labeled as difficult for simply behaving in a way which at that time and probably still today would be considered acceptable from a man. However, the Sean Young narrative has labeled her as not just ordinary difficult but possible a bit unhinged and crazy that I never even entertained the notion of her appearing in 2049. It’s also a question of visibility. Since I haven’t seen her in so long I have no idea what’s she up to. Now, if Young is actually not as crazy as her rep, and would have loved to have returned rather than be killed off inbetween movies I feel bad for her. I don’t really know what the case is because, like I said, you only ever hear of Sean Young in the “that woman crazy” kind of way.

      3. Just read that she tried to boycot fans from going to the cinema to see it if she werent in it so guess you are right.

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