For better or worse Netflix is a global phenomenon.
Having been around since 2012, the movie and TV streaming giant has gone from strength to strength, now boasting a long list of originally made content; from documentaries, to feature-length films, to television shows, and all to varying degrees of audience appreciation and critical acclaim.
For every Stranger Things (excluding the disappointment of season two) there’s a Disjointed. For a Hush there’s a Ridiculous 6. And, as with the film and TV industries in general, there will always be hits and misses, successes and failures – the question is, is Netflix doing all it can to produce top quality film content suitable for the small-screen and its huge audience?
While it’s largely down to opinion whether something is deemed good with a strong level of subjectivity as a deciding factor), there’s been a rather mixed bag of content produced exclusively for it.
There is plenty of great content made for Netflix – no one is disputing that. The Square was superb, as was Ava DuVernay’s 13th; as both were lauded Oscar-nominated efforts in the Best Documentary categories. Other titles such as last year’s Wheelman prove that great thrillers can be made; Okja, too, was a poignant and at times devastating movie; Gerald’s Game was a solid and chilling Stephen King adaptation as well.
Notably this year has also seen four-time Oscar-nominated Mudbound hit the streaming service, which is showing Netflix is doing some things right.
Yet there are a number of films, such as Bright, the cringe-worthy When We First Met, The Cloverfield Paradox that suddenly appeared, and most recently Mute that have failed to hit the mark. All released over the past few months; all universally panned.
It doesn’t exactly paint a positive picture when a handful of films over such a short space of time can hit the platform and receive slating after slating.
It is, however, the experience that’s also a major concern. While quality may peak or dip (depending on what you watch), it’s the user experience and interactivity with the medium that’s also a prevalent issue.
There’s a feeling in my mind that Netflix are doing the film world a disservice. Personally, I find it easier to reel off a list of the bad releases and struggle to name half a dozen of the great ones.
The problem is that because the service is so popular and making money hand over fist, there’s the breadth of opportunity. The scope for diverse and varied content should be making itself known by now – but it’s not.
Instead of an exciting, inventive, or experimental edge their money could certainly muster, Netflix appear to be playing it safe with lowest common denominator genre fodder. When a four-movie deal with Adam Sandler was announced (after already funding The Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over), it spoke volumes where the company wanted to go and, worryingly, the planned path it saw itself heading down. But viewers, ironically or not, seemed to love it.
That said, Jones’ Mute was set up to be an intriguing movie from a director who’d give us thought-provoking titles such as Moon and Source Code. But that wasn’t to be after critics slammed it as a poor man’s Blade Runner that felt convoluted beyond belief and was, let’s be honest, boring as hell.
The truth is you inevitably lose something special when watching a film on the small screen, especially when a title’s transferred from or intended for the silver one.
In some cases Marvel films are a sad casualty of big to small screen syndrome. The likes of Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Solider, in my opinion, don’t transfer well or excite on a second watch. Whether it’s because the twists and reveals are no longer surprises or that is simply doesn’t resonate well in your living room as opposed to a packed out cinema is open to debate.
In fact, plenty of action film suffer from this and underwhelm on a re-watch, when used to the benefits of a cinema theater viewing. At home there isn’t the booming surround sound (or at least not to the same epic scale), the smaller screen size can detract from the magnitude of the event, too, as can the darkened room filled with popcorn-eating strangers we often take for granted. While the latter few points are in some cases preferable to avoid, there’s undoubtedly an irreplaceable experience that the home is often lacking.
Would Mute have performed better on the big screen during a limited theatrical run? Probably not, but the fact is we are not given that chance. Our opportunity, as film watchers, is denied thanks to this new production and distribution model Netflix have adopted and begun to dominate the globe with.
While getting exclusive access to new movies (Annihilation, for example, is on its way) is undeniably a great step forward for home entertainment, we’re also suffering at the hands of the ‘small screen night in’ that may feel convenient to watch a brand new movie in a onesie and slippers, yet inevitably we lose the magic of that entire encompassing experience of visiting the cinema.
Lennie James & Suranne Jones shine in harrowing drama Save Me
Game of Thrones: The one decision that could get everyone killed
Jamestown season two can be a success if controversies are handled correctly