Monday, September 4, 2017

An Open Letter to the Powers Behind Marvel's Inhumans

Note:  When I published my “review” of Marvel’s Inhumans, I fully intended my next article on the movie to be a proposal for a better way they could have done it.  However, after I finished writing that article it occurred to me that with the projected box office for Inhumans plummeting like a rock since Friday, Marvel, ABC, and IMAX are probably (justifiably so) concerned about the future of Inhumans as a TV series.  So I decided to put the other article on hold in favor of this open letter to Marvel, ABC, and IMAX.

Note 2:  There will be a couple of minor spoilers for the movie/pilot, but nothing major.

To whom it may concern:

You’re probably not feeling to great right now about Marvel’s Inhumans.  After all, your partnership to produce an 8-episode miniseries about Marvel’s own “Game of Thrones”-like story of court intrigue, rebellion, and romance seems like it’s going to be dead-on-arrival (like most of the cast of Game of Thrones!).  I haven’t found any specific figures for what your budget was, but I assume it was a considerable investment for everyone involved, especially with the level of CGI required by most of the main characters.  And now it looks like you’re not even going to read a $2 million box office figure after your first weekend.  Ouch.

You have every right to be disappointed by this box office figure—after all, it seems like anything with the Marvel logo attached to it will earn more than $2 million on any given day of its theatrical run!  I assume you’re expectations for Inhumans were a little more realistic than to expect Marvel money for this semi-movie, but you probably hoped for a solid number, especially with the lack of competition this weekend.  You’re probably looking to find someone to blame for this failure—if for no other reason than to give yourself a reason to keep your job!

Now, before you go out and do something rash like demand that Jeph Loeb and Joe Quesada banish Scott Buck from the Marvel Sandbox™ forever, let’s take a look at just what went wrong here.  Because I don’t think you can blame Scott Buck for everything that went wrong, and I also don’t think that the situation is as bad as I’m sure it looks from your office.

Let’s start by looking at the concepts themselves:  turn a relatively-unknown Marvel property into a TV series and give the TV series a boost by screening the first couple episodes—the “Pilot”—as a movie.  The first of these is (obviously) good.  After all, Marvel TV has been doing a great job of taking unknowns and turning them into hits—just look at Jessica Jones.  The Gifted, Cloak and Dagger, and Runaways all look like possible hits.  The Defenders is paving the way for a whole universe of Marvel heroes on Netflix.  Why shouldn’t the Inhumans also be a valid candidate for a TV series?  Considering the level of publicity they have received in recent years, including several crossovers with both the Avengers and the X-Men in the comics, and multiple arcs through the first four seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Inhumans should be a slam dunk—or at least work well enough to get another season!

The second concept here—the theater screening of the double-length “Pilot” as a movie—is also good (albeit qualified).  Considering that we were “promised” an Inhumans movie back when Marvel Studios announced all of Phase 3, a lot of fans were really excited to see Black Bolt, Medusa, and the rest on the big screen.  Given the hype among the fanbase, you can be excused for thinking that fans (hardcore fans, at least) would turn out for anything with the “Marvel” logo, especially if it included the Inhumans.  And approaching this “Pilot” as a movie in filming and advertising should have ensured that more than just the hardcore fans would turn out to see it.  So what happened?

First off, I do not think that it was a bad idea for you to “preview” Inhumans in the theater a month before the series premiere.  I have actually wondered on occasion if Marvel TV would ever get into the TV-movie business—producing a feature length movie within the confines of its various TV series.  In fact, I thought that might be a good format for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to adopt in season 5, considering that it will air on Fridays (when people usually go out to the theater anyways).  Taking two episodes out of your season order and producing them together, approaching them like a movie, is a time-honored approach for season premieres and finales.

Having said that, the concept of airing the “Pilot” in theaters is not without its flaws.  To see a movie in the theater costs money, while watching a TV episode at home is free (aside from TV subscription).  In other words, you need to give viewers a reason to go to the theater and pay theater prices, either because this isn’t going to air on TV or because it is a far better experience with theater quality.  Unfortunately, Inhumans does not do that.  Because this is just the first two episodes (and then not the complete first two episodes), many viewers will choose to stay home and wait until they can watch it (in full) on TV for free, especially since you are still charging IMAX prices for a movie that’s just over half the length of a feature film!  And the visuals in the movie are nice, but I don’t think that the IMAX technology really enhances the experience all that much.

I think that will account for your poor box office numbers and reception, more than any major failing in the TV series itself.

And that’s something you need to keep in mind:  the fact that Inhumans is not working out as a movie has very little bearing on whether it can work out as a TV series.  The actors are stiff in their parts (especially Triton), but that’s to be expected in a pilot episode:  the actors haven’t had an opportunity to grow into their characters yet.  That will probably change over the course of the season.  The special effects are not movie quality, but with a little more work they would certainly be television quality—especially since you’ve effectively removed most of the major effects-budget-drains (Lockjaw, Triton, Medusa’s hair, Attilan itself).  I hope that you will take advantage of this (momentary) reprieve to work out the kinks, figure out why Attilan looks so bad (that shouldn’t be too hard, guys!), and ensure that the effects are more polished the next time you show them.

In other words, the problems with this movie are not deal-breakers for this show.  The actors will (hopefully) get better as the season progresses, and assuming that you give them another season, they will do great in season 2.  As it is, a lot of the actors are already pretty good (especially Gorgon and Karnak).  And as far as the effects are concerned, who knows?  Maybe when you show this again at the end of the month, the effects for Attilan will not look so terrible when they’re not projected in IMAX quality!

So don’t give up on this series just yet.  And don’t give up on the idea of starting a series out on the big screen before its small-screen premiere.  That concept can still work.

The reason Inhumans doesn’t work on the big screen isn’t because the Inhumans aren’t a good enough draw (Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange weren’t that big of properties, either), and it’s not because the series itself doesn’t work.  The reason it doesn’t work on the big screen is because you haven’t given people a reason to see it on the big screen.  Remember:  not only will this be available for free at the end of this month (4 weeks after the theatrical release), but it will have more footage!  I understand why you cut it down for the theater and are expanding it for TV:  that gives people a reason to watch it again on TV (thus setting them up to watch the series).  Unfortunately, that’s the wrong way to look at it.  If people are going to watch the series, they’ll watch the first 2 episodes on TV.  But if people are going to watch the series on TV, you need to give them a compelling reason to watch it in IMAX first.

Yes, the IMAX quality was supposed to be the big “draw” for audiences to watch it in theaters.  But it just doesn’t work.  As I’ve already said, using IMAX cameras and angles isn’t enough to justify that added expense ($14 for IMAX versus $10 or $6 for regular versus $0 for watching on TV) to see it in IMAX theaters.  In the entire movie there are only about 4 scenes I remember which looked like they needed to be shown in IMAX, and two of them were CGAttilan!  That’s just plain not enough.  That’s why the theatrical release isn’t going to work this time around.

So how can you fix this next time around?  It’s actually pretty simple:


The easiest way to do this would be to treat the theatrical release as a prequel movie that will tell its own story and set up the overarching plot for the season.  And then don’t show it on TV as the first two episodes of the series.  I know that means writing, shooting, and paying for additional screen time, but it will be worth it.  Give us something good, something interesting, something exciting, and the box office receipts from this prequel movie may very well pay the budget for the entire series and then some—and let you use movie-quality special effects for the entire series!

If you approach the movie like it’s a movie, give us movie quality, and don’t’ turn around and show it on TV, I think people will be willing to pay movie prices to see a movie.

Oh, and make sure you give us something closer to movie length.  $14 for 75 minutes really isn’t worth it.

I know you’re going to be asking yourselves a lot of difficult questions over the next few weeks before the television premiere of Inhumans.  And you should be.  Maybe you need to make a change to the series’ direction.  Maybe you need to find a new showrunner (a little late for that).  Maybe any number of things need to change.  But I would suggest that after you ask yourselves these questions, you wait a few weeks before answering them.  Wait until you see how the series is received on television before making any radical changes.

Because I think this show might be fine.  Mostly.  Still a few kinks to work out, but hopefully they’ll work themselves out.


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