The growing belief that video on demand represents the future of commercial film distribution got a blockbuster boost this month from no less a pair of cinematic clairvoyants than George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the University of Southern California, the makers of “Jaws” and “Star Wars” predicted the apocalyptic leveling of multiplexes alongside a house-by-house revolution in what Lucas called “Internet television.”
“There’ll be [fewer] movies on a big screen,” declared Lucas. “Everything else will be on a small screen. It’s almost that way now.”
One could say it’s easy for a player who cashed in his chips to announce that the game is up. (Last fall Lucas sold his Lucasfilm empire to Disney for $4 billion.) Still, some of the bets being placed by movie card-sharks of more modest means suggest that, as the overproduced likes of “Man of Steel” and “After Earth” underwhelm, even the summer action-film genre that Lucas and Spielberg pioneered is being dealt differently now.
Touting tough guy Jason Statham, whose “Parker” recently topped VOD charts, the mini-studio Roadside Attractions this week released the British star’s “Redemption” to a limited number of U.S. theaters and, simultaneously, to iTunes, Xbox Video and Amazon on Demand.
Known abroad as “Hummingbird,” “Redemption” won’t likely redeem Hollywood; it’s more notable in business terms than artistic ones. Nevertheless, this heat-packing pic’s unusual emphasis on characterization — Statham plays an ex-Special Forces soldier on the dole in London — does bear out one of the more creative propositions embedded in the Lucas/Spielberg proclamation. That is: Smaller films, including those released to VOD, can afford to take bigger risks — and “Redemption” does indeed take a few, at least by the standards of summer movie diversion.
Alcoholic and homeless, suffering post-traumatic stress while relying on occasional thievery for clothes and cash, Statham’s bleary-eyed Joey Jones is among the most startlingly miserable of recent genre-film protagonists. Yet, like “Redemption” itself, he aspires to up-from-rock-bottom greatness, doing what he can — in between fistfights, of course — to help the downtrodden mother of his kid, as well as a nun for whom he has the hots.
Directed by Steven Knight, who scripted “Eastern Promises” for David Cronenberg, and vividly shot in widescreen by Chris Menges (“North Country”), “Redemption” is a B-movie by circumstance — scrounging, as any enterprising pulp thriller will, for industry juice.
Also new to VOD
Johnny Depp’s big-bucks Western remake “The Lone Ranger” opens Wednesday, an event that one could either celebrate or lament by streaming some of the earlier, quainter “Rangers” available on demand. Vudu has both mid-1950s features — “The Lone Ranger” and “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” — but only three seasons of the 1949-57 TV series, whereas iTunes carries all five seasons of the show. (None of this “Hi-yo, Silver!” action is available in high-def, alas.)
The justly acclaimed Chilean drama “No,” with Gael García Bernal in a plum role as a late-’80s-era ad man-turned-activist, has been released to VOD on the same day as its DVD and Blu-ray bows. The beautifully filmed climate-change documentary “Chasing Ice” has been available via pay-per-view for weeks, but is newly available to Netflix subscribers.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in the trade magazine Variety.
To our readers: This new Sunday column explores the burgeoning world of video on demand, which is changing the way people see movies.