Monday, November 23, 2009

The Mystery of the "Impact" Channel

I'm planning to sign up for Netflix, but for the past ten months or so, I've subsisted off of whatever movies Comcast offers free on-demand. And while I've seen some good things this way--classics like Tom Jones, indie films like Metropolitan--most of the free movies don't appeal to me at all. Many of them are offered under a channel called Impact, which seems designed to attract the "typical 18-to-34-year-old male" that advertisers always crave. A partnership between Comcast and MGM, Impact is "the first video-on-demand channel dedicated exclusively to action movies." And this means, frankly, that it shows a lot of schlock.

That's why it's so odd that twice in the last month, I have begun watching a free Comcast movie, only to see a "brought to you by Impact" logo. And neither one is an obvious candidate for an "action movies for dudes" channel--they're both campy '60s comedies, Viva Maria! and What's New Pussycat? There aren't even any action scenes in Pussycat, unless you count the farce/slapstick sequence where all the characters chase each other around a hotel and zoom away in go-karts.

Not that these movies are great cinema, but they star more talented actors than most of the schlocky action films that Impact shows, and were made by more interesting people. Pussycat was Woody Allen's first screenplay and it is fascinating to see his humor in embryonic form... but I don't think his gags about psychoanalysis would appeal to the crowd that Impact is aiming for. And though Viva Maria! is pure fluff, it was directed by the talented Louis Malle--it's a shame Comcast showed it in pan-and-scan format, because the widescreen cinematography looked interesting. Well, at least they didn't dub it; they left it in subtitled French. That surprised me, though, because doesn't the "typical 18-to-34-year-old male" hate subtitles?

The funniest part is how Impact tries to promote these movies to its target demographic. Before the movie starts, a screen lists the "action elements" you'll see in the upcoming film. But here, Impact really has to stretch the definition of "action element": the promo for What's New Pussycat? listed "Excessive Partying" and "Hot French Girls." This seems like a desperate attempt to make the movie sound exciting and scandalous--I mean, it probably was titillating in the '60s, but to a modern audience, it's practically wholesome family entertainment! Especially when the Comcast customer who's looking for sex or violence could so easily flip to one of the much trashier movies that Impact offers free.

Maybe I'm being unfair; maybe Impact's target audience likes campy '60s films. The Austin Powers movies made lots of money spoofing this kind of thing, right? All the same, I can't help feeling that I have an unnaturally high tolerance for '60s silliness and that it's an acquired taste. I'm happy to have seen these movies, but does Impact know that I couldn't care less about "action elements"--and that I'm a not-so-typical 18-to-34-year-old female?

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