Movies On My Mind

Straight to streaming for new films amid shutdown

With closures of movie theatres because of the coronavirus, studios are rerouting their 2020 films online quicker than usual

Coming soon to that iPad in your hand are the Vin Diesel cyborg action pic Bloodshot, the Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus marital comedy Downhill, and Pixar Animation's fun-filled Onward.

Every other movie, in short, only recently in a cinema in your neighbourhood.

How the world has since been upended by Covid-19. In Singapore too, multiplex chains and art houses alike have shuttered to curb the contagion, and a Hollywood in need of an alternate revenue source is increasingly rerouting its 2020 films online.

Universal Pictures has freed up its current horror hit The Invisible Man as well as the Jane Austen adaptation Emma for home viewing in the United States. That's unprecedented, almost a transgression. Major movies have all the while respected a 70-to 90-day exclusive theatrical run before widening onto video-on-demand and, lastly, streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and iTunes, but really, this is not the time for polite industry rules.

Rival studios have been quick to follow, shortening, if not bypassing entirely, the interval between their own theatrical and digital releases.

The animated adventure Onward, about two elf brothers on a magical quest, has been available for purchase two weeks after its cinema debut, and DC Entertainment's superhero fantasy Birds Of Prey barely seven weeks after a psychedelic Margot Robbie tore through the screen.

Walt Disney Pictures put its blockbuster animation sequel Frozen II on Disney+ three months ahead of schedule so as to "surprise families with some fun and joy during this challenging period". Of course, getting some new subscribers in return would also be nice.

The Lovebirds is a romantic caper co-starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as a couple accidentally embroiled in a murder mystery. It never even made its April 3 American premiere, becoming the first studio picture diverted straight to a streamer - namely, Netflix - because of the pandemic.

What option does it have? Wait indefinitely until cinemas reopen and then jostle with the logjam of delayed releases for a slot?

China's studios were dropping their productions directly online as early as the Chinese New Year in response to the fast-evolving outbreak, including the holiday season's biggest title, Lost In Russia, directed by and starring local superstar Xu Zheng as a middle-aged divorce trapped with his overbearing mother on a six-day train trip from Beijing to Moscow. The comedy was streamed over 600 million times by 180 million households within three days.

Those are staggering numbers. Streaming services are clearly more necessary now than ever amid the sweeping shutdowns and nationwide lockdowns. They are a lifeline for beleaguered movies, and they keep the bored yet anxious masses entertained, rescuing them from incipient toilet paper madness.

Birds Of Prey, starring Margot Robbie (above), and Bloodshot, which stars Vin Diesel, are among the new titles to get an early digital release.
Birds Of Prey, starring Margot Robbie (above), and Bloodshot, which stars Vin Diesel, are among the new titles to get an early digital release. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

Birds Of Prey, starring Margot Robbie (above), and Bloodshot, which stars Vin Diesel, are among the new titles to get an early digital release.
Birds Of Prey, starring Margot Robbie and Bloodshot (above), which stars Vin Diesel, are among the new titles to get an early digital release. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

Scroll past the predictable highlights like Frozen II and the umpteenth Star Wars instalment and you will be astonished at the vast library of fascinating offerings beneath the content overload, everything from prestige rarities to under-appreciated indie gems.

Netflix has the Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli's catalogue of 21 classics, all the wonder and beauty of master storyteller Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001).

And alongside the ageless re-issues are the latest, heavily garlanded festival acquisitions.

Atlantics, the Grand Jury Prize winner at last year's Cannes, is a haunting supernatural romance cum socio-realist fable from Senegal centred around the women left behind in Dakar when the city's exploited labourers set sail in search of better lives and vanish at sea.

Monos from Colombia is on iTunes and an unsettling survivalist saga set on a remote mountaintop in Latin America, where a ragtag gang of armed teen guerillas guard a kidnapped hostage. The kids swiftly descend into savagery.

I Lost My Body, like Atlantics, is on Netflix, and, like Monos, this French animation feature was this year's Academy Awards entry, winning eventually the Annie Award (the Oscars of the animation industry). It is a one-of-a-kind odyssey of a severed hand that escapes from a refrigerator in a lab and braves many a misadventure across the suburbs of Paris to reconnect with its body.

Were it not for the streaming providers, the riches of international cinema - and the line-up grows by the day - might never have found their way to moviegoers. The streamers together make up the sole remaining film festival at a time when festivals are being successively cancelled. The virus spares nothing.

Social distancing can be an occasion for hours of artful discovery as you self-isolate at home.

And in defiance of closed borders, these subtitled stories from foreign lands near and far can be your connection to a global community.

You are not alone, dear readers. Stay safe until we meet again to share popcorn, laughter and tears in the collective warmth of a cinema hall because there will be such a day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2020, with the headline 'Straight to streaming for new films amid shutdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe