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Much of the quality television programming no longer is dependent on the handful of Federally licensed broadcast networks. For several decades they have been eclipsed by cable-based networks, particularly those residing in the exalted premium tier of service. Recently, a new source has begun to give these critically acclaimed venues stiff competition, the Internet-based streaming video services. In the vanguard of this new technology is the DVD rental service turned entertainment heavyweight, Netflix. In an unprecedented brief time, the network has firmly established themselves as a major source of creative, imaginative and truly original material. Even the greatest generals lose a battle, and no one can always win. The prolific amount of original programming under the Netflix banner, missteps are unavoidable. Case in point. ‘Bright.’ On paper, this appears to be a guaranteed hit. Unfortunately, the consensus was not favorable. The lead of the movie was a proven commodity and certified A-Lister, Will Smith. The genre of the film is something very familiar with, fantasy/ science fiction. The premise is quite inspired. Set in an alternate universe where human beings are just one of a broad variety of sentient species. There is a gamut of creatures from the socially elite elves to the disenfranchised lower caste, orcs. Expanding the eclectic environment are pixies, viewed as pests to centaurs, who make the perfect candidates as the mounted police. Although it garnered a lackluster reception, it had several worthwhile components in its construction, leveraging the sustained popularity of mythologically infused fantasy including, ‘Grimm.’ And ‘The Shannara Chronicles,’ it was understandable the concept approved for production. After watching the movie a few times, it became apparent that the executives miscalculated several crucial elements. Overall, this is not the best that Netflix has to offer but it didn’t warrant the onslaught of such derogatory comments.

The fundamental plot constructs are staples for movies dating back decades. Most obviously is the buddy cop trope. This form adhered to rather stringently infusing such standard elements as the initial animosity of the senior officer towards his partner. That requires the inclusion of such contrivances as the upper brass demanding the pairing and, for political and public relations necessities, the team most yield demonstratively positive results. Since the race card has overplayed in a myriad of movies, the allegory for prejudice is along species lines. As mentioned, orcs are not only looked down upon by humans but by most species in this world. If this was a film from the forties the orcs’ social position would Italian or Irish, technical acceptable but largely unable to move past deeply ingrained hatred. Daryl Ward (Will Smith), has a means to rationalize his distrust of orcs, particularly the individual forced on him, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). Nick had been accused of allowing a suspect he was pursuing escape because he was an Orc. This further ostracized Nick with his fellow officers and, more immediately to his current situation, caused Daryl substantial concern over whether his partner would have his back or be loyal to his kind.

While Nick makes every effort to form a good partnership with Daryl, the human rebuffs his every attempt. The first test of this arrangement comes when they are assigned to respond to a call at ‘safe house’ used by a magic-oriented cult, ‘Shield of Light.’ In this universe, magic is real and strictly controlled by the Federal Government. At the safe house, the partners discover the mutilated body of an elf, little left but a torso but its superior racial stamina permitted it to remain alive. At the location, they find a young elf, Tikka (Lucy Fry), in the passion of a magic wand. These artifacts are extremely powerful, able to grant any desire, making them the most coveted object in existence. The caveat is to touch one results in instant death. The only ones that can directly handle a magic wand physical are called ‘Brights.’ They are exceptionally rare and almost exclusively elven. There is a remote, one in several million chances that a human could be a bright. Daryl and Nick take Tikka into custody, but before getting a chance to return to the station, they are ambushed cops intent on resolving the orc issue permanently. This brings the narrative to the requisite plot contrivance of literally fleeing into the night. In most cop-based thrillers, especially in the mismatched partner sub-genre, the standard guide mandates the partners being forced to put aside their animosities to survive the night. To intensify the seriousness of the situation, every conceivable group has targeted them.

The other orcs hate Nick as a traitor, never having endured the orc rite of belonging to a tribe, being bloodied. He further insults heritage by filing down the point of his fangs, making him a racial traitor. The Feds are after them embodied by an elf agent, Kandomere (Édgar Ramírez), of the US Department of Magic's Magic Task Force, and his human assistant, Hildebrandt Ulysses Montehugh (Happy Anderson). Adding to the trend of former comedians reaching out for dramatic roles stand plays two of the corrupt cops up comedian, Margret Cho and MadTV alumnus, Ike Barinholtz. The evil elf from the Inferni, Leilah is portrayed by the original ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi is worth noting that Lucy Fry is a rising star, featured in some intriguing, well-crafted films and television projects. In Australia Ms. Fry was featured in the long-running ‘H2O, Just Add Water’ franchise as one of the principal characters, a mermaid. She certainly possesses the professional experience playing a beautiful, magical creature.

This is a by the numbers, template action/thriller making the most out of the public’s fascination with the supernatural. The producers may have underestimated the degree of saturation this niche has in the entertainment industry. The point I found most intriguing appears to have significantly contributed to the negative reactions. This is a mélange of several very different and potentially incompatible genres. Portions of scripts for buddy flicks, social allegory, and humanity viewed from a non-human vantage point. It is a narratively dense story crammed into the time slot of a feature-length film. It is a substantial amount of exposition to absorb and mythos process in a relatively brief period. This factor was exasperated by the necessity to infuse enough high energy action sequences to keep the audience appeased. If this had been retooled as a miniseries or, better still, a limited series, the additional running time would have permitted pacing conducive to a full appreciation of the material. The clues to the dénouement were poorly inserted telegraphing the ultimate reveal. Netflix is not under the same pressures and constraints as broadcast or cable networks. As such, they were able to listen to the stalwart fans of the movie and approve a sequel. As a franchise, this will work better than a single movie.

Posted 02/10/2018

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