Netflix Drops "Mowgli" in Theaters Unannounced and WITHOUT the 3D Version!


Hey everyone, sorry for the late post.  I know, I know, it's been...three months since my last post.  I've been working on other projects and felt that this blog wasn't worth updating anymore.  3D is pretty much on the decline and it's pretty obvious that it's not making a comeback in homes anytime soon.  I was wondering if there was even a  point to complaining about any of this anymore.  I thought it was probably time to throw in the towel and admit defeat.  Then, I discovered something pretty much by accident, that made me realize that even if the fight is a futile one, it doesn't mean I can't talk about it.  So what was the event that got me to get off my butt and update this blog again?

Answer: Netflix has dropped "Mowgli" into movie theaters this weekend.

Seriously, they did.  The film (now titled "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle") was released unannounced and unexpectedly into theaters on November 29th, with a planned Netflix release on December 7th (three days before my birthday).  Seriously, here's the trailer:

If this has you confused, it may be because the last time I wrote about this I announced that Warner Bros. had sold the movie rights to the streaming giant and that the winter wide release was cancelled.  Now, it should be noted that this choice made me skeptical of the movie in general.  After all, when Paramount did this with "The Cloverfield Paradox," it was done in secret, with Netflix announcing during the Super Bowl that the movie would be available to stream immediately after the game.  You can bet that was a big enough deal to get me to stream it right away.  Turns out, the reason for the surprise release was because the movie just wasn't very good.  When I heard Warner Bros. didn't even want to try and recoup their money at the box office (after spending more than $150 million on it) I was wondering what kind of turd we had on our hands.  What made the choice to sell it to Netflix painful is that director Andy Serkis (who most people will know as the actor who played Golum and Cesar the Ape) was planning for this to be an epic 3D event.

He was planning for this so much that whenever people asked him about it, he made it a point to tell them to see it in 3D.  It was the only way to truly experience his vision.  Netflix has never done anything for 3D before (see how "The Little Prince" fans got ripped off when they premiered the movie straight to streaming), and seeing a big budget movie on a TV screen first is going to compromise even a 2D movie.  However, Netflix promised they had taken this into account.  They bragged about how the movie was going to be released in March of next year so that people would be well aware of it.  They insisted that an IMAX 3D release was coming so that people could see Serkis vision "as he intended it to be seen."  They promised they would treat the film with respect.  Now, before we continue, I need to be honest about my conflicted feelings about Netflix (and take a moment to note that I did do some consulting work with them for a period of time): I don't feel they are destroying movies, but I do feel like they are cheapening them.

On one hand, their commitment to unique projects is commendable.  If not for them movies such as "Beasts of No Nation," "Okja," and Guillermo del Toro's upcoming "Pinocchio" adaptation would have NEVER gotten made!  Heck, when studios balked at giving Martin Scorsese of all people $80 million to get his passion project "The Irishman" made, Netflix swopped in and saved the project, and it is one of my most anticipated movies of next year.  The problem I see is that they are only making them for streaming.  These movies are still going to be better on the big screen, a smaller screen does make them feel more like made-for-TV specials, and the fact that it is part of a buffet sends a strong message that they are no more or less special than anything else out there.  That first aspect probably bothers me most as I would have loved to see "Death Note" and "Okja" in theaters.  Yeah, I know there are limited theatrical releases for most of their movies, but most theaters won't touch them because why pay for something that is going to basically be free in a week or two?  Even Amazon knows the value of a theatrical release, and they're making movies for their Amazon Prime service.

The reason the surprise release of "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle" pissed me off so much (enough for me to come back to a blog I'd all but abandoned) is because it shows that while they are still saving projects from the hell of never being seen or made, they still don't have the artists vision in mind.  For the theatrical release is NOT going to be found in IMAX 3D!  I'd be surprised if the 3D version is anywhere, seeing that it's only on one screen near me, and that's an hour away (and in 2D).  Putting it in theaters for only a week before dumping it online shows even more that they aren't interested in how this movie was meant to be seen, just so long as they have another movie they can put on their service to compete with Hulu and the upcoming Disney+.  This is where their "quantity over quality" rule is so bothersome.  Now, maybe there is more to this story than we know.  Maybe Netflix made these bold plans, but couldn't make any substantial deals with theaters?  It's possible.  I mean, most theaters aren't interested in Netflix movies for many of the reasons listed above, and maybe IMAX themselves saw the final cut of  the film and didn't want it even knowing that they'd have an exclusive.  It's hard to say really.

What I do know is that "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle," as it is seen in the few theaters right now, is not the movie Andy Serkis made.  The movie that is going to be released on Netflix in a week is CERTAINLY not the movie Andy Serkis made!  At least, it wasn't made to be viewed in either of these formats, and it bothers me that Netflix didn't do more to get that version out there.  It bothers me so much that they are so intent on day-and-date releases, that they purposefully gimp potentially great theatrical experiences because they want to prove to Hollywood that they "don't need theaters" to find success.  Again, the movie has been getting some pretty rotten reviews and this is probably to be expected.  After all, if Warner Bros. felt they had a hit, they certainly would have gone forward with the major release they originally intended.  Selling the film to Netflix shows that it might not be worth watching in the first place, but I would have paid to see a true 3D movie on the big screen again.

Now, I'm not sure I want to see it at all.

Oh, but there is the possibility of it still getting a BluRay 3D release.  See, after over a year of being exclusive to the service, Paramount has announced that "The Cloverfield Paradox" is coming to DVD and BluRay.  This means that these financial deals might not give them ownership rights, just a prolonged exclusive engagement.  Since Warner Bros. is the biggest studio that still sees value in the BluRay 3D market, we may still get to see that version yet.  Or, maybe we won't...honestly, it's hard to tell at this point.