It was hot in Los Angeles yesterday. I was over at my friend’s house for Thanksgiving and we heard Ice Cream Truck music. My friend Chris said “Seriously, an Ice Cream truck?” and told him not to worry, it wasn’t a big deal, it wasn’t an ice cream truck, it was just his local pedophile. Because who wants ice cream trucks on Thanksgiving?
FOX SHIT THE BED
I would like to come to the plate and point. I’m calling this shot. We’re three weeks out from Avatar, and though the blitz will be hitting as we speak, I don’t think you can look at anything they’ve done from a marketing standpoint and say this movie has the buzz. When Entertainment Weekly does its cover story, the subheader is going to end with a question mark. Perhaps by the end of next week, when the monthly magazine start hitting, and the real push comes it’ll feel a little different, but we’re so close to the end that it feels like it’s fair to say that this is something of a fiasco from a marketing standpoint.
Fox spent a shitload of money on this title. How much is hard to say, but – as Drew McWeeny pointed out over at hitfix.com – Morley Safer on 60 Minutes said it cost $400 Million. So that’s a number that the studio is comfortable with saying the movie cost. which means that $500 Million isn’t exactly off the table (and I’ve heard that that’s closer than 4, and I’ve heard that 400 is way too much from others). Of course, as producer Keith Calder (who’s on twitter here) points out, the nebulousness of actual budget reporting is a real thing and usually they’re just throwing out numbers. And I’m guessing when you get that high, nobody actually wants to know how much shit cost. James Cameron has been working on this film for a decade or so, and he doesn’t work for free.
We first got a trailer for the film (after the Comic-con show reel) in August. The trailer was received with mixed reactions. It played better in the theater, but it wasn’t a “holy shit” moment, it was a “huh?” People on line were either on board (some because of their loyalty to Cameron), or baffled that this was the “game changing event” that had been hyped to nerd circles. Compare that to the reaction to the Inception trailer, which opens next year in the summer, tells you nothing, but offers a moment or two that catch the eye (besides suggesting it stars Mr. Leonardo di Caprio). Even Sam Worthington, the human lead in the picture (arguably the star of the film is Cameron himself), said that the trailer was not what was hoped for.
Then came Avatar day. There was talk of sellout crowds for the free screening of some footage from the film and that people were having trouble getting tickets on line. And then the footage played to mostly half-empty theaters. There was some word that Fox rigged the game to say that they had server troubles, but if that was their attempt to game interest, it went horribly wrong. The posters are problematic, and it feels like this isn’t the buzz discussion. James Cameron tapped into the twelve-year-old girl sensibilities with Titanic, which made it a global phenomenon. Giant cats need prep-time for them to have the same impact, and most people have been looking at this stuff and either hoping it works in context, or acting like twelve year old boys in their dismissal.
From my nerdish perspective, I feel like this is an Imax 3-D film, and that’s the only way I’ll see it, and let me tell you, I hate trekking to the closest location, which is the Universal Citywalk. I’ll do it for this, even if I haven’t been on board with James Cameron completely since Terminator 2. But I’m not the target demo. If this film cost what they say it cost, the question – even if you disagree that the film will tank tank tank, is this: “Can it do Transformers 2 business?” and “Can it do New Moon business?” I think the answer is no. It either has to create a new paradigm, or it behaves like everything else.
This is an unknown property starring Sam Worthington and some familiar supporting faces about giant attacking blue cats with no buzz except sites like this that talk about it (in some cases out of obligation more than anything else). Nobody’s seen it, and they won’t for a bit. But for a film like this to be a success without having the cultural saturation of awareness that something like Twilight or Transformers has, you need to be an event picture, you need the trailer a year in advance, you need to have a visual hook to get the audience curious and in anticipation so they get so hot they’re in a fevered frenzy. Instead you have a picture that nerds are only going to want to see in Imax 3-D and the gen-pop is not shitting themselves for.
Earlier this year The Hangover defied expectations by opening relatively big and playing relatively long. It had buzz from a great trailer (Avatar does not), early screenings to build awareness (again, nope), and it opened to $44 Million on the way to $277 Million dollar gross. If Avatar does those numbers, it’s not good. If you’ve publicly announced that your film costs in the $400 Million dollar range, you have to do around $400 stateside to not look like an embarrassment, which means if the film doesn’t open to around $100 Million dollars (which tends to mean less than $400 in total), box office analysts are going to say that the film is disappointing. I keep hearing that the film plays like a giant 1980’s action film, which sounds great to me, but if it’s a bunch of new technology brought together to make retro junk food and doesn’t have the hook that Titanic did, if it plays mostly to males, then that means it more likely to be front-loaded. If it becomes “the film you need to see in Imax.” that’s a very limited country-wide screen count. The 3-D might be the thing that brings people back to the theater, but that hasn’t worked yet, and modern male audiences – people who have been raised in the home video and DVD era – if they go repeatedly it’s over a quick spurt of time.
I have no real emotions for the film, either positive or negative. I hope I like it when it comes out. But I don’t think anything that happens over the next three weeks is going to push this into the lathered frenzy this needs to be the film of the year for people. As I am so often wrong, and will continue to be, it’s possible I’m also wrong here, and that the word from screenings will be that this truly is a game changer. The problem is that people tend to leave movies that are huge like that with the characters, not the advancement in technologies that may have come with this film. But if the picture doesn’t open huge there will be blood in the water, and the king of the world will be eaten alive.
Turkey weekend and black Friday have already begun. I hope when I have children I never find myself trying to go to a toy store at midnight or at three AM to get some shit ahead of other people. To dream the impossible dream. The numbers from Thursday have The Blind Side over New Moon, but that’s not a trend I see continuing as Wednesday New Moon spiked up. New Moon is up to nearly $190 Million as of yesterday, so $230+ is a lock by the end of the weekend. The big (good) news is that The Blind Side is playing and playing strong, while Old Dogs is the sort of shitty movie that doesn’t do well for Disney (vs. the shitty kind that become huge audience favorites). I think that Robin Williams killed it. Ninja Assassin is DOA as well, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox expansion run isn’t lighting things on fire, even if the movie is pretty much a masterpiece.
1. New Moon – $44 Million (and I’m going low)
2. The Blind Side - $29 Million
3. Old Dogs – $14.5 Million
4. 2012 – $13 Million
5. Nonja Assassin - $12 Million
If The Blind Side keeps playing, when does Warners start pushing for Sandra Bullock’s Oscar? I think they could get it. See you bitchers Sunday.