A $90 million release around Christmas time would suggest just another day at work for any A-List film star in Hollywood, and yet David Ayer’s Bright featuring Will Smith is far from the typical big holiday release.
One of the reasons for the film simply not being seen as a standard Hollywood blockbuster despite featuring all the necessary ingredients – in addition to a top-notch star, there is a tested director (Suicide Squad) and enough big ticket special effects to go well with the popcorn – could have to do with the fact that it debuted in your living room as opposed to the traditional big screen.
In a bid to rewrite the rules of film marketing, Netflix outbid other studios to pick up the dystopian action thriller where mystical figures such as orcs, elves co-exist with humans, pumped in $90 million to get it made and then practically undid the cinematic experience tailor-made for the giant screen by releasing the film on streaming platform.
A few years ago Smith’s name would have been enough to get people to the cinema halls but even his presence here, replete with his standard smart-alec one-liners and some truly well-executed action set pieces are not able to help Bright take off. The film was mostly panned and stands at 30% of Rotten Tomatoes.
Bright — as a critic succinctly summed up in terms of its probable elevator pitch- Training Day meets Lord of the Rings with a bit of Minority Report thrown in for good measure — is jaded from the word go and with each passing minute becomes painfully boring. It’s not surprising then that some critics have called this “misguided mashup of cop and fantasy genres” the worst of 2017 and yet Netflix has already green-lit a sequel.
Just like the reaction that Bright generated amongst critics, the call for its sequel, too, might be an expected thing. Netflix could have very well worked out some algorithm magic to ensure that Bright is seen across its 100 million-subscriber audience base and not be dependent on the standard method to optimize the opening-weekend collection. Netflix has been known to invest heavily in emphasising its recommendation software that learns about the viewer taste and suggests the perfect title. Mix that with a familiar face such as Will Smith and what you have is a long-term game at play where cultural conversations would go on introducing and re-introducing films or TV shows to newer viewers regularly.
In fact, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has often credited Netflix of getting new viewers to his show constantly.
Irrespective of the fate of Bright, Netflix is bound to gain one way or the other but where does that leave Will Smith? The only film star in the history to have eight consecutive $100 million blockbusters, Smith’s impact on the box office can be gauged from the fact that Fourth of July weekend was once dubbed ‘Big Willie Weekend’ as that was the time he would set records.
Today, his release debuts on a streaming platform and forget the bad press, there aren’t any numbers to even suggest how many people viewed the film!
If one were to consider the transition in the way stardom is now gauged perhaps Bright could be considered an experiment on the part of a bona fide movie star and also an attempt to keep pace with the change in popular culture is consumed.
For a few years now, Will Smith hasn’t been the colossus that he once was. In the last eight years, he has had more high profile productions (Seven Pounds, After Earth, Concussion, Focus, and Collateral Beauty) faring below expectations than the monster hits that he associated with. Also, Smith’s dip in box office popularity comes at a time when stardom in itself is changing and has said in an interview, “You almost can’t make new movie stars anymore, right?”
Moreover, Smith is also very clear that unlike the past where figures such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Tom Cruise were made gigantic figures as fans had limited access, fans today are almost a part of the “creative process.”
In that aspect, could then the bad reviews of Bright — and some are really bad (someone called it stunning in its audacity and its stupidity) — be a small price for Will Smith to usher in a new phase of his stardom? Smith is still a brand big enough to make his kind of films but the studios might not be the best place for him.
Netflix signed a four-film deal with Adam Sandler earlier in March 2017, and so Smith could be getting ready to make your living room screen slightly bigger after his cinema screen shrunk a bit.