A producer of Creation, the film about Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, starring Paul Bettany and his real-life wife Jennifer Connelly, is griping that the film has no distributor in the US, apparently because so many Americans are evolution-hating mouth-breathers that no one wants the touch the thing; it’s just too darn controversial.
Well, it may be that. Alternately, and leaving aside any discussion of the actual quality of the film, it may be that a quiet story about the difficult relationship between an increasingly agnostic 19th Century British scientist and his increasingly devout wife, thrown into sharp relief by the death of their beloved 10-year-old daughter, performed by mid-list stars, is not exactly the sort of film that’s going to draw in a huge winter holiday crowd, regardless of whether that scientist happens to be Darwin or not, and that these facts are rather more pertinent, from a potential distributor’s point of view.
The major US studios are no longer really tuned to distribute films like this in any event. Maybe if Charles Darwin were played by Will Smith, was a gun-toting robot sent back from the future to learn how to love, and to kill the crap out of the alien baby eaters cleverly disguised as Galapagos tortoises, and then some way were contrived for Jennifer Connelly to expose her breasts to RoboDarwin two-thirds of the way through the film, and there were explosions and lasers and stunt men flying 150 feet into the air, then we might be talking wide-release from a modern major studio. Otherwise, you know, not so much. The “oh, it’s too controversial for Americans” comment is, I suspect, a bit of face-saving rationalization from a producer flummoxed that such an obvious bit of Oscar-trollery such as this film has been to date widely ignored by the people he assumed would fall over themselves to have such a thing.
Or, if the producer is actually smart rather than whiny, it could also be a clever spot of positioning. A bit of controversy would actually be lovely for this film; it’ll get it talked about, which means lots of press and so on, and more awareness of the film in the movie industry. The film was the opening film of the Toronto Film Festival, which is not an insignificant thing to be. It almost certainly will find a distributor in the US, probably one that focuses on smaller films, who won’t actually give a crap about whether creationist mouth breathers will go see the film since it’ll focus on an Oscar-qualifying release in LA and New York in December, with a platformed limited release on the Pacific coast and Northeast in the early part of 2010, i.e., nowhere near the throngs of the Darwin-hating anyway.
Some savvy tweaking of Oscar marketing materials (“see the controversial film about Darwin that almost didn’t show in the US, aren’t we brave in bringing it to you!”) will appeal to the reflexively progressive elements of the Academy, and perhaps the screener DVD of Creation for Academy members will go out in a handsome facsimile first edition of On the Origin of Species. In the end, and in a year where there will be ten Best Picture nomination slots instead of five, Creation could easily grab one of those slots — and because this is a less-than-spectacular year for women in Hollywood, Jennifer Connelly could easily nab a Best Actress slot too. And maybe it gets Best Costume Design as well, because, hell, everyone loves their 19th Century British garb, don’t they. So: Three Academy Award nominations for Creation, including Best Picture. Thank you, evolution-hating straw men!
So, yes: Creationists will undoubtedly hate this film, just on principle. But I rather highly doubt they’re actually the reason the film hasn’t found a distributor yet. They may become the reason it gets on the Oscar ballot, however. We’ll see. It’s a funny world.