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Netflix Broke the 1st Rule of Post-Apocalyptic TV

C’mon Netflix. You’re better than this.

Netflix has crossed a line with “Bird Box” and they need to cross back over. But in case you’re unfamiliar, read on–otherwise, skip down five paragraphs.

Yes, Netflix expanded the envelope of interactive content with its somewhat groundbreaking “Bird Box” that allows viewers–err, users, players?–to choose a semi-customized experience, making each pass through the film a bit different.

But in the end, “Bird Box” is just another post-apocalyptic drop in an ocean of video. It’s not even particularly good. NBC critic Meredith Clark began her review “Watching this movie, I wanted the kids to die.”

And “Bird Box” has inspired some shockingly stupid behavior, like driving blindfolded. Having not seen it personally (there are only 24 hours in a day, and I can’t spend them all streaming Netflix binges–after all, there’s also Amazon Prime, Youtube, and iTunes movies competing for those hours), I can only tell you what I’ve read.

A disaster happens. Some monstrous thing is causing people to kill themselves en masse. But like Medusa, you have to look at it to be affected. Hence, everyone who wants to live has to wear a blindfold. Fairly simple plot effect there.

Where Netflix and the show’s producers made an unforgivable error isn’t in the banal plot or the waste of characters. It’s by phoning in the disaster itself. They literally bought stock footage of a disaster and pasted it in the film.

They put footage of an actual disaster in a film. As if Hollywood isn’t able to blow stuff up by itself.

The footage concerns a 2013 tragedy in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic when an unattended train carrying crude oil rolled down an incline, came off the tracks and exploded into a massive ball of fire, killing 47 people.

Mark Kennedy, AP Entertainment, courtesy of WMAZ-TV, Jan 17, 2019

I remember that disaster. I remember the footage. It was pretty awful. And it was only 5 years ago. The friends and relatives of those 47 people who died in a massive fireball are still around. And I bet many of them watch Netflix. Imagine their horror–real, actual horror–at seeing the event that killed their dad/brother/sister/friend in a movie.

Oh, and I bet those who watched “Bird Box” and experienced Lac-Megantic knew what they were seeing. Of course they knew.

The mayor of Lac-Megantic, Julie Morin, has decried the use of the footage in an interview with The Canadian Press, calling it “a lack of respect.” Criticism has also been leveled by Canadians on Twitter, who argue that the footage may trigger feelings of PTSD and additional victimization.

That’s not snowflake talk. It’s a rule: when making a post-apocalyptic movie, don’t use actual footage of real people dying in a disaster.

Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Netflix did it–maybe to save money, or because they were making something groundbreaking and didn’t want to go through the trouble of actually making a fake explosion–or because their special FX crews were busy planning the Upside Down for Stranger Things season 4.

The company has no plans to fix it. “We will keep the clip in the movie.” But they called on Mayor Julie Morin and made nice. “I’m satisfied with the exchange,” Morin said in a statement, about Netflix’s commitment to not do the same stupid thing twice.

I get it. Netflix is huge and its head is getting big. They claim they have conquered 10% of all TV time in America. That’s a big deal for a pay-to-view streaming service. “Bird Box” is a big contributor to that figure: 80 million households have seen it.

But that’s no excuse for breaking the rule. It’s certainly no excuse for not fixing an easily-fixed problem. All they need to do is go out and blow stuff up, then put that scene in the movie. Problem solved.

Like I said, Netflix is better than this. Why they’re acting like petulant children is beyond me. Maybe they’ve started wearing the same blindfolds Sandra Bullock wore.

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