I’ve noticed a trend lately of English-language films that have been produced and mostly financed outside of America. I’m not talking about the latest Working Title Brit-com, or even the high-brow Dickens adaption – they’ve been doing those for a years.
I’m talking about District 9 and Taken. These are fairly high-budgeted films with their sites set firmly on America, and probably with distribution in place (I don’t know). They were studio movies made outside the studio system. They’re not indies, because indies are an American thing. They are foreign films, embraced by audiences because they are foreign. Because they are different. Because they could never be made in the current studio system. They may have (and look like they have) lower budgets than a big Hollywood film, but they still look damn good, and, as I’ve been saying, it’s amazing what you’re willing to overlook when you like a movie.
Let me just say that again: these movies cannot be made in the studio system.
Look at Taken, where Liam Neeson’s character is an unrelenting killer, hell-bent on getting his daughter back. Here’s why it couldn’t be made in America: he’s cruel. He doesn’t just drop a casual, sadistic line off before shooting someone. He tortures someone, then kills them in the most painful way he can think of. You think this was survive a Hollywood script meeting with D-people wondering if the audience was going to sympathize with the hero? No fucking way. There’s no character arc. He hasn’t learned anything at the end. If anything, he’s proven to everyone else that his paranoid craziness was justified. He’s not even a good father.
District 9 involves a spaceship landing in South Africa. (That, in itself, is refreshing.) But what’s really refreshing to me was the main character, who was just so different than what you find in the American version of this movie. Instead of the super-tough, macho shithead that usually carries these films, District 9 has a bureaucratic clown who’s only qualification was that he married the right girl. He’s not particularly good at his job – an impossibility in an American action movie. Even in Pehlem 123, the train operator was a total expert, hard-working blue collar “everyman”. District 9’s hero is a racist, power goes to his head, right to the end he’s only looking out for himself.
This stuff just does not happen in Hollywood. My point is that this is competition, in the same way that Toyota was competition to GM in the 70’s. The only difference is that the studios own the theaters (or access to them) so they distribute these films. They know they can’t make them, and they’re cheaper than they can make them, it fills up their slates and they make them money.
They make money because audiences are desperate for something that is not the crap that Hollywood is making right now. For years foreign countries have been trying to imitate Hollywood by trying and failing to copy them. But now they’ve grown up on them, they have their own take on what a Hollywood film should be and, with American audiences so bored that they’ll give them a chance, they’re finally succeeding. Change isn’t coming from Hollywood, but at least it’s coming from somewhere.