Marvel's Inhumans released at IMAX cinemas worldwide over the weekend. While the box office numbers weren't great, this is still a bold new venture for IMAX. After all, the series saw IMAX partner with Marvel and ABC to produce a superhero TV show, part of their attempt to increase box office value for the generally quiet Labor Day weekend.
It's too soon to say whether or not Inhumans is a success. We have nothing to measure it against as no show has ever been released at IMAX cinemas in quite this way before. Still, it looks as though Marvel's Jeph Loeb is eager to see future co-production deals with IMAX. Speaking to CBR, Loeb noted:
"We’re making a television show, so the idea of being able to present ourselves in this tremendous arena is very exciting for us, and obviously, if it’s successful we would love to continue. But that’s really as much IMAX’s call as it is anything else. They invited us in to their house. We think that we served a gourmet meal and we certainly hope that they ask us back. We like dating them."
There's actually a good chance that Inhumans will return for a second season. Marvel made a deal with the State of Hawaii in order to film on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and there have been reliable reports that this involved a commitment to years of production. Given that's the case, it's likely that Season 1 is just our first encounter with the Royal Family of Attilan.
So now's a good time to take a look at Marvel's Inhumans, and ask just what lessons the House of Ideas can learn if they want to continue working with IMAX.
The first two episodes of Marvel's Inhumans are currently showing at IMAX cinemas worldwide — and that actually poses a very real problem. You see, Marvel hasn't been able to obtain local distributors in each country to pick up the series after cinematic showings. Viewers in the UK, for example, can currently head to IMAX to watch these first two episodes. But no UK broadcaster has signed up to show the other six. Odds are, Marvel fans in the UK will have to wait for an Inhumans DVD release before they can finish the show.
How many people are going to pay IMAX prices to see the first two episodes of a series that they won't be able to finish for months? Clearly, from an organizational point of view, this approach simply doesn't work.
My recommendation to Marvel would be that they need another partnership to support future IMAX-related shows. In fact, they'd be wisest to offer global distribution rights to a streaming company like Netflix or Amazon.
Don't Show Footage Until It's Ready
One of Marvel's biggest mistakes in the run-up to Inhumans was in terms of marketing. Set photos and trailers alike generated a great deal of heat and fury online. Marvel was forced to defend the promotional material, insisting that audiences were judging the series by elements that were "unfinished."
The approach was deeply flawed, and led to a strong negative buzz for the series before we even saw a single episode. Marvel failed to realise that the IMAX release meant people would hone in on the details, looking for a product that justifies IMAX ticket prices. As a result, they were caught on the back-foot from the very moment that they released the first cast photo.
That approach simply cannot be repeated for future shows. Marvel would be far wiser to hold back on photos and trailers until footage was completed. If necessary, the studio could identify scenes from the script that would be perfect for the trailers, and film those scenes first in order to give the CGI team time to work their magic.
Location, Location, Location!
So far, I've been fairly critical in this piece. Now, though, it's time to focus in on something Inhumans did right. As anyone who's seen the episodes in all their IMAX glory will attest, Inhumans uses its location to full advantage. Hawaii itself is as much a character in Marvel's Inhumans as, say, Harlem is in Luke Cage. The camera pans out to give us beautiful, panoramic glimpses of the Hawaiian Islands. A particular highlight is a stunning shot of Diamond Head Crater. In another scene, I was wowed at how effectively the IMAX cameras captured the power and majesty of the Hawaiian surf.
Marvel has clearly learned an important lesson from their Netflix shows; the best TV series have a strong sense of place. IMAX cameras give Marvel a unique opportunity to create that sense of place, to leave viewers staggered at the beauty and grandeur of the filming locations. Any future partnership with IMAX must do the same world-building.
Ensure Every Aspect Of The Show Has Spectacle
Unfortunately, those IMAX cameras didn't always serve to the show's benefit. While the Hawaiian scenes are stunning, the Attilan location is sparse and dour. The sets are detailed enough for television, but not for IMAX cameras, and critics have been united in calling them out.
As Heidi MacDonald noted on ComicsBeat, this likely reflects a conflict between the demands of the big screen and the frugality of Marvel Chairman Ike Perlmutter.
"The words most people have applied to [Inhumans] is “Cheap looking.” Far from the disaster that some anti Feige forces predicted when he got sole control [of Marvel Studios], his pricey filmmaking seems to be working still, and the frugal budgets that Perlmutter favors are being paraded for all to see and the results aren’t pretty."
MacDonald — no stranger to the industry, with a background in Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly — is right. If you're making something for the big screen, then all aspects need to look like they're designed for the big screen.
Marvel's Inhumans has proved to be a bold experiment, a partnership like nothing we've ever seen before in television. It's difficult to evaluate whether or not the show's a success; we have nothing to measure it against, after all. But, whatever Marvel and IMAX truly think about its performance, we can only hope this is the beginning of something great. I firmly believe that if Marvel can learn some important lessons from Inhumans, then this partnership could still produce some of the best superhero TV shows around.