Wolverine vs. Pirates!
So apparently a full version of X-Men Origins: Wolverine has leaked onto the Internet (albeit unfinished effects and music) weeks ahead of its May 1 theatrical release, and as anyone who knows even a little bit about the web understands, once this happens it's virtually impossible to get the toothpaste back into the tube (i.e. get it off the Internet). I used to work in the music business right as the industry was grappling with the catastrophic impact that illegal online file-sharing had on its decades-old business model; it wasn't pretty (people losing their jobs, companies losing exorbitant amounts of money etc.), and once the boulder starts rolling down the hill pretty much nothing can make it stop. Internet piracy delivered a serious blow to the music industry – ultimately time will tell if it's crippling or even fatal – and now it's the movie industry that's trying to figure out exactly how to deal with the issue.
Bootlegging is a growing problem for the movie and DVD industry – I bought a transit pass the other day at a corner store in my neighbourhood and the wall behind the clerk was filled with DVDs of movies that had just been released theatrically or were due for an official DVD release in the coming weeks – and I think the decision-makers in the film business should look at the mistakes the music industry made in the early days of Napster to see what not to do. (For example, I've never been a big believer in the idea that suing some college kid into destitution because he downloaded a Metallica album or The Dark Knight onto his computer will act as any sort of deterrent for thousands of other people worldwide who do the exact same thing, but mine is not a popular viewpoint in the industry.) I think including digital copies of movies on DVD is a step in the right direction, as one of the reasons (though certainly not the only one) that I've never bothered with downloading movies or buying bootleg DVDs is that the quality is often awful. Apple's iTunes store proved that giving consumers reliably high-quality products, even if they could still ostensibly find an illegal version of the same with minimal effort, can work if implemented correctly.
It'll be very interesting to see if this leak impact's the film's box office success (or, more specifically, in the event that Wolverine is seen to underperform, if it'll be used as an excuse). Personally, I think the movie looks pretty crappy. And I say that not only as a comic book geek, but as a comic book geek for whom the X-Men franchise holds a very special place in my heart, as the first comic book I really got into in my formative comic-reading years. I've been hearing for years that 20th Century Fox is a studio that doesn't treat its "genre" properties (i.e. comic book movies, sci-fi, action, horror, crime, etc.) with any respect – with the exception of the first two X-Men movies, all their comic book movies have been mediocre-to-downright awful – instead viewing them purely as ways to make money with the effects-driven blockbusters that are in vogue, and Wolverine looks pretty damn generic (and talk that director Gavin Hood, who won a damn Oscar in 2006 for Tsotsi, is unhappy with the studio-imposed changes, is not an encouraging sign either).
The bottom line is, if some people want to seek out a crappy version of Wolverine with unfinished special effects and temp music to watch on their computers, I can't see that affecting the movie's bottom line all that seriously; hell, I'd argue that anyone willing to spend the time and energy it takes to find this thing online is probably interested enough in the movie that they'll pay to see it theatrically no matter what they think of the cruddy bootleg they downloaded. But as technology continues to move forward, it presents a myriad of potential problems for the movie industry to navigate. But considering the dozens, often hundreds of people who work on a film's production nowadays, coupled with the fact that the industry relies almost exclusively on easily-uploaded digital files for effects and editing work, and it's actually kind of amazing this sort of thing doesn't happen more often than it does. I guess we'll see how this plays out.
Labels: Movie news, Random thoughts