Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Direct-to-DVD: The Real Hollywood Slum?

By Mike Gillis

So, "Slumdog Millionaire" has swept the Oscars. The bucket load of gold is no real surprise: It's rags to riches story, set in the slums of Mumbai, is an efficient and heart-felt tale that transcends geography and undeniably stirred strong emotions. Notwithstanding the controversy about whether the film glosses over the depth of real-world Mumbai squalor and poverty, I thought "Slumdog Millionaire" was a rare gem for 2008, and solidifies my admiration for the refreshingly versatile director Danny Boyle.

I did think "The Wrestler" was a better movie, but that's not the point.

In the weeks leading up to the Oscars, I noted with interest the marketing campaign for "Slumdog Millionaire" largely ignored the movie and zeroed in on the difficulty of distribution. It seems there was a well-orchestrated effort to compare the movie's story with that of its filmmakers. In the film, Jamal (Dev Patal) overcomes great odds and not a little abuse to ... well, I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it. For weeks, I've been reading about how Slumdog and Danny Boyle overcame the odds and not a little abuse before finding its way to cinemas and Oscar gold. Many accounts point out, with horror, that Slumdog almost found itself in the dustheap of direct-to-DVD until Fox Searchlight funded a daring rescue at the last minute.

That got me to thinking about how many films aren't so lucky. How many films over the last decade were scooped up at Sundance or elsewhere, only to get lost in the shuffle of theatrical distribution and promotion, finding a lifeline only on DVD or cable. It goes without saying that many movies that do hit the big screen deserving of Oscar recognition are ignored.

I wondered, does the system work? Did Slumdog have its day because someone, somewhere in the post-creative process, corrected a course of bad or ill-informed decisions?

I don't know, of course. What I can do, I thought, is consider other films rescued from obscurity in the nick of time. But I can't find any. I see plenty of lists of undistributed films -- which is a separate discussion -- but no "could-have-been-a-contender" movies doomed to DVD. I'd love to hear from others who know of some.

There's no doubt the direct-to-DVD market is growing -- it seems it's the only fiscally sensible way for studios to churn out a medicocre sequel these days -- along with, surprisingly, the DVD market.

To me, though, it underlines how movie-viewing habits and expectations have changed. I'm a broken record when I sound off about movies as disposable entertainment so I'll spare you.

So, I'm looking for some help. Do you have a list or can you pass on a movie that deserved a theatrical release, but went straight to DVD or obscurity?