Micro-Budget Rip-Offs Find an Audience
Posted on January 10, 2010 at 8:00 am
Wired has a great article about “Cheap-and-Schlocky Blockbuster Ripoffs” of big-budget movies, made for less money than the cost of crew t-shirts of the multi-billion dollar Hollywood movies they flatter with imitation.
While “Sherlock Holmes” with Robert Downey, Jr. is getting its final touches, another “Sherlock Holmes” is being filmed in Wales. It may not have Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, or Guy Ritchie. But on the other hand, it does have a homicidal robot, a dinosaur, and a giant squid.
The gonzo Sherlock, which you’ll be able to find at major rental chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, is the creation of the Asylum, a low-budget studio specializing in shamelessly derivative knockoffs that are not-so-affectionately dubbed “mockbusters.” B-movie producers have been cribbing from Hollywood for decades, but none have done so as brazenly or efficiently as the Asylum, which for the past six years has churned out titles like “Snakes on a Train,” “Transmorphers,” “The Terminators,” “The Day the Earth Stopped,” and, of course, last summer’s “Transmorphers: Fall of Man.” These are uniformly dreadful films, notable mainly for their stilted dialogue, flimsy-looking sets (which are frequently recycled), and turns by faded stars such as Judd Nelson and C. Thomas Howell — actors whose careers crumbled around the same time as the Berlin Wall….
And the studio is growing. It recently signed a series of deals to air more than 20 films — both “vintage” mockbusters and new titles — on the Syfy network and other NBC Universal cable channels, and it moved to a new production facility in Burbank, California.
The Asylum has even had a hit of sorts: “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus,” a tongue-in-cheek, non-mockbuster monster-mash starring Lorenzo Lamas and former teen pop star Deborah Gibson. Released last spring, the Mega Shark trailer — which ends with a shark devouring an airplane — went viral, garnering nearly 2 million views on YouTube.
This reminds me of the self-billed most successful producer in movie history, Roger Corman, whose biography is titled How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime. He has never lost money on a movie. Some of his films became cult classics like the original “Little Shop of Horrors,” which went on to become a musical play and movie with much bigger budgets and much bigger box office than the original film. Some of Corman’s films have even achieved some critical and scholarly acclaim. But outside of his investors, it is likely that his most significant contribution to the art form of making movies was giving talented young film-makers a chance when no one else would — people like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Gale Anne Hurd, Joe Dante, James Cameron, John Sayles, Nicholas Roeg, and Curtis Hanson. “Avatar” director James Cameron has said, “I trained at the Roger Corman Film School.” Actors who appeared in Corman films include Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Michael McDonald, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, David Caradine, and Robert De Niro.
I am not expecting the Asylum’s films to be picked up for big-budget remakes with song and dance numbers, and it does not sound like their directors or actors are on the road to stardom. But the Wired article notes that they are expanding, including opening a California production facility. So who knows? Maybe 20 years from now there will be some scrappy start-up making shlocky rip-offs of their films.