Blood, guts and glory: Neil Marshall's 'Centurion' hits Video On Demand before an official theatrical US release.

There are a three pet peeves of mine in regards to Hollywood studios. One is messing around with a film’s release date to the point where no filmgoer could find it and/or could care less about the film when newer, better hyped films come out. That’s also around the time folks say the famous five words (“I will wait for video”). Two is not screening theatrical films for mainstream film critics- nine times out of ten, the practice is done to show a studio’s lack of confidence in that film (we think it’s junk/know it’s junk we’ll give you this junk and hope you won’t care)…and then there’s Magnolia Pictures and their genre arm Magnet Releasing.

What does this film company do? Well, if you are not familiar with the young studio, this is it in a nutshell, from thier own website:

Magnolia Pictures ( is the theatrical and home entertainment distribution arm of the Wagner/Cuban Companies, a vertically integrated group of media properties co-owned by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban that also include the Landmark Theatres chain, the production company 2929 Productions, and high definition cable networks HDNet and HDNet Movies.

So what does this mean? Well, if the film is distributed by other studios (such as the terrific James Gray film We Own The Night) nothing too unusual – the studio sets a wide or limited theatrical run just like any other film. If, however, the film, produced or picked up by Magnolia and/or it’s genre arm Magnet releasing (such as Gray’s equally compelling Two Lovers or Let The Right One In, Ong Bak 1 and 2, Splinter and the upcoming Centurion…? Then, a week or less before the film goes to a North American theatrical release, it “premieres” on Video On Demand and/or HDNetMovies. The problem with this is that the majority of theatre chains (with the exception of Landmark) know this- and will not have these pictures screened in their theatres. The theatrical release, therefore is limited.
So let’s say you saw the trailer for Neil Marshall’s film Centurion or even the ‘red band’ trailer (red bands usually contain extra shots of R rated material, a practice which I still don’t get-there have been many R rated films in the past which never needed Red Band trailers. Did A Clockwork Orange or GoodFellas ever need one?) Now, some films like Centurion have been picked up for distribution by Magnolia/Magnet; they have already played theatrically overseas.
Centurion has also appeared in a number of US film festivals as well. There are a number of people out there who are familiar with director Marshall’s work- I’m a big fan of his first film, Dog Soldiers and many others are huge fans of probably the best horror film of the previous decade, Descent. His third film, Doomsday, had some nice touches, and there was nice apocalyptic action in there, with homages to other sci-fi action films, but the film was uneven overall. In some genre geek circles, his name is a name to watch,

Picts raid a Roman fort in Neil Marshall's 'Centurion' (2010)

Since the film suffers from a Day-and-date release format, the chances of the film making money from the theatre release alone are limited. It will be thought of as a box office flop, even if, it may or may not have made money overseas or later gets a following on DVD/Blu-Ray. Granted, there are some directors who like the concept of Day-and-date, where home video arrives shortly after that brief week of limited theatrical run. For various documentaries (like Food Inc. which Magnolia tends to pick up) and a few horrors and sci-fi pictures (Rubber, Splinter) that can be appealing. The downside to it is public perception, an element which seems to be ignored. Consider these questions:

    1- What is your overall perception of movies that generally go direct to video?

And yes, I am including films that have a Day-and-date timed release, for the home video of such films are within weeks of that Video-On Demand/cable premiere and limited theatrical run.

    2- Do you normally rent DVD/Blu Rays that have a title of a film that you have never heard of, but with actors and/or a director that you have, and why/why not?

Yes, maybe you happen to love a genre of movie and are willing to take a chance on low budget stuff. But how about a drama? Are you willing to pass up on a film which you missed in the theatres that had been a major release?

    3- What is the marketing of these pictures like?

How much “awareness” did you have of the film? Centurion looks cool in the red band trailer, but how about other media? Are other films getting your attention?

    4- If you were to see a film that was Video On Demand and/or on HDNetmovies before that film was released the next day in theatres AND that film happened to play near you, would you see that film on the big screen, if it turned out to be a good movie?

A Roman soldier holds formation in Neil Marshall's 'Centurion'

Let’s see…Centurion, watched in your home on VOD or the HDNet. How many folks can you fit in your TV room? How many of them, given a headcount, pay admission (answer=zero)? How much does it cost to park in your own driveway? Popcorn, drinks, freaking pizza all cheaper to purchase and consume than a what you would snack on in the theatre. Theatre experience is better, but if this is your first choice or your only choice and the film you wanted to see is not going to be playing the following weekend at your cineplex because the chain won’t book it…and if you missed it and it comes out DTV in a few weeks or less?

Well, that pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? I mean, if you’re interested and aren’t too wrapped up in your FarmVille game or anything. But even though my last point could be flipped and pointed out to be an advantage, the Day-and-date release format still hurts box office potential, it still would be hard hunting to find at a theatre, and, heaven forbid if the film is any good. See, that’s the other problem. Let’s say Centurion has impressive photography, sound editing and a rousing score. Because the film debuted in North America on VOD and/or cable, it is disqualified for any major US film award. Also, since it is not intended to be a ‘TV Movie Of The Week’, it cannot be selected for any major TV awards either.

I’m not frustrated with 2029/Magnolia’s practices of day-and-date, but I am frustrated with the public and general media perception of these kinds of films that fall to this practice. Until the mindset of DTV films and VOD films are changed from being bad signs, and until some guidelines for awards nominations are altered (which is unlikely) then there will be disadvantages with HDNetmovies and Magnolia. That’s just the way I see it, anyway.