by Nick Christiansen
The key to Netflix’s success isn’t only the fact that they have a ridiculously large amount of content, but the fact that they have a lot of quality content. Now this quality content can include anything from well rated blockbuster movies that millions of viewers are gonna watch within a week of the film being posted to indie documentaries that gain their traction through good ratings and word of mouth alone. The fact of the matter is, if something is of great quality, viewers will usually come. So it is smart for Netflix to include a lot of documentaries like this for a number of reasons. These documentaries will give Netflix an image of being tasteful and for a more curious and educated demographic. This also means that they will appeal to the people that actually pay for the Netflix subscription for their families, and that is hugely important for obvious reasons. Aside from all of that, Netflix is able to create a platform for more meaningful programs with important messages and findings that people should be exposed to.
For example, Icarus pulls the veil off of Olympic sports and professional sports in general to reveal the secretive doping tactics going on behind the scenes. This is a matter of global politics and because it is so important, and everyone who would care about the subject should know about it. But I don’t think this makes Netflix more of a newsstand than an all-encompassing library just because it is a traditionally styled widely accessible documentary. Netflix has plenty of weird and non-traditional movies in it’s roster, it’s just that they’re easy to ignore when there are so many normal more heavily viewed movies on there.
For my feature-length documentary I watched Icarus and was blown away. The documentary comes in at about 2 hours long, but it fills every minute with very important information and story. The story starts off with a semi-pro cyclist who wants to step his game up and compete with the top ten bikers in his races. The guy is still an above average competitor, but he just can’t break into the groups of riders above him. I should mention that this isn’t even the main reason he wants to take performance enhancing drugs. The cyclist wants to know how easy it is (if even possible) to take performance enhancing drugs in professional cycling. He gets drug tested and is told that things are kept fair, but rumors tell him that a Russian lab may be involved in bending the rules. After some investigating, he grabs a hold of a very charismatic doctor who is strangely willing to completely help the man take synthetic testosterone, HGH, and a drug which increases your red blood cell count. The scientist is only three levels down from Putin himself, and he uses his extensive information on the scandal to completely blow the lid off of it. Things pivot from being about a cyclist trying to get steroids to a real time story of the U.S. launching a new investigation against Russia partially with the information gathered from the documentary. This makes it feel much more visceral and like you’re watching a piece of history. The Russian doctor had to leave his family to stay safe in the U.S. after all since there was a very serious risk he’d be taken out by the KGB.
The story felt perfectly paced and always kept me hooked in, so I think that the 2 hour length was perfect. The story was incredible too for how it directly manipulated global politics. But to move on to a different kind of documentary, I will talk about Evil Genius. This documentary was four episodes long with each episode being about an hour, so you may think that things are relatively stretched out and slow in pace. This isn’t really the case as there was so many people to talk about and such a large story to tell. The story could have been shorter, but it probably would sacrifice character development that was crucial to the case. We begin by looking at a bank robbery attempted by a pizza delivery man with a bomb collar. The man’s neck blows up and he is unsuccessful because he had to stop to collect a key that would help take off his collar. Three weeks later, a man reports finding a body inside of a freezer. This man is brought in and almost immediately thought to be involved in the robbery because the site at which the crew strapped the bomb to the delivery guy was right near the house. the man claimed that a woman named Marge killed the man; she also had three other boyfriends who had mysteriously died throughout the years. This leads us to the interrogation of this woman and we find out how nasty and deceitful she is. It took about two years after the heist for the FBI to solve the case, so it means that we have a very long and detailed story to work with. This makes the four episodes fly by with each episode feeling totally meaningful and important to the overall plot. Length is one of those things that the producers of a show decide as they go. They begin chipping away at the project with a format and then decide what length the final product should be to tell the story best. Because of this, I don’t mind if a documentary is long like this because I assume that the makers of it know what they’re doing and have a good reason for it.
I really enjoy watching a good documentary because it feels much more meaningful than watching fiction a lot of the time. You learn something new and experience a part of the real world that you could never imagine beforehand. For example, I got to see how nauseating of a process it is to inject yourself with multiple performance enhancing drugs every week and I got to observe how a psychopathic killer woman behaves in an interview. I walked away with real knowledge and real happiness knowing that Marge form Evil Genius is locked up for the rest of her life. That documentary was also made very fun by that fact that you had to put together the story for yourself and decide who you believed and how much for yourself. It was like an exercise in beating master manipulators which I found extremely enjoyable. After this whole experience, I find myself wanting to watch yet another documentary; the genre is just so powerful.