You’ve no doubt heard the big news by now, but for those of you who’ve been laying low after killing your ex-wife, here’s the short version: Live Free or Die Hard is the Biggest Movie in the Blogosphere!!!
Not since Nikki Finke blew the cover off the Spider-Man 3/Sony Internal Tracking Data story has the film industry been so collectively inclined to shrug and scroll down to the next story on Defamer. Basically, what probably happened is some marketing muckety-muck at Fox named Pam Ward called up Alex Woodson at the struggling Hollywood Reporter and wowed him with the awesome power of her Nielsen Buzzmetrics numbers; next thing you know, the story is up and getting ridiculed all over the internet by everyone from Movie City News’ David Poland to a bunch of foul-mouthed cynics on the CHUD Message Boards.
But regardless of the derision, Ward’s done her job and is no doubt receiving congratulatory pats on her yoga-hardened tush this morning from her superiors over on the Fox lot. Not only did she get the story published in the industry’s second-tier, but still widely read trade daily, she also got Woodson to print a whopper like "It confirms that there’s a real hunger in the marketplace for a straightforward action movie without the gimmicks and the CGI" without a caveat acknowledging that this is precisely what the heavily blogged-about trailer for Live Free or Die Hard is promising.*
Most likely, this is a reflection of some unease at Fox over the commercial prospects of the uncalled for fourth installment in a franchise that’s been mothballed for well over a decade. Set for wide release on June 27th, Live Free or Die Hard is sandwiched between Fox’s other big June offering, Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer (6/15) and Dreamworks’ The Transformers (7/4), both of which have stronger name-brand recognition. Also vying for audiences in and around that weekend are Universal’s Evan Almighty (6/22) and Pixar’s Ratatouille (6/29). That’s a whole lot of product jockeying for primacy and screens in the nation’s megaplexes, and a sequel to a long-dormant series of movies that peaked box office-wise in 1990 would seem to be the odd movie out.
What’s amusing about this to everyone but Fox is that Live Free or Die Hard could’ve distinguished itself in the marketplace had it emphasized what made the first film in the series special rather than mimicking action beats from True Lies. John McClane was relatable because he got progressively bloodied up as he used his New York City cop-honed wits to pick off Hans Gruber’s Eurotrash henchmen one or two at a time. He was the perfect action hero everyman in a decade dominated by Sly and Schwarzenegger. After two outsized adventures in the subsequent sequels, the only reason to bring McClane back (aside from a tidy payday for Willis and producer Arnold Kopelson) would be to return to that grittier aesthetic, especially since practical action is suddenly all the rage (as evidenced by the success of Casino Royale and the Bourne movies). From the looks of The Most Massively Blogged-About Trailer Ever, the only thing Live Free or Die Hard has in common with the first movie is a title and a catch phrase (and there’s some speculation that phrase might get watered down if the studio pushes for a PG-13 rating).
One thing working in LFoDH‘s is the lack of new product over the July 6th weekend; if audiences are really in the moviegoing mood this summer (and many are predicting record business over the next four months), they might be inclined to check out their second viewing option after getting their fill of fireworks, hot dogs and Champale. That’s why, if Fox is so desperate for a selling point, they should ditch this blog bullshit and embrace the R rating – anything to remind audiences of John McClane’s glory days. It could be the difference between a puny $105 million gross and a respectable $160 million take.
I must admit, though, I did a bit of research into the whole "Biggest Movie in the Blogosphere" claim via Google, and while I found no shortage of Live Free or Die Hard entries, they weren’t exactly positive. To wit: In a conclusive online poll conducted by gossip blog Popsugar (catering to all your celebrity upskirt needs), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was overwhelmingly voted the most anticipated movie of the summer, while literally no one threw in for John McClane and the Flying Cars. Granted, only seven people had responded when I cast my vote (for Evan Almighty, natch), but that’s what you call a microcosm, folks. And for Live Free or Die Hard, it’s a real poopy microcosm.
*And yet that’s only the second most repugnant instance of publicist speak coughed up by Ward. The worst? "[McClane] doesn’t need to know about computers to kick ass. That’s what gives him his edge." I’m sorry, is she selling John McClane or Poochie?