“Unbelievably Painful”: Neill Blomkamp Talks ‘Chappie’ Failure

Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

There was a lot of hype for Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie.

Coming off a mixed reception afforded to his still-succesful Matt Damon-starring Elysium, people were looking forward to seeing what the District 9 director would deliver with his third feature: a film about a droid who is kidnapped and given the ability to think and feel for himself. Alas, success wasn’t on the cards.

Blomkamp’s third sci-fi film was poorly received by the critics – a 33% score on Rotten Tomatoes – and audiences didn’t exactly flock to see it. Chappie raked in $US102 million worldwide, and while that’s around double the film’s estimated $US49 million production budget, it doesn’t take into account costs such as distribution and marketing.

In an interview with Den of Geek, Blomkamp spoke candidly on how we feels about the response to Chappie, a film he says he loves.

Chappie was unbelievably painful for me. That was difficult on several levels,” said Blomkamp. “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.”

The filmmaker said the film’s surprisingly poor performance put him ” in an incredibly interesting space.” After crafting something you’re so confident in and delivering exactly what you had planned, and then having it “rejected,” you’d be left wondering: was I wrong all along? 

“… When the audience turns their back on it, it raises really interesting questions about whether it delegitimises in general,” said Blomkamp. “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?”

Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

So, what does he think went wrong? Blomkamp believes critics and audiences didn’t particularly respond to how he balanced out his ideas and the “farcical, weird, comic, non-serious pop-culture
tone” he used tell his story.

“There are millions of things that were missed. But that could have been done by me in the same way – it was directed in such a way that some ideas didn’t come across. For whatever reason, there were many elements that critics in general didn’t pick up on them,” he said, adding that he wanted the ideas to be delivered in a humourous, bizarre tonal packaging.

“So it’s almost a grand joke, in a sense. That was the main thing. People confuse that by saying the film was tonally all over the map. And it’s because they couldn’t comprehend that the tone was existing as one, united thing; it was saying, “Here’s the most important thing you can talk about, wrapped up in a farcical giant joke that looks like we’re all having a big laugh.” And that was the point. Because that’s how I view life in general.”

Despite how many received Chappie, Blomkamp had something in mind and presented it accordingly. That being said, having your creation fail wouldn’t be something you’d get over quickly.

“… 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.”

Blomkamp is currently hard at work with his new production company, Oats Studios, where he and his team are crafting original sci-fi shorts with the potential to develop them into features. In case you haven’t seen them, watch the exciting first two trailers HERE and HERE.