I know this is what you all care about, but – after some trips out of town, and general holiday related activities – I finally got to go out dancing last night for the first time in two weeks! I knew it would be a good night when the DJ played not only the title track from Tenebrae, and then the title track from Escape from New York.
CRITICS, WHO NEEDS THEM?
There’s long been a class of films that don’t screen for critics, but nowadays the number that don’t screen are expanding. There are a number of reasons for this – few of which ever have to do with the company not having enough money. Not screening used to be the standard practice for low budget horror movies and a number of January/September (dumping ground) titles, but it was 2006’s The Benchwarmers (the Rob Schnieder/David Spade/Jon Heder comedy) that raised the stakes: it was a B level comedy, and not total (absolute) dreck. Granted, The Benchwarmers was never going to be a barn burner, but it had the possibility to be a hundred million dollar title. Part of this may have also had to do with Sony getting busted with creating a critic out of thin air (David Manning) to give them pull quotes on films like The Animal and A Knight’s Tale. This weekend we have Skyline going out sans critic screenings.
Whenever there is a major release without a critic’s screening, two things always happen: Critics bitch and the red flag is raised.
As to the former, it’s partly inside baseball. If it doesn’t screen for critics (at least in print) it means that either they won’t get paid for writing about it, or if they do it’s because they saw it at a public screening (and possibly pay out of pocket to be able to write a review) usually Thursday at midnight or at an early Friday matinee. It’s not so much that critics hate watching things with the general population, but if they want to take notes, or whatever, it’s not as conducive a setting. Of course some critics luxuriate in the pleasure of a private screening, and most are known to bitch about radio promo screenings. Someone who doesn’t get paid to see a movie or doesn’t get into the white tape section may find their disdain insulting, but there’s a good reason for their ire.
There is an entire subculture of people who go to free screenings (often called passholes), who will turn out to any free screening. Such suggests it’s not the films themselves they are interested in, and perhaps they just want to be first. Because if there are tickets being given away they’re usually the first in line. And there’s not a critic I’ve ever met who doesn’t have horror stories of some person or collection of people at one of these screenings. These stories usually involve truly horrible theater etiquette (talking loudly, egregious phone use, etc.), general odor or thugishness (fights have broken out). But bargains and “free” stuff often brings out the worst in people for some reason, and like the Tea Party it’s a very loud minority that can be seen as more prominent by their capacity to annoy.
Having been going to critic screenings and trade screenings for over ten years now, I can say that some things never change. I often sit behind the white tape, and there isn’t a single screening I’ve been to where at least two or three people either ask about the tape or break the tape and sit down – to be chided by publicists or critics that there was tape there for a reason (most people go for dumbstruck). From their perspective, the best seats in the house are taken by jerks, and often there are rows of seats unfilled while they have to go to the very front or corner. From the critic’s perspective, it’s staring at people who either don’t understand a very basic concept, or refuse to obey the small rules of a screening that they’re watching for free. The tape may create an illusory us and them division, but every person who breaks the tape points out why critics might want that division – they’re here to do a job and to a certain extent the screening is happening because of them.
But, as to the issue at hand (Skyline), whatever good Universal thinks they get out of not screening it for critics is different than a couple years ago. With the internet’s prominence in criticism, there are people who are going to go to a midnight screening or a first matinee and have a review up before most people get off work for the weekend. Print is damaged by not screening more so than internet critics, but even they update Rotten Tomatoes, so again this only keeps it from hitting hard copy (which is unquestionably dying and/or mutating into its next iteration). Whatever jump the studio has is negated, though arguably they’ve saved themselves money. But if we’re talking about theater rentals for – what – we’ll say 200 screenings around the states (four a state sounds generous, but whatever), we’ll say around $500 a theater makes for a hundred grand to (at best) two hundred grand – but that’s a drop in the bucket for any major theatrical release. Though that should explain why the low budgeters often send out DVD screeners (home video masters are generally done around or before theatrical release), but that’s not the sort of films we’re talking about. In some cases a film like this might have a junket screening (for those who are going to talk to the talent), but as there are no names with Skyline, so it’s easier to just let the trailers and TV spots do all the talking.
I have heard mixed things about Skyline – I heard from an early source that it didn’t work and was pretty terrible (the film was done in the District 9/no money model, so all the money shots are likely in the trailer), but Jeremy Smith tweeted that he heard some good things. The only major review of my writing this is the Hollywood Reporter which said other than the trailer money shots, the film is garbage. But by not screening it for critics they’re poisoning the well a little – though critics try to see things with a blank slate, the very nature of the inconvenience does the film no favors.
THIS AIN’T NO PARTY, THIS AIN’T NO PREDICTION, THIS AIN’T NO FOOLING AROUND
Unstoppable is an action film, and has Denzel Washington. Chris Pine may not have an audience yet (this would be a film to build his credentials), but this is a film to take fathers to. Denzel gets you a Twenty Million opening. Morning Glory is supposedly charming, though it looks like a pilot, and never cracked its advertising. We may see an old people boost on this though. Skyline has some intrigued, but though they may wait for word, the film should have a respectable opening considering it supposedly cost nothing. Due Date and Megamind should hold strong.
To the break of dawn!:
1. Megamind - $27.8 Million
2. Unstoppable - $21.5 Million
3. Due Date - $19.7 Million
4. Skyline – $13.5 Million
5. Morning Glory - $12 Million
And then on Sunday it’s on like King Kong ping pong (fuck you Nintendo!)