In the words of Leonard Shelby “Now, where was I?”
TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET
Paramount is finally letting Case 39 out of the closet stateside. Though the film was finished in 2006 and released in international markets last year, Renee Zellweger’s stock had dropped so sharply that Paramount didn’t really care if came out theatrically or on home video. And that’s even with Bradley Cooper, who had been launched to some stardom by The Hangover. They just didn’t care. But international numbers prompted Paramount to give it a quickie release in America. We’re so lucky. The film is going to do terribly, but advertising and promotions have been marginal, so as long as the studio covers print costs, the home video sales – even with home video chains folding like a cautious gambler – are going to be that much higher for something that plays theatrically instead of going DTV. Make no mistake, this film is terrible, but it will have a higher profile even with this nothing of a release.
Studios have a number of reasons to sit on a title. Unintentional similarities to current events, ownership issues, or simply hating a movie. Back in the 80’s films like O.C. and Stiggs and The Experts sat on shelves gathering dust for two years. The more recent examples have been Weinstein pick-ups at festivals. Buffalo Soldiers was in a can and then got a piddly theatrical release, while The Third Wheel (made by a friend of Ben Affleck’s and Matt Damon’s, and featuring both) went DTV. Billy Bob Thorton’s Daddy and Them - partly mired by a public break-up – also found safe haven in the womb of Miramax’s closet for quite some time (it also signaled the death knell for Billy Bob Thorton’s directorial career). The Weinsteins were notorious for buying stuff at festivals just to be dicks, and the filmmakers may have made some money on the sale (sometimes not), but a lot of films were bought and then died. But the alchemy of creating an indie hit is difficult stuff, and for every Clerks or The Fully Monty there’s a Happy Texas or Waking Ned Devine.
But it seems the biggest reason for shelving these days is small companies (Joe Dante’s The Hole will come out sooner or later) or dead or dying production companies. Currently the best known “why isn’t that out yet?” films are Tree of Life (though Terrence Malick’s films are known for long post-production schedules, and the film will now have home at Fox Searchlight – Fox’s Oscar arm – so a push to 2011 is reasonable), and the MGM babies Cabin in the Woods and Red Dawn. A rule of thumb is that if a studio shelves their own movie they don’t think they have it. That doesn’t necessarily mean the film is terrible, they may just not know what to do with it. But with the economy such as it is, the idea of sitting on a fifty million dollar production is that much harder. Quarter shuffles, moving it a couple months or a year later isn’t the same thing – though a move from summer to January or out of awards season is definitely a sign of trouble, and then also if a studio has a great quarter, or a great year, they may want to put out some of their weaker titles so if the quarter is still strong, a troubled production doesn’t kill them.
For those MGM orphans, the films might be good or bad, but regardless, they’ll be old. If the quality is there, that may not matter, and this is definitely worse for Cabin in the Woods than Red Dawn. The problem is that with Cabin, few if any articles or reviews written about the film won’t mention that it was supposed to come out in January 2010 at one point, and was supposedly delayed a full year for 3-D post conversion. Even if that process is finished, the 3-D revolution is over. I think most animated films will remain 3-D, since they’re all CGI now and rendered that way (it’s a dick move to parents, we’ll see how much of it flies), but you can already see studios creeping away from it. So Cabin is doubly fucked. And also, quality is quality, but a mid-range horror movie only has to be good to be successful. Most films disappear, and though a film like Hide and Seek made $50 Million at the box office in 2005, this is probably the first time you’ve heard about it since two weeks after it hit video. On top of that studio executives who have no vested interest in a title will let a picture die because it does them little good to show how talented other executives were. Cabin wasn’t meant to be a barn-burner, and the 3-D conversion was partly a sign of the times, but also an excuse for the beleaguered MGM to not have to release a movie right away. Had Hot Tub Time Machine done a lot better… eh, they were still fucked.
And that’s the way with shelved films. Of course I can’t write this article (which should probably mention Theodore Roszak’s book Flicker) without mentioning the granddaddy of all shelved troubled productions: The Day the Clown Cried. I had first heard about this film in college, and when it was described to me I thought it was a joke. This is the great white whale of curios, and if you love movies, it’s well worth finding out about Jerry Lewis’s story of the clown who leads kids to their death in Auschwitz. Amazing.
WHEN PREDICTIONS CRY
The Social Network has the buzz, and it’s going to take the weekend. There will be many jokes about it, and many of those jokes will be made on Facebook. Plan accordingly. Arguably this is the commercial Fincher, he knows that this could hit a button, and so even if the film opens to under $30, the film should have a shelf life. The question is if the coldness inherent to having an Aspergers-esque lead performance accentuates it’s Oscar worthy-ness, or alienates the masses. This is probably going to sneak to $100, regardless of the wins. Let Me In is coming from the troubled production company Overture (which is basically dead), and though Ebert went positive, a number of critics have seen the original. Horror fans might care, but horror audiences don’t. But this doesn’t look like a good zone out date movie. It is October, so it’s got that going for it. Case 39 won’t make it to $10 Million domestic, and it’ll be gone in two weeks. Horror weekend or no.
So, let’s party-size it:
1. The Social Network - $27.5 Million
2. Wall Street 2: Money isn’t Sentient - $10.7 Million
3. The Town – $10.5 Million
4. The Owl Movie with the annoying subtitle - $9.4 Million
5. Let Me In – $8.8 Million
It’s going to be a tight grouping for everything after The Social Network. Let Me In might go lower. I’ll check in on Sunday to see how it all shakes out.