Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 is still very well regarded in the science-fiction fandom as a great film. However his other two movies, Elysium and Chappie, are much less well regarded, and he’s now addressed how the response to those films impacted him.
Both Elysium and District 9 are bonafide hits but Chappie didn’t quite secure critical, audience, or box office success. He originally planned it as the first film in a trilogy but the movie failed to gross enough for him to make a sequel.
While speaking with Den of Geek, Blomkamp was very candid about his feelings on the film’s failure, calling the experience “unbelievably painful”:
Chappie was unbelievably painful for me. That was difficult on several levels. But the thing with Chappie was, it felt like it was extremely close to the film I had in my head. Up until the film came out, I felt like I had given my all, and that I’d tried my hardest to make the film I had in my head, and I felt like I achieved that.
Despite succeeding in achieving his vision, Chappie only made $102.1 million against a $49 million budget. It isn’t the worst failure in Hollywood history as it did at least make back its budget. But after marketing fees and other costs, it is unlikely the movie made a profit. More than that, it caused Blomkamp to self-reflect as his role as an artist.
It put me in an interesting place, where I was needing to decide how I felt, when I create a piece of artwork that I feel positive about, and then the audience really rejects it – what does that mean? That puts you in an incredibly interesting space. I’m not judging the film based on box office merits or pure Rotten Tomatoes scores. I’m doing it because I love it, and I’m basing how I feel about it on what it makes me feel.
So when the audience turns their back on it, it raises really interesting questions about whether it delegitimises in general. Does that mean it holds no value? Because it still holds value to me. If I react to that, so I’m only try to please the audience, then what value does the artwork have at all?
The director also says that the film’s failure hurt several parts of his career. It is possible that, along with Ridley Scott’s influence, Chappie’s failure had some bearing in Fox shelving his Alien 5 project. That is just speculation but more concretely all of that introspection on the director’s part did motivate Blomkamp in a positive way.
So it put me in a very strange place for a while. I think that I completely came out of it making the right choice, which is that I’m just going to do stuff that I love. And that could actually lead to me living in the gutter. I mean it could literally lead to complete and utter collapse. But I would rather live in a dumpster, I think, being creatively honest and true to myself than not. So I think overall the result of Chappie crystallised or congealed ideas in my head in a good way.
But I’m still upset the fact that it didn’t work. I wish that it did, but it just didn’t, and I still love it. I don’t know what else to say, but the audience didn’t get what I was going for. It didn’t work.
From the ashes of Chappie’s demise it, seems that Blomkamp’s ideas on his art and taking chances became Oats Studios. The director is returning to his roots of creating short form science-fiction that are more experimental in nature.
Chappie seems to have highlighted the fact that Blomkamp could create something that he considered an artistic success but could also fail to capture the imagination of audiences. Oats seems to be more of a testing ground where the director can follow his muse without having to spend as much money as a feature film would cost in order to find out how well viewers will respond to the material.