Netflix’s Bright idea with Will Smith
US actor says film would not have worked elsewhere
Premiering a US$100 million (S$134 million) blockbuster on the small screen might seem like a strange gamble to some.
But US actor Will Smith, star of new fantasy actioner Bright, would not have it any other way.
The David Ayer-directed movie - which premiered yesterday on Netflix to its 109 million subscribers around the world and is rumoured to be the most expensive film made for streaming - was one Smith said could be made only for the platform.
Speaking at Bright's press conference at The Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo on Wednesday, Smith said: "Demands for such a big-budget film usually jam the creative process. You could not make a movie like Bright in any other studio because of how much it costs.
"It would have had to be PG13 as other studios would not make a US$100 million movie that is not about an idea that is historically proven."
And historically proven it is not. Bright presents something out of the ordinary as it melds together the buddy cop genre with fantastical elements.
Full of gratuitous violence and strong language, and set in a world where humans and fantasy creatures co-exist, it tells the story of Smith's seasoned human cop Daryl Ward as he navigates the crime-filled streets of Los Angeles.
Ward is reluctantly paired with orc partner Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), and they get wrapped up in a turf war of mythic proportions as they are pursued by dark elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace), who is seeking control of a magic wand.
Making its home on streaming devices did not hamper the movie's potential, said Smith.
"Everything about this Netflix production was identical to a major big-budget Hollywood feature," said the leading man of action classics such as Independence Day (1996), Men In Black (1997) and Bad Boys (1995).
And this is not the first time Smith, 49, has thrown his weight behind Netflix.
In May, as part of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, Smith rushed to Netflix's defence, calling it an "absolute benefit".
Netflix had two films, Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories, at Cannes this year, but the film festival tweaked its competition rules after backlash from movie theatre traditonalists.
Smith said then: "My kids go to the movies twice a week and they watch Netflix. There is very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix in my home.
"They get to see films they absolutely would not have seen. Netflix brings a great connectivity. There are movies that are not on a screen within 8,000 miles of them. They get to find those artists."
But he acknowledged at the press conference that Bright is very much heading into uncharted waters.
Said Smith: "Does the big cinematic experience of seeing it in the theatre have an emotional reaction? Can you get that same emotional reaction if you are watching it in your house?
"That is the big question that we will know the answer (to) in a week or so (after Bright premieres)... (whether it penetrates) the human mind and the human heart."
He has his reasons for pointing this out, as Bright - to varying degrees of success - attempts to be a commentary on racial tensions.
In the movie, orcs are heavily discriminated against, with elves at the top and humans sandwiched in the middle.
Smith said Bright operated on a "very different social paradigm" and that it gave him a different perspective on the issue of race when he, as an African-American, had to be racist against his co-star.
But it was this dynamic between Smith and Edgerton that propelled the movie forward, a dynamic Smith said was akin to "a classic Hollywood bromance".
"When Joel puts that orc make-up on, it would just do something inside of me," he said exaggeratedly, drawing laughter from the media.
Smith, who has reportedly signed on for a sequel to Bright, added: "That has always been a deep passion and pleasure of mine, to be able to move through different genres.
"A big part of being able to extend a career is to go from a rom-com into a drama into a fantasy movie.
"By working with music and television and even with Netflix, by being able to do something different, that is part of how I think about trying to create longevity in this business."