Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #648: Cognitive Dissonance At Universal Pictures

Welcome to the show folks...

Universal Pictures, currently in the midst of a takeover by cable giant Comcast & liberation from the misrule of David Zucker, has recently announced that they are starting a new division. The SyFy Channel has been having some success producing and airing low budget creature features with titles like Sharktoberfest* so they're starting SyFy Films.

The purpose of this company is to create around 2 genre pictures a year for Universal to distribute theatrically starting in 2012.

Think about that for a second.

For decades Universal Pictures was the one stop shop for all your genre entertainment needs. They even had their own sub-genre The Universal Horror Movie defined by films like Dracula and Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolf-Man.

They shouldn't need to start a new label to make genre films, their ancestors made genre films for decades.

Of course Universal shot itself in the foot by completely forgetting their history beyond what titles they owned. Those original films were, for their time, straightforward horror movies. Universal tried to "re-imagine" them as epic fantasy adventure blockbusters in the vein of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lord of the Rings. So The Mummy went from a sinister force of evil, to a massive special effects spectacle, Frankenstein and Dracula were mashed together into the over-priced creative abortion called Van Helsing, and finally ended with the $100+ million boondoggle of The Wolf-Man.

To put it bluntly, Universal forgot how to make the
sort of genre pictures that made Universal. So I find it funny that they are turning to the SyFy Channel to make sci-fi movies after working so hard to take the sci-fi out of the channel.

So what can SyFy do as they dip their toe into the realm of big screen sci-fi movies?

Well, it's simple.


Remember that when selling the genre film, it's all about the premise catching the audience's attention, not about the star, or how much money you spend on making the movie. There has to be a good and catchy idea behind the movie. The sort of idea that would make someone see the ad and go "Hell yeah!" or "I gotta see this because this looks bat-shit insane."

If you have a good story built on a good catchy premise then it doesn't really matter if you spend $100 million on star salaries or special effects. All the audience wants are actors who won't embarrass themselves, and special effects that don't look too ridiculous.

Then it's all a matter of selling the story and creating the sort of word of mouth that gives a genre film the legs it needs to become a perennial favorite like many of those Universal pics of old.


*I think Sharktoberfest is about a mutant shark who drinks beer and eats plump Bavarians, or something like that. (How fast before someone at SyFy makes a movie out of this joke?)

1 comment:

  1. Well, this is a completely horrible idea.

    Why? It's freaking SYFY!

    They're a pack of idiots. Take a look at any of the 'original movies' that they show on their channel (not counting all of the Asylum flicks they show). They're almost universally wretched.

    Not to mention, that they entire point of their 'rebranding' themselves was, apparently, to become LESS 'science fiction' or some crap like that.* Now, Universal wants to use these guys to crank out genre flicks, when they don't have the will, or competence, to do so?


    *for more info, see -