Maybe if Charles Darwin were played by Will Smith, was a gun-toting robot sent back from the future to learn how to love, and to kill the crap out of the alien baby eaters cleverly disguised as Galapagos tortoises, and then some way were contrived for Jennifer Connelly to expose her breasts to RoboDarwin two-thirds of the way through the film, and there were explosions and lasers and stunt men flying 150 feet into the air, then we might be talking wide-release from a modern major studio.
It’s a funny riff on a pretty obvious problem: Who’s going to go watch it? I’m interested in the topic of the movie because there are few that touch on human evolution at all, but I’m not sure I’m interested enough to go and see it. A nineteenth-century costume drama about a dying child and a man’s struggle with faith and guilt about cousin marriage – I’m pretty sure if that came on Masterpiece Theatre, I’d turn the channel. Does it matter if it’s Darwin? I’d like to think that it gave the writers a chance to make it interesting, but from what I’ve seen so far I have little hope of that.
Anyway, this is precisely the time that the producers are bargaining with possible distributors, so they have every incentive to try to get as much free marketing as they can, and as we all know controversy sells. A blockbuster movie is seen in theaters by fewer than 15 million Americans. A decent-grossing Oscar contender is seen by fewer than 3 million – not one person in a hundred. There have been plenty of movies that are openly hostile to the majority of people that get distribution and make a lot of money, because only a narrow few have to actually go to the theater. The trick is motivating those few.
In this case, the producers have decided to get people to take their medicine by convincing them that their neighbors are getting worse.
It’s probably a marketing win. Probably moreso than the RoboDarwin version. Heck, “Homo erectus” the movie – which started out as a fairly successful stage play, and ended up rebranded as “National Lampoon’s Stoned Age”, direct to DVD. It had all the things that American audiences love – sight gags, bawdy jokes, Ron Jeremy – hey, it’s “prehysterical”! That was a marketing fail.