Homepage > Joss Whedon’s Tv Series > Firefly > Reviews > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article
« Previous : "Serenity" Movie goes in at #1 in the UK for its opening weekend
     Next : Michelle Trachtenberg - Teen Vogue Featurette On The Set - Low Quality Photos »

From Chud.com


"Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

By Devin Faraci

Monday 10 October 2005, by Webmaster

It’s been interesting, this past week, to watch the Browncoats go through all the stages of grieving as laid out by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. First there was denial, where they claimed that, hey, ten million dollars and coming in second to a shitty movie that had already been released the week before was OK. Next came anger. I found myself at the receiving end of this stage of grief after I had what they (and Joss Whedon) took to be the incredible gall to call it as I saw it - ie, that Serenity’s opening weekend tagged the film as one that would not make back its money at the box office. (And this weekend’s performance - staggering into the top ten at 9, indicates that I was right. Look for Serenity to make 25 million domestically.)

The bargaining stage was, for me, the most disturbing stage. This is when the Browncoats began buying tickets to the movie to give to complete strangers, or even worse, seeing the film seven, eight or nine times in a weekend. It just seems that no one should ever see a movie that many times in that short a time frame. A movie isn’t a song - it isn’t built for such repetition.

Depression was next. The official Serenity Browncoats boards and sites like Whedonesque and FireflyFans were filled with people saying they felt like they were kicked in the chest, or were at the end of their tether. Some people - probably the ones who had previously posted such disturbing things as that the death of a character in the film made them cry for a week - reported what sounded like serious depression.

By the time Friday’s numbers (which I would say were dismal, but I don’t want to have one of my favorite artists jumping down my throat again) came in, most of the Browncoats had come to the acceptance stage. They finally understood that this was going to be the end of the road for this property, that Serenity would more or less be the swan song for these characters.

Like I said, it’s been fascinating to watch. I don’t think there’s ever been a fanbase like the Browncoats (and at this point I feel like I should try to have some sort of definition. Not everyone who bought the Firefly DVDs - people like me, for instance - is a Browncoat. The Browncoats are mostly self-identified, and the Browncoats I’m talking about here are the sort of rabid fans who call it “our” movie, as if they made it), and in the last week it’s taken the kind of hit that I don’t think any fanbase has taken since Star Trek first got cancelled. But even that is no comparison, since there was no Internet then, which means that most of Star Trek’s fans were sort of doing their nerd thing in a vacuum.

There are still some Browncoats in the denial phase. There’s a very vocal contingent, some of whom e-mail me a bunch, who claim that Serenity will get a sequel because the film will do well on DVD. Now, I don’t disagree that the film will do well on DVD. Serenity will, I think, be one of the better selling DVDs of the holiday season, and it won’t even be a bells and whistles edition. The problem here is that these folks have a serious disconnect when it comes to understanding how all this stuff works. It’s true that movies now make most of their profit on DVD. In fact, almost every single movie makes money when it comes to DVD, TV sales and foreign box office.

You need to take a minute and think about that. With the new math of big ancillary dollars, almost every movie released ends up making some sort of money. That’s even beyond the studio’s voodoo accounting (for those not in the know, many studios cook the hell out of the books to show that their films DON’T turn a profit so they don’t have to share that profit - do a Google search for Art Buchwald and lawsuit for some eye-opening info). So why doesn’t every single movie get a sequel? Why am I not right now reporting on the filming of the next Riddick chronicle?

Here’s what you have to understand about Hollywood, here’s the essential paradox that makes it all come together - it’s a business about art. The people who run Hollywood are, at heart business people. They want to make money, and they want to do it with the least risk. That’s why you see so many shitty movies that fall into so many shitty formulas. If it worked once, they hope, it’ll work again.

But if they just wanted to make money, there are other industries that don’t have the kind of risk the movie industry does. The people in Hollywood aren’t just drawn by the money - the suits come for the glamour and the art. The glamour is self-explanatory (how often does the owner of a paper company get profiled by major magazines?). The art is how they convince themselves that they’re doing something different than the guy who owns a paper company. What all this adds up to is that the Hollywood executive type isn’t just looking at a spreadsheet covered in numbers - there’s a complex series of neuroses and delusions that inform their decisions.

These neuroses and delusions work two ways. They’ll make a movie that can never earn money because it’ll be a possible Oscar contender or otherwise a “prestige” picture (and I do know that there are still other, more complex reasons for this - the desire for art is one, but there’s also the idea that cultivating the image of being a studio who is “good to the talent,” ie is willing to throw 30 million down the toilet for a prestige project, will pay off by attracting other, more money earning, talent). But it also means that appearances are everything. And while the foreign box office may account for up to half a film’s total take, the appearance remains, as it has for a hundred years, mostly about the domestic box office.

There are still more calculations to work into the profit of a movie. Sometimes companies split the foreign distribution, so that other companies take a bit from the totals (look at Lord of the Rings, for example). But I still believe that at the end of the day it’s all about the domestic box office. Sure, DVDs are a big profit machine. But why hasn’t there been a blockbuster film starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg that has been released straight to DVD? That stigma may yet change, but it hasn’t. And it’s not going to be changing in the next few years. And Universal, the studio that released Serenity isn’t helping. They have begun releasing extremely cheap and shitty direct to video sequels and prequels, like Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power and American Pie: Band Camp, which won’t make DTV look any classier. Might they release a Serenity sequel DTV, though? Maybe, but judging by their current DTV slate, it’ll cost 10 million dollars, and I don’t think you can make a sequel for that amount of money.

Serenity will, without a doubt, at some point in its history, make back the money Universal spent. It may even make an actual profit on top of that. But that’s not going to make things any different for the franchise.

This is mostly math and a basic understanding of the movie business, which you can get from just watching it for a while. So why does this make people angry? Part of it is that some of the Browncoats, like the rest of the American population, believe that box office success is some barometer of a film’s quality. When I said that the film was dead out the gate, they weren’t mad that I sold it short, but rather they thought I was passing judgement on the content of the film (and it’s interesting how many e-mails I received and how many anti-me message board postings I read incorrectly referred to my original article as a “review”). Many of us have long ago come to the conclusion that there may in fact be an inverse relationship between a film’s quality and its box office take, but everyone needs to lose their innocence at some point.

What these folks should have been focusing on from the first day is that they were lucky to get a pretty good film when they really had no right to expect one. Firefly isn’t the first TV show that failed and got a movie and it’s not even the most extreme - Police Squad lasted 6 episodes and spawned three Naked Gun films. And let’s not forget Star Trek and Twin Peaks, which ended up in Fire Walk With Me. You got a wrap up, people, which is a lot more than most cancelled shows ever get (including far superior shows like Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared).

So what now? I wouldn’t worry too much about Joss Whedon, beyond any inevitable emotional scarring he may experience. The film underperformed in a big way, but it was well received by critics. The perception is going to be that the film didn’t open, but it probably won’t be laid at his feet. He’s considered talented and executives will remain impressed by his loyal fanbase. He may find himself in a Kevin Smith scenario - his films will be considered to have a profit ceiling and thus will have a budget ceiling - but he has two major chances in his near future to make films that earn plenty of dough.

Earlier I talked about what made the Browncoats unique as a fanbase. There’s one thing I left out, that I left for the end, that I think makes the Browncoats very different from other fanbases in the past. I don’t remember ever having seen a fanbase that was so completely co-opted by the marketing forces before this.

I know, you’re going to yell at me here. I am not writing this to get more attention, I swear. This is something that you may well disagree with, but it’s something I have given lots of thought to. Essentially I am concerned that the wall between marketing and the fans has disappeared.

Let’s be honest, CHUD.com was one of the first steps in that happening. CHUD, and Aint It Cool and other internet movie sites all began as fan sites. When these sites first opened, there wasn’t a relationship between the webmasters and the publicity people at the studios. It’s taken years to get to the point where CHUD is regularly a part of the massive press junkets studios hold, I’m not fully certain that it’s a good thing that it has happened, but it has.

So the publicists have been trying to get in bed with the fans for some time, and the Browncoats aren’t the first street team, but I do think it’s the first street team that has been so seamlessly grafted onto the body of an existing fanbase. Street teams are cheap for the publicists - you make the fans do the work; they promote your movie all over the place and you just send them some cheap t-shirts and other materials, which are in and of themselves promo materials anyway. But I have seen Browncoats taking up the marketing without even being a part of the official site street team. I have read about Browncoats literally spending hundreds of their own dollars promoting this film by printing flyers, by taking out ads and by buying tickets for strangers. That, frankly, isn’t right. Your duty, as a fan, is to enjoy the film. Maybe bring in a friend. But that should be it, and you should never feel that you’re letting a film or a filmmaker down because you only recruited fifteen people.

And that’s where the whole thing takes on the feel of a religion. People were proselytizing at movie theaters, accosting patrons who seemed to not have made up their minds about what to see. There doesn’t seem to be a very huge amount of difference between that and the Scientologists who man tables in Times Square every day and night, offering you a “free stress test.” The religion comparison really crystallizes when you see how the Browncoats talk about - or yell at - the non-believers and heretics who dare to not like the film. Guys, chill out and remember that it’s a movie.

There’s an impression out there that I hate the Browncoats (maybe scared of would be a better way to put it) or that I didn’t like the movie (it’s not making my top ten of the year by any stretch, but I gave it a solid 8 out of 10). The honest truth is that this is a film that I was looking forward to, and I found myself fascinated with its box office, and eventually with its fans. This movie has presented, to me, a microcosm of what is good and bad about the state of fandom and the internet, and there’s more I could have written about. Just the way that Joss interacts with the fans could give me a slew of future editorial - is the elimination of the wall between author and audience a good or bad thing? Should an artist heed the fans (and bicker with them, as Kevin Smith has embarrassingly done at Aint It Cool) or should he ignore them and follow his artistic vision? And should the fans be encouraged to become this invested in any franchise?

Maybe I’ll get to that stuff some other day. In the meantime, I look forward to your feedback - positive or otherwise. The real purpose of me spending this much time writing isn’t just to get attention, it’s to create discussion. Believe me, if I wanted to make more controversy I could have done it in a quarter of the words.

12 Forum messages

  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    10 October 2005 17:05, by Anonymous
    You know, I hate to say it but Browncoats get on my nerves. I’m a huge Joss fan, loved Serenity but was secretly hoping the movie would tank. Not because I wanted Joss to not be successful.. but I wanted to see the Browncoats cry!
  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    10 October 2005 17:36, by Gloria
    No article is 100% right. That isn’t to say I disagree with it. As an avid fan, I’m disappointed that it hasn’t performed as well as the film deserves. But part of that comes from the way the film was marketed. I feel, in a way, that the way the film was pushed by fans alienated the average viewer. Most of the people I encouraged to go see the movie weren’t interested because they thought they wouldn’t get the movie. The beauty in Serenity lies within its ability the engage the general public without having to send them home to watch the DVDs first. But most people think otherwise, and that, I believe, is what is hurting this magnificent film. Put on top of that a cast of Hollywood unknowns. Nowadays it is extremely hard to sell a movie without a familiar face. As incredibly talented as this cast may be, people don’t care unless they’ve seen them before. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad Joss didn’t cast a big name to bring in an audience—that would’ve sold us all out, but indeed it has hurt us. And still, given the circumstances, the film didn’t perform bad at all. Not for the way it was marketed. I say, go us! We got our movie. And who’s to say we won’t get more? Serenity didn’t seem likely a coule of years ago. And here we are. Believe.
  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    10 October 2005 20:05, by anomymous

    This guy is an idiot and quite possibly a hack as well. What he says about the film biz is a series of truisms (i.e. things that everyone, even browncoats, already knows). I dunno if I’m a browncoat b/c I joined the series,fairly late, only seeing it long after it was cancelled. But I did see the movie a couple times last week and yes I agree w/the Brownies that it’s the film of the year (as much because nearly everything else this year has stunk as because of the excellence of serenity). The author, however, seems to assume that people like me are so rabidly evangelical about our movie that we view everything through rose (or hype)-colored glasses, conflating what we want to happen with buying into "pre-marketing hype" for this movie. He additionally seems to assume that we don’t understand how the film biz works and then attempts to deflect our anger at his criticism of the fans and how he says he perceives our reaction to the film’s mediocre box office performance.

    For starters, what pre-marketing hype is he talking about? Does he mean critical acclaim? I’m sorry but at least the major critical reviews that have praised this film (the NY Times, the Washington post, the Village Voice, etc.) have done so on purely artistic grounds. I’m not aware of alot of corporate influence on these critics in terms of the reviews they write. If Roger Ebert doesn’t like "Into the Blue," he’ll come out and say why, no matter how many marketing execs and corporate sponsors of his show wet their pants at the site of Jessica Alba. Further, Serenity has not had that much marketing at all behind it. I’m not blaming Universal particularly for that, but this was never going to be an easy film to market (even though we probably have one of the prettiest casts of any film this year). Nothing about this series or the film has been easy and I don’t think Whedonites are under delusions in that regard. But the fact is, yes it was always going to be an uphill battle.

    Yes I admit I’m also hurt by the poor box office performance thus far. And no I didn’t drag people with me to see this film, even though I’ve been looking forward to it all year. But I’m not stunned. That’s more because of the nature of the film than because I’m either deluded or don’t understand the film biz. As Chud himself points out, however, this film was never supposed to be made in the first place. So it’ll turn a profit. That’s lovely. Is this the end? No not by a long shot. Why was this movie made? DVD sales, as we all know. It is very possible that the same thing could happen with this show. Joss’s projects have never been top rated tv shows in the states, again something we all know. They either aired on small networks (hence why they lasted so long) or were axed after half a season when they aired on a big network. Even though I have no doubt the movie biz is a different animal, as Jewel Staite put it last week, we are special. It isn’t naive to think that, it’s realistic because this is the most grassroots driven media project for the scifi/fantasy greatest writer/director of his generation. THE NORMAL RULES DO NOT APPLY BECAUSE THERE ARE NONE. This film was made on a popcorn budget for a major studio action film and we aren’t going away. And I am convinced that there is a much much larger audience out there for this project. 2 weeks doesn’t prove jack. I can’t say I know there’ll be a sequel, but that’s where I’d put my money.

  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    10 October 2005 21:45, by Pauline M

    I Just want to say to all the cast (who I have met most of, who are truly inspiring ) and crew, "You all should be really proud of yourselves Who cares what everyone thinks from Browncoats to fans to crictics to people who are maybe sick to death of any thing to do with Serenity or Firefly( I am definately not one of the latter, I am a full blown fledged Browncoat and proud) who cares if the movie was a flop or a massive box office hit what should matter is how much you care about the work that you did and who you did it with". I can tell you now the cast that I have met from Firefly & Serenity are bigger fans of the Verse than the Browncoats themselves they loved the fact that us fans loved it that much too that they were able to get together again and make Serenity.

    As Mr Universe said " YOU CAN’T STOP THE SIGNAL"

    Sorry about spelling.

  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    10 October 2005 21:54, by Daniel Legg
    All hail Devin Faraci’s roaring ego.
  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    10 October 2005 23:13, by Anonymous
    I’m a huge Buffy fan who watched Firefly and thought it was okay, but if not for my friends who are rabid Firefly fans, I never would have thought about the show again. As someone who had a basic knowledge of the Firefly universe and regular contact with self-proclaimed Browncoats, I can say with all honesty I had ZERO interest in seeing this movie. It looked about as good as the show and since the show only mildly held my interest, why would I spend $10 to see it continued on the big screen? No amount of evangelizing from friends made me want to see it either - they already loved the show way more than I did in the first place, so of course they’d love the movie too. Which is fair enough, everyone likes different things to different degrees. But I found myself having to be cruel to be kind to some of these friends, telling them months ago, when the Serenity preview screenings first began, that this film was not going to lead to a Star Trek like franchise. I knew it back in May, and I was proved right this week. Firefly/Serenity is a cult phenomenon and that is all it is ever going to be. There is nothing wrong with that, but the desperation of some Browncoats to make Firefly/Serenity into a huge, cultural phenomenon strikes me as sad. For whatever reason - from mishandling by FOX during it original airing to the premise that is hard to explain - this is a universe with cult appeal, and nothing more. It was never, ever going to be huge. And Devin Faraci’s coverage of the entire Serenity situation has be spot on.
  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    11 October 2005 00:30, by sylvia ortiz domney

    I know why I supported this film - one simple reason - I love films and I am utterly tired of all the really bad films that are being made, I am tired of Lousy TVland programs, I am tired of the film industry thinking that all they have to do is OFFER UP A BIG BEAUTIFUL MOVIE STAR and that is enough for the film viewers. I am tired of having something like War of the Worlds and The Island being made and the film industry thinking that people who view films are so dim witted as to think these films are "Good" and worthy of respect, not to mention our money.

    I support Serenity and the work of Joss Whedon for one reason and one reason only - I am not a fool and I don’t appreciate Hollywood or TVland thinking that I am or that I will swallow any stupid project they produce and that I will happily spend my money just to see them - Think, The Island.

    And, BTW, where were all these BROWNCOAT fanatics, I saw this film twice simply because I will gladly help encourage the production of Good Films, not because I am some crazed, I have no life without The Verse, fanatic - and I did not encounter one of these Crazy Browncoats you keeping talking about.

  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    11 October 2005 04:15, by sicklittlemonky
    This guy seems like a prick, but I don’t think he’s wrong. He brings up some serious points about the author/audience relationship, as well as questions about the ethics of using your fan base as a marketing tool. You would expect the people who watch your movie to spread the word, but Joss has a tendency to look desperate, almost begging for help. I love the movie, saw it twice, but I’m not about to invest my money into promoting it, that’s Universal’s job. I’m disappointed that there likely won’t be a sequel, but I’m not going to let that ruin my appreciation for an above-average film that gave us some closure to the story and characters we love. Everybody needs to just chill and stop scaring the press! It’s just a movie...
  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    11 October 2005 07:00, by Saltygoodness
    I’m a fan. Dyed in the wool. But even my love of all things Joss couldn’t conceal the fact that "Serenity" is a nice little movie. It isn’t Star Trek or Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. I’m thrilled the fans got the movie. And, believably, it was enough.
  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    11 October 2005 19:51, by Dave
    Hey. At least we got to see the movie.
  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    15 October 2005 02:39, by Anonymous
    I found this article informative and intelligent. I love sci fi and fantasy, action movies, and appreciate that others do also, and therefore can understand partially what drives fandom. However the angst over how many tickets this movie sold, or will sell, is not the point in my opinion. Thankfully just one movie does not make up the total creative contribution of an artist, such as JW. He’ll create much more. I celebrate that we all will have years of enjoying his future works. Here’s to the artists, be they comic book writers, special effects artists, actors, film writers, etc. The creative vision is varied, and always to some extent personal. And if nothing else, interesting, much like life don’t you think?
  • > "Serenity" Movie is out of gas - Chud.com Article

    22 October 2005 11:29, by Soule

    I am possibly the exception to alot of what this article says, as I never watched Firefly as a series, but was very curious about Serenity. I have to say I loved the film and on the back of the film I went and bought the firefly dvd series, and absolutely loved it.

    Now where I agree with this article is, I think because of the takings we will never see another film, but if dvd sales increase on the series due to the film, and then the film does well on dvd, I can see another series of Firefly on the books. Which if I am honest, I feel Firefly is much more of a series than a film, although the film was very good the series did the story alot more justice.

    My personal views on Serenity was that it tried too hard to be funny, the one liners especially at the beginning were very noticeably packed in there and in all honesty just not funny, where as the series was by far funnier without the very noticeable effort of the film. That said if all I can complain about is the oneliners I think this film is (for me) one of the best this year.