Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
November 2011

Attack the Block

E.T.: The extraterrestrial block party

Distribution disasters aside, 'Attack the Block' is the kind of great sci-fi action comedy Hollywood wishes it still made

Attack the Block
Screen Gems
Director: Joe Cornish
Screenplay: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Franz Drameh, Jumayn Hunter, Luke Treadaway, Leeon Jones and Nick Frost
Rated R / 1 hour, 28 minutes
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD
(out of four)

An open letter to Screen Gems, attn: Whatever utterly incompetent misfit person was in charge of the distribution for Joe Cornish's Attack the Block:

*clears throat*

Dear Sir or Madam:

As a film aficionado, connoisseur, nerd, enthusiast, critic and all-around gentleman, I would just like to commend you on your exemplary handling of your recent acquisition, Attack the Block.

I remember hearing about the movie way back in the spring - back when it was winning an Audience Award at South by Southwest, selling out screenings and generating the kind of fantastic word-of-mouth buzz you can't pay for. And I remember thinking to myself, "Well I certainly wouldn't want to see that. I sure hope that movie is only sparsely distributed throughout the country so most people never get a chance to see it!"

And you know that? You totally came through! Bravo, I say. Why would anyone else want a chance to see a movie that's been embraced and beloved by almost everyone who did see it? No, thank you!

Look, I know you bought the U.S. distribution rights and all, but I think we both know how smart you were to pretty much stop your efforts right there. I mean, with all the work it would take to develop publicity, strike the prints, and then actually distribute those prints into theatres (I'm getting exhausted just thinking about it!), it would have been a difficult and pricy endeavor. Best to keep the film to yourself so it might increase in value over time.

One reality I think you shrewdly deduced was that a movie like Attack the Block would have no crossover appeal whatsoever. A movie about aliens? And teenagers? No one wants to see that! I'm just spitballing here, but I'm willing to bet there have never been any successful movies made about either of those two things. So it's a good thing you kept this one away from everyone.

I mean, how would you have even gone about marketing something like that? What, you're supposed to be all like, "Attack the Block is an exciting, Spielbergian romp about a group of teenage hoods in the South London inner city who accidentally get entangled with savage, glow-in-the-dark creatures from outer space, all while on the run from a vicious gang-banger"? Yeah right, like that's gonna sell.

I mean, here's a movie with wit and charm, pulsing with the kind of adrenaline you'd typically expect from a summer blockbuster. I can hear the audience's collective groan now: "Boooooo-ring!"

Especially since you didn't have, like, a marketable main character or anything. I mean, sure, you had John Boyega. I'm sure you remember him - he was the star of the movie. And sure, he may have such a commanding screen presence that he immediately reminded me of a young Denzel. And sure, his character may be a fascinating contradiction, his bubbling rage counterbalanced by innate frailties and fears that he keeps hidden. And sure, Boyega might have been so impressive that this part earned him the starring role in a Spike Lee-produced HBO pilot based loosely on the early life of Mike Tyson.

Pssssssh. Who cares, right? I mean, you definitely wouldn't want word getting out that you've got a future star on your hands - not to mention a terrific movie.

I've gotta hand it to you - you pulled off something pretty remarkable. You managed to take a movie everyone was buzzing about and turn it into an obscure afterthought that hardly anyone saw. And all you had to do was buy the rights and proceed to completely bury the film. For this, you deserve my admiration, my awe, and dammit, my respect, too.

Although I've gotta say, you had me worried there for a second. There I was, living in a major metropolitan area, not at all frustrated that, despite the sizeable media market I was living in among millions of other people, Attack the Block had never played anywhere in town. And then I hear from a friend two states over that he had seen the film. "Oh, no!" I thought. "Screen Gems' plans to completely screw up the release of this movie are going up in smoke!"

But, thankfully for you, it was just an anomaly. In fact, I even discovered that many other people across the country were having much the same experience as I was. They weren't getting Attack the Block in their towns, either!

Just to make sure, I did a bit of research and discovered the film only ever played in a handful of cities. The maximum number of screens showing the film on any given week was 66. Good call, my friend. Good call. I know, you did that adorable thing on Facebook a few months back where people could vote for their city as the lucky recipient of Attack the Block, but thankfully, everyone else in every single other market that wasn't chosen still didn't get to see it. Lucky us!

Technically, I guess there's no hiding the movie anymore, now that it's out on Blu-ray and DVD. Although I do admire your one last bit of savvy - making the film available OnDemand, but not in HD, so the millions of people who might want to order Attack the Block will be stuck watching a crappy-looking standard-def version on their big-screen, high-definition televisions. Really, your distribution acumen is unparalleled.

Oh, don't worry - I'm not going to let the cat out of the bag. I promise, I'll try not to spread the word around. The existence of this movie will be our little secret.

With love, admiration and gratitude,

Chris Bellamy

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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