A Christmas greeting card and an observation about audiences
December 16, 2016
Earlier this fall I was asked to recommend a film from my home country to my fellow course mates (MA Film Distribution & Marketing) to be analysed from a distribution perspective.
Being a small territory with a rare language, Finnish films rarely travel outside the country. I didn't want to recommend anything small and national and somehow I didn’t feel like recommending anything from our only internationally known director Kaurismäki - an auteur filmmaker who makes great films but with less potential to be analyse from the perspective of commercial exploitation.
So I turned to one of the most hyped filmmakers in recent years Jamari Helander and his latest internationally oriented original adventure film Big Game. This blog post will analyse the film and the issues that prevented Big Game from really making it big in the wide world - although the films had all the potential - a cast including Samuel L. Jackson, a very original story and a cult reputation.
A little bit of background..
Big Game is the second feature film from award winning, cutting edge commercial director Jalmari Helander. He initially gained recognition with his original Christmas tale Rare Export (2010) that was based on a brilliant short film (2003) made as a Christmas Greeting Card by a commercial company Woodpecker films. Have a look - it's pretty amazing! The short is written and directed by Jalmari Helander.
After exploiting the theme of Farther Christmas hunting in a feature film, Helander returned with another original and bold feature film idea, Big Game - a story about a young Finnish boy rescuing the President of United States from terrorist in the wilderness of Lapland.
Big Game was released in March, 2015 in Finland and subsequently in the US, UK, central Europe, Middle East and Asia. The film opened at number #1 in Finland, grossing a total of 1 300 000.
Big Game is full of explosions, fighting, suspense, punchy lines of dialogue and great visuals - an unusual genre film to be made in Finland. This was used cleverly in the film’s marketing. Big Game managed to create a lot of buzz in Finland for its record high budget and international cast. One of Finland’s top film critics, Kalle Kinnunen even wrote a book based on the production of the film which was released simultaneously with the film. For the culture enthusiasts Big Game became a must see film yet it also had commercial appeal. And having Samuel L. Jackson onboard - in a Finnish production - was huge! The whole country seemed to be very proud of the film, and saw it perhaps as a sign of Finland finally making internationally successful films, decades behind our neighbours Denmark and Sweden. This was a marketing tactic that was impossible to mimic in any other territories.
Big Game draws its influences from B-movies and 80s and 90s action films. These elements are most familiar to a 25+ male audiences. Yet the film’s main character is a 13-year-old boy on a coming-of-age journey. And here lies the biggest issues of the film - it doesn’t have a key audience.
Peter Sobczynski, who writes at Roger Ebert’s website describes the film as ‘one of those films that tries to embrace two different potential audiences and winds up missing both marks—it is a little too silly for adults and a little too nasty for kids’ (rogerebert.com, 2015). This is especially true when it comes to the film’s violence and language. Helander insisted on having Samuel L Jackson be the first US president to say ‘motherfucker’ on film, but was later pressured to cut it from the US version because that would have meant a higher age limit (Kinnunen, 2015). Same applies to the violence. The 25+ male audiences would have probably enjoyed a rougher version of the film but that would have consequently excluded the pre-teens from the audience.
A way to combine these two audiences would have been to aim the film at fathers and sons - those who used to enjoy the action filled B-movies of the 80s and 90s and their kids. A pity that the film was about a decade too early for that - the sons are yet to be born or to say at least, grown up from their nappies.
All said, I enjoyed Big Game. It is a good spice for popcorn on a Sunday night!
EDIT March, 2017 - The R-rated Logan seemed to work pretty well considering it had around a 13-year-old supporting character and basically a 'kids beat the odds' type of ending - while being extremely bloody through out!