People say to me, “Dellamorte (or Andre, or Dre, for that matter), you’re so good at predicting box office, are you a God?”
The short answer is no. The long answer involves my lineage, and that involves being born in the outskirts of Poland, and learning English through television. But… if I was a god, like Notorious B.I.G. (R.I.P.) I’d have my ten Dellamorte commandments. Right now, let me decree only two:
1. If you live in Los Angeles, or the outlying area, you need to go to the Wright Stuff. I know I mentioned it last week, and I keep on mentioning it so stop me, oh ho ho stop me, stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before (note: in a three sentence span I went from Biggie Smalls to Morrissey, quicker than getting from Bela Lugosi (‘s Dead) to Kevin Bacon), but I’ve gone to both the Bugsy Malone/Phantom of the Paradise/Ishtar screenings and the Flash Gordon/Danger: Diabolik screenings, and it’s some of the most fun I’ve had in a theater since I saw Nightmare before Christmas and got a (REDACTED).
2. If you aren’t up on The Wire, you should be. Season Four just came out on DVD Tuesday, and it is – quite simply – the greatest show television has ever produced. I can’t say that with complete authority (I still haven’t sat through the entirety of My Mother, The Car and Beverly Hills Buntz, nor have I have seen any of Season Three of The Mighty Boosh), but the depth and breadth of what has been accomplished with this is breathtaking. Do yourself a God damned favor (a Dellamorte Damned favor) and get on it.
NEW LINE’S NEW LINER, THE SS GOLDEN COMPASS
All right, part two. Last week I left off at the turn of the century, with a struggling company having two hit franchises (Rush Hour, Austin Powers), but an uncertain future. The studio had taken a huge gamble. Three films, directed by a Kiwi auteur still best known for his splatter-centric first films, directing a series at one time considered either unfilmable, or too immense for any successful adaptation. The first film trailered a full year in advance (I remember seeing the first trailer theatrically with – if memory serves – an early screening of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), but there was a big question mark, especially with the awards-centric December release date. Those films were n adaptation off J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series.
But to ignore those three films, those three films that were tremendous blockbusters, well, the studio’s slate had gone slack. With the exodus of Michael de Luca – undeniably a key player in the organization – the studio cranked out films like How to Deal and Highwaymen. They were able to turn Blade, Final Destination and Friday into reasonable performers, but otherwise, their slate was littered with junk. Sequels were a big play, and so the two Jim Carrey films that helped assure their non-mini status got Carrey-free sequels that bombed. But 2003, besides delivering a Best Picture winning third installment of the Lord of the Rings series, also gave them Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Elf – which trumped the hobbled Matrix franchise at the box office.
But since the triumph of LOTR, the company has floundered either on a small level, or a big one. The Notebook and Harold and Kumar were the bright spots of 2004, which also included misfires After the Sunset (from Brett Ratner) and Laws of Attraction, while 2005 saw hits with The Wedding Crashers and Monster in Law, and bombs in The Man and Son of the Mask. But things were still chugging, and the company could suggest it was mostly on the up and up – even if Terrence Mailck’s The New World was better received by some critics than audiences or the Academy.
2006, though, was a deadly year. Literally nothing worked. Hoot is now forgotten, but was meant to be counter-programming. Final Destination 3 did okay, but mostly as a January cash-grab. Then came Snakes on a Plane. There are two things that I think really helped launch the Snakes on a Plane phenom, and both can claim some props from Chud. Chud Poster Michael Bay (real identity: unknown) presented a treatment for his version that amuses, while Jeremy Smith was the one who asked Samuel L. Jackson if the film was going to be titled Flight 121 or SoaP. Jackson responded that it was the latter, as with a title like that “you either want to see it or you don’t.” Defamer caught the SoaP bug:blogs, shirts, songs all sprung up in response to the hype. Alas, neither the filmmakers nor the studio got what people were reacting to. It wasn’t that they thought the film was going to be good – it was that they couldn’t believe there was a film called Snakes on a Plane (as Josh Friedman, an early supporter of the hype noted, it’s something of a koan). The film could barely take Taledega Nights its opening weekend, and died shortly thereafter. And then came the Tenacious D movie (which is A: not very good, B: features a walk on by yours, truly) and The Nativity Story. To play in the big leagues you need a franchise, an A title, and literally nothing was working. Since that time The Number 23, The Last Mimzy, Fracture (which did.. okayish), Shoot ‘Em Up, Mr. Woodcock, Love in the time of Cholera, Rendition, and Martian Child have all done very, very poorly. The only film they can claim as a nine digit film is Rush Hour 3, which to suggest underperformed is an understatement.
It’s been two years since they can even claim a real success.
And so now they’re chasing a franchise, and did so with Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. Directed by Chris Weitz, the film has a budget of at least $250 million, and may be lucky to do half that stateside. New Line snuck the film last weekend. This is the most expensive film to ever sneak in such a way. And in doing so it reveals New Line’s lack of confidence in the material. They don’t know what they have exactly. They know awareness is a problem, and you can’t really sell the director (from the maker of American Pie and About a Boy), the stars (from the stars of The Hours, and The invasion… oh and Casino Royale), and so they’ve got to sell the scope and the digital animals.
What happens if it doesn’t work (and it won’t – sorry): for the time being? Nothing. New Line keeps moving ahead. Everyone does as they do. The quarter isn’t done yet. They’ve still got films being made, still got things in the pipeline. The question becomes if Time Warner starts pulling the plug. Starts absorbing the company into the whole. Uses it as a boutique label. Robert Shaye has a lot to answer for, and the funny accounting on LOTR is only one of the problems (directing a bomb is another, a sure sign of hubris), so there’s all kinds of ways to deal with this mess. But, currently, there’s no end in sight of problematic releases. My guess is that soon New Line will be like MGM – best known for a franchise, but essentially a part of another studio. Shaye will likely be ousted, and with his money, whatever. People will be absorbed or fired, and the cinema world will get smaller. Such is life. Such is the business.
I KNOW PREDICTION-REAL FROM REAL-REAL
The Golden Compass, Juno and Atonement hit screens the weekend. The per screen on Juno and Atonement should be sick, even in super limited release. The per screen on Compass may be slightly inflated because it’s essentially the first new film in two weeks. I think that means low thirties, though. Everything else is pathetic, because everyone’s seen it already. Which is good for Enchanted, I guess.
1. The Golden Shower – $33.7 Million
2. Enchanted - $11.2 Million
3. Beowulf - $6.3 Million
4. This Christmas - – $4.3 Million
5. Hitman - $3.5 Million
I could be going low on Golden Compass, but I doubt it.
Sunday morning, I’m easy. That’s why I’m leaving… I’m easy like Sunday morning.