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What Went Wrong With… Sky Cinema Original Films?

The Sky Cinema logo with the text Original Films? below

After dismissing and ignoring them for years, Sky seem to have finally realised that they have to compete with Netflix and Amazon Video. Very much like the Post Office ignoring the proliferation of electronic mail and subsequently being usurped by other companies in their own sector, Sky has been complacent as a large section of their subscribers have jumped ship. Dismayed by the ever-increasing cost of subscription, many have “cut the chord” and moved over to the relatively cheaper internet equivalents who make exclusive content for a smaller price tag.

With both Netflix and Amazon beginning to impede on Sky’s territory, often premiering big blockbusters well before Sky Cinema as well as creating some of their own, Sky have recently come up with a solution, to fight their rivals with a handful of original movies, movies that will be available to Sky Cinema subscribers on the same day that they’re released in the cinema. Now on paper, this sounds like a good idea, after all, Sky plc is part owned by 21st Century Fox (and they will be co-owned by Disney and Comcast in the near future). 21st Century Fox as you may know, are owners of Fox Entertainment Group whose assets include 20th Century Fox, so surely Sky making their own movies will be a cinch right? Well, apparently not.

By sourcing woeful movies created by random production companies and mediocre writers and directors, the “Sky Cinema Original Film” banner hasn’t been attached to anything worth watching, in fact if you see it mentioned during the opening title sequence, you can pretty much treat it as a heads-up to change the channel. It therefore doesn’t matter that subscribers can watch these flicks on their Sky box the same day as they’re released in the cinema, because nobody wants to go to the multiplex to watch any of these mediocre movies. And just because Alex “Sycophant” Zane is contractually obliged to interview the makers of each film and act as if these are the next “big things” of cinema, we the audience are now savvy to the tricks of overrating and self-promotion.

Surely a much better idea was to team-up with Fox Searchlight Pictures and re-brand some of their offerings as “Sky Cinema Original Films” which during the Oscar season, would be a great way for people to watch smaller, indie films directly in their home instead of going out to the cinema but nope, Sky seem to have ignored their industry connections and have elected to make some of the most disappointing, wannabe big-budget films around. The ironic thing about this whole situation is that back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sky actually had a company called Sky Pictures in order to directly compete with their competition of the day (namely BBC and Film 4 who fund and produce films as BBC Films and Film4 Productions respectively). Sky Pictures were responsible for films such as Saving Grace and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and although they weren’t exactly earth-shattering, they were a far cry from the current crop of crap by Sky Cinema. Had Sky Pictures kept up their momentum, maybe, just maybe, they would now be making better movies than Netflix but alas, they failed to see the bigger picture (pardon the pun).

So which movies are “Sky Cinema Original Films” I hear you ask, well prepare yourself for the smallest and most disappointing list since Verne Troyer’s filmography. Drum-role please …Sky Cinema Original Films (in no particular order) are… Hurricane Heist, Monster Family, Anon, and Final Score. Flipping hell! If you’ve never watched these films don’t bother; Hurricane Heist is basically a shit Hard Rain, Final Score is a shit Sudden Death and Anon and Monster Family are just shit.

More accurately, Hurricane Heist is Hard Rain meets Twister meets Die Hard 4.0 (which sounds as bad as it is). This is a movie which contains numerous pieces of modern technology (drones and tablets etc.) but the crux of the plot revolves around stealing actual paper cash with actual guns and actual vehicles. There’s Ralph Ineson and Ben Cross speaking in some of the worst American accents captured on film (with Ineson also doing some terrible overacting). Since they were surrounded by a bunch of Z-list actors including Melissa Bolona and Christian Contreras, I assume the bad-acting was contagious, even the talented Toby Kebbell didn’t give a good a performance. There’s also an annoyingly cliched subplot involving an ex Gulf War veteran and there’s a bunch of unbelievable computer hackers à la Live Free Or Die Hard. I’m sure the script read as badly as the finished film looks and that being the case, it should have never have been put into production. It should have been flung into the nearest hurricane available.

Anon is a drab, grey, unexciting science fiction movie about personal privacy in an ever-connected world. The director is Andrew Niccol who made two brilliant movies early on in his career (Truman Show and Gattaca) but hasn’t made anything worth watching since. Unfortunately for him and us, Anon isn’t bucking this trend. The film is overly stylised and concerned more with preaching to the audience about technology rather than making an enjoyable movie (think S1m0ne). The end result is like watching a bunch of technophobes trying to warn the public about the perils of contemporary and future tech but by failing to enthral the audience they also fail to get their message across. Basically, Anon is Minority Report meets 1984 meets The Eyes Of Laura Mars with the aesthetics of a perfume ad. And even though that might sound appealing, it’s not, in fact it stinks.

Monster Family was actually the first Sky Cinema Original Film and during the time of its release, all the promotion of Sky’s services including phone and broadband was marketed using characters from this movie. This is part of the reason Sky Cinema Originals never took off because their opening gambit was so weak. Monster Family is a terrible animation, it’s not necessarily drawn or realised badly (although it’s not exactly original) it’s just unfunny and uninspiring. There’s annoying singing, unnecessary farting and burping, the mouths of the characters don’t always match their voices (because I assume, they were originally German) and most importantly, the script is snore-inducing (in fact I turned the film off half way through). This is no Monster House, it’s no Hotel Transylvania, and it’s no Incredibles, it looks as though the creators hoped their bat characters would be equivalents of the Minions in Despicable Me but they’re not. Basically, Monster Family will appeal to absolutely nobody in your family.

There’s also Final Score which is essentially a very, very shit Die Hard. There’s the line by Arkady (the main bad guy in the movie) “Oleg how are we doing… then don’t waste time talking to me” which is a direct rip-off of Hans Gruber’s “Theo… how’s our schedule… then don’t waste time talking to me”. Since this film doesn’t mind stealing scenes and lines from an action classic, you’d think that some of the magic of the original would rub off on it, even if by accident. But no, the protagonists and antagonists talk over walkie talkies without even a smidgen of thrill or witticism of John McTiernan’s classic. As well as thieving from Die Hard, the whole concept of having a sports stadium-based-Die-Hard was already done in Sudden Death and since there’s a scene with someone trapped in a refrigerator as well as fighting in a kitchen with a frying pan, it’s also an imitation of Under Siege. This means that aside from copying Die Hard, Final Score is copying copies of Die Hard which makes it a copy of a copy, and if you remember VHS tapes, that means this is the worst copy of all. Just like Hurricane Heist, there’s another cliched subplot about an ex-soldier, some caricatured baddies, atrocious acting, not to mention some of the worst music ever, this is simply a terrible movie. When West Ham’s Upton Park stadium was about to be demolished, they should have wrapped the explosives around the script to Final Score.

The look of these movies is also distinctly amateur. Hurricane Heist and Final Score in particular resemble films showing on Horror Channel on a weekday afternoon (think Sharknado 9 and 10). The fact that Hurricane Heist and Monster Family both bombed at the box office, not to mention that all four of these films have received poor reviews, this surely indicates that Sky Cinema needs to re-think their business model as well as replacing whoever is responsible for picking these filmic shitfests.

Very much like the Marvel and DC rivalry, Netflix has put in years of work to build a fanbase by making above average TV shows and films whilst keeping their subscription relatively low. Sky on the other hand, are playing catch-up with their competitors, and similar to DC, by rushing their output and making back-to-back crap, they’re ruining their own brand. The badge of “A Netflix Original Film/Series” means much more these days because more often than not, they make watchable shows and movies and have spent years honing their craft. With a handful of abysmal movies to their name, “Sky Cinema Original Film” is less like a badge of honour and more of a warning that the following film will be cheap, derivative and almost unwatchable.

To be fair, Sky Cinema Original Films has a couple of movies in the pipeline that sound promising. Firstly there’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile, a movie about Ted Bundy starring Zac Efron and John Malkovich. Alongside this however, there’s the dull drama Life Itself (starring Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde) and the drama-thriller Serenity (starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway) which could go either way. Judging by these upcoming films, the one positive is that these three films don’t sound like more Hurricane Heists and Final Scores. It seems that the B-movie blockbuster is no longer something Sky want their name attached to and hopefully by making films smaller in scope which are focussed more on plot and performance, they can over the coming years claw their way back to the top of their game. What all this shows is that there’s no shortcut to creating a trustworthy brand and dismissing new technology is always done to a corporation’s detriment. If Sky don’t want to be the next Nokia or Sega, they’d better “catch up” like the tab on the Sky menu.

Sky’s The Limit.

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