Earlier this week, I pissed off Joss Whedon and the assembled army of Browncoats (those are the hardcore fanatics devoted to his show Firefly and subsequent movie Serenity) when I declared Serenity dead on arrival after a very poor first weekend of 10 million dollars. Most irksome to Joss et al was the fact that I felt that it was possible, it was conceivable, that maybe we should talk about the idea of, that just perhaps the zealotry of the Browncoats had turned off the larger ranks of sci-fi nerddom. That maybe the film could have done better if a lot of people weren’t just sick and tired of hearing about it from these very, very insistent folks.
The responses came, although not the deluge I feared. I found that some people were quite economical with their venom, sending me an email with the same stuff they posted at the official Serenity boards and Whedonesque.com. Some of the people emailed me just nastiness, and some emailed me thoughtful comments. Some agreed, some didn’t. Here’s a sample.
(If you have an opinion about all this, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at email@example.com)
HeroOfCanton shouts: Lazy writing? The only thing lazy is you’re dad who didn’t get a condom.
Devin replies: Avoiding the obvious critique of your Library of Congress-worthy missive, I will stand by my lazy writing critique. Joss is a good writer; certainly a good enough writer to know to avoid the scene where a character lingers on the edge of death just long enough to deliver a few important lines to our heroes. He has this happen once, and then he has it happen essentially again (the second time I don’t mind, as the set-up of it is such that it tweaks this cliche. Or I wouldn’t mind it if he hadn’t already indulged in that cliche). And then he has much of the film’s plot hinge on the Last Known Recording trick, which was creaky when Lovecraft was using it. That’s all some lazy, lazy writing if you ask me.
Daren shouts: Devin, I usually enjoy your stuff but this one is sort of in left field for even you. I am not a BC by any stretch. However, I have to say it seems this article is a little biased. I mean it seems you either have an axe to grind or don’t like the movie material and let that guide your opinion on every aspect of the movie. You were not very objective at all and it was obvious. Jodie Foster is a power house draw at the box office. Is 2nd place really a failure? Everybody knows that longevity and the box office means much more then where you opened. Not only is it premature to call the movie a failure but you were looking for an opportunity to pounce on the BC it appears. Maybe you didn’t meet any BC fans that were just good sci-fi loving people. Most of the stuff I have read about the BC has been positive. What about all of the charity work the BC have spurned? You didn’t point that out? I don’t see any finger pointing at all from some of the fans sites I have read. I am not saying that you don’t have any points. For instance I would have called the movie Firefly versus Serenity. My wife and I, like you, were much bigger Buffy/Angel fans then Firefly. However, I thought the trailers were pretty good. In fact my wife didn’t want to see the movie until she had seen the trailer.
I have not seen the movie yet so I can’t really comment on the content of the movie yet. Not because I don’t want to but because I was out of town this weekend and will see both Flight Plan and Serenity sometime this week. I think a lot of people are like my wife and I. We will pick a couple a movies we want to see and not necessarily in any order. I have a feeling come week 2 Serenity will be just around the same amount as far as BOX office take. I realize your job is to post your opinion but not only did you jump the gun, it appears that you were waiting to pounce at the first opportunity while trying to “pretend” to be objective. Your timing of the article was suspect at best. In the end you might be right about it being a failure but this article should have come after week 4 of the movie not now. For that you probably deserve the scorn of the BC.
Devin replies: My opinion of Serenity‘s box office future is based on nothing but history. Almost every single movie that opens drops 40% or so in the second week of release. Genre films actually tend to drop even more, as fans rush out the first weekend to see them. I will stand here before you and say that there is no way that Serenity makes more than 10 million dollars this coming weekend. There is no way it makes 10 million dollars. I would be very, very shocked if it made 7 million. My guess is that it pulls in somewhere around 6 million, or 5 and a half (Coming Soon!’s excellent Weekend Warrior has it coming in at 4.5, in fact). Unless Serenity seriously bucks every single trend in box office, the film will come to a rest at maybe 25 to 30 million dollars. In fact, it’s going to keep getting harder for this movie to make money as theaters will begin to drop it after this weekend (and some may in fact drop it this coming weekend. Expect Wallace & Grommit to be a screen hog).
My timing of the article was just about right for an analysis of the first weekend box office. There’s nothing suspect about it. I hate to tell you this, but the opening weekend doesn’t make a movie – opening night does. Movies can be declared dead at the studio level when the East Coast returns start coming in. Sometimes movies are sleeper hits, and sometimes they do come out of nowhere to make some money, but my opinion is that Serenity ain’t gonna be one of those. The fanbase saw this movie and the rest of America indicated they weren’t interested. The box office is about to be assaulted by a number of films designed to have big opening numbers, and I think Serenity will be essentially out of theaters by the end of the month. That’s harsh and not what people want to hear, and will make people think I hate the movie (although my 8 out of 10 review indicates otherwise), but that’s just my honest to God opinion.
But tell you what – if Serenity drops less than 30% (that’s 29% or less) this weekend, I will literally eat my words. I will print out my original article and eat it. I will photograph this event. That’s my promise.
Lyden shouts: You dont have to respond but I am a fan (not fanatic) of Firefly. I enjoy the show alot, have the set and feel that it COULD have been Whedon’s best show… though i think minus season 4 angel is hands down the best.
Anyhoo, I agree with ya. I thin kteh rabid fanbase idea REALLY hurt the opening weekend on this thing. I am sure there are another SLEW of factors, but single handedly the base is the biggest problem.
I would suggest for two key reasons- one, not because they turn people off necessarily, but because they just could not get people out there. Rather, they themselves went OVER and OVER and that is not the way to get the numbers up on opening weekend. When you read their overall responses and Whedons’s, you have to wonder if they dont look at 10 million and say wait… that means BARELY1.5 million people saw it this weekend? Which gets to point two-
ALL THOSE FREAKING PREVIEWS??? When I heard they were doing that, I KNEW that this sucker was going to implode on opening weekend? You shoot the wad on showing after showing over the summer for the VERY people you would hope would show up enforce on opening weekend? Because come on, who was going to them… not the "non-fan"- hell, they were GEARED towards the browncoats… and ultimately, it hurt them. Now, if they ever figure that amount into the overall… then hey, they probably didnt do too bad… but seems PATENTLY unfair… then again so are limited releases just to get Oscars.
I too hope you are wrong… that this grows something like MBFGW (if you can guess what that is you are good!) or as someone on the boards suggests Scream, but I don’t see it… it is a genre movie…
and while there is probably decent work of mouth on this thing… i’d suspect that is also some not so great word of mouth. I think the sneak preview showings illustrated that… but hey, like you, what do i know?
thanks for the "Fair and Balance" stuff
Devin replies: Fair and balanced seems like a put down…
Anyway, I don’t think the previews hurt the film in the way you’re thinking of. Not only were the number of tickets to those shows relatively small (not even a million bucks), but the people at those screenings most likely saw the film again this past weekend. Maybe multiple times.
How did those screenings hurt? I have a non-movie type friend who went to a Regal theater, where they have "The Twenty," a long series of commercials before the movie. One of these was a puff piece about the Serenity fan screenings. My friend ended up with the impression that this movie came out already. The screenings – and resultant flood of reviews and chatter online – made the movie feel old by the time it actually hit theaters. The time between screenings and release was just too damn long.
Nicholas shouts: Just thought I would drop a note to say great job! Although I don’t agree with you on alot of aspects (Batman Begins), I enjoy reading your reviews and like that you stick to your guns about your opinions.
So oddly enough, I actually agree with you on Serenity. I recently saw the firefly shows and fell for the characters and the series, so I was amped to see the new movie…. but it fell flat for me on a couple of levels. One of which has to do with the horrible seat I had two rows from the front, along with the over excitable fan who tried to get everyone to clap all throughout the movie….but I digress. I thought the characters were actually less fleshed out in the movie, almost as though the actors reverted to not knowing who they were playing. In the series, even from the first episode they each played their characters with a depth behind them, whereas they were almost trying too hard and becoming caricatures of what they were. Just because it is a big movie, doesn’t mean they have to play big.
I had fun with it and think it will be a good DVD when it comes out… but it is interesting to hear Joss Whedon commenting on your boxoffice article. I say congrats to you because it means someone like him reads the site! And to invoke a reaction is that much better!
Keep up the good work and maybe someday we will agree again someday!
Devin replies: Actually, Joss probably doesn’t read the site. He came across the piece as a link on Whedonesque. I am sort of flattered he picked me out of the crowd, though, since the Aint It Cool guys have given the Browncoats a tough time in their reviews. I am also sort of not flattered because I really admire Joss and his work, and now he thinks I’m a dick.
Rocket Robin Hood shouts: You may remember me as the man alight with the brutal Truth of Rob Schneider fandom. Yes, I still wish you ill for your constant dismissal of this century’s Isaac Newton, but let us put that aside for now so I can offer some feedback on the Serenity crap.
I never cared for Buffy at all, which is odd – hot chicks, some lesbian, vampires…right on, one would think. The WB station in my area plays Buffy a lot on Sunday afternoons, when there’s nothing else to watch, and I still can’t get through an episode. So, that’s my Whedon background. I completely missed Firefly but when this movie was first announced, I remember thinking "Sci-fi is cool, I might go to this". After all, I never found Buffy STUPID – just boring – and from what I had gleaned of the "western" aspects of Firefly, was openminded.
But, as you correctly surmised, the evangelizing pissed me off very much. I check out sites like CHUD and AICN (oh fuck that Hercules fuck is probably responsible for 50% of my Browncoat Bile alone) not religiously, but every few days, 2-4 times a week at least. And very quickly I felt burned for the exact reasons you mentioned. Fuck them, I thought and still think. Fuck ‘em all to hell.
I write this because I am betting by merely stating a hypothesis on non-Browncoat geekdom you are facing a fierce maelstrom of shit, and I thought you could use a few words of support.
Waiting eagerly for Deuce III,
Devin replies: See, Browncoats? See who you’re losing?
I met Hercules at Butt-Numb-A-Thon last year, and he was a nice guy. But boy does he love Joss Whedon.
Kevin shouts: I post as gossi on Whedonesque, please feel free to shoot me.
Anyway, I just wanted to say your second article re: Serenity today, I thought, was very well written. Honestly, I thought the first one seemed a little too extreme and sensationalist – if there’s one way to attract a lot of website hits at the moment, it’s to bash Serenity fans. You’ll get lots, and it’s proving to be an excellent hobby for some sites at the moment.
One thing I will say is the UK is an interesting case with Serenity. We don’t have the rabid fan base here. There’s little preaching. It’s about a thousand or so fans, but in the context of the UK that’s absolutely nothing, and those fans are mostly British (like me) and fairly reserved. We don’t have a single fan on the UK Serenity moaning about Wash dying. You get the picture. I’ve yet to meet those ‘craxy’ fans.
Serenity opens here on Friday. Little core audience – the most the fans can raise is about £3000, or about £10000 if they all take 3 friends. That’s nowt. Zippo. Zero.
Why do I mention this? The marketing in the UK is very different. See the tube posters on Whedonesque today. It’s targeted at the Buffy audience here, which is around 4 million people. They don’t know what Firefly is, as it never aired on a major station here.
So, it’s going to be judged on the movie here. And the advertising for that. And I think that’s certainly something to keep an eye on. If (and it’s a big if) it performs well here, it tends to suggest the US strategy didn’t really work.
Anyway, rambling. 2nd article got your point across very well, I actually very much agree with it for the most part (I would never dress up..) and, you know, it struck as good journalism.
Devin replies: A lot of people are going on about the "global box office" and that the US isn’t the whole world. I think that Serenity is going to play best in English speaking territories, since the dialogue is really the crux of the thing (God knows it ain’t the FX). It hit Australia and came in 6th (which I would say was not good, but these numbers are being spun more than a dreidel in Jerusalem in Hannukah). I don’t see the UK bringing this sucker up to that magical 80 million international which Universal has set as the sequel benchmark.
Anyway, thanks for the nice words. I got an awful lot of shit at your site – including from you! My first piece wasn’t meant to be sensationalistic (you would know it was if it had lots of swears), but an honest evaluation as well as my true sense of frustration with this fanbase. Here’s a warning in advance, though: I plan to have another editorial next week.
Ali shouts: I’m pretty much a "newbie" Browncoat, and although I love positive feedback on all things Joss, this isn’t going to be some kind of harsh "you’re a dick" e-mail. Mainly because I don’t do that. But also because it’s clear you’re a fan, and because you’re as entitled to your opinion as everyone else.
I don’t know if Browncoats helped or hurt the box office over all, but what I do know is that my friends and I who are huge fans of Firefly and Serenity have been raving about it for months and have "converted" several of our friends. And this weekend several of our other friends who never saw the show went to see Serenity and came out saying how wonderful it was and talking about buying boxsets.
Maybe there are other people out there who want to tell me to stop talking about it, but they don’t seem to have become frustrated enough with me yet.
Anyway, I understand how you came to question the fans. And how you don’t understand the desire to be part of this group. I can’t really explain it. It’s just… so much fun. And even though the things the group helps to achieve aren’t really important to anyone else, they’re important to us, and that feeling is really great.
Two weeks ago I got together with 300 other "Browncoats" to watch 4 episodes of the show on the big screen at our local performance center. I say local, but some people traveled from out of state just for that one event. And it wasn’t about the episodes, because I’m better most of us own the boxset anyway. It was about the people, the energy, that feeling you get when 300 people are all laughing at or cheering for the same thing as you. You don’t get that in a movie theater 99% of the time. You can’t always feel strongly about characters you only get to spend 90 minutes with.
Sorry to babble at you like that. I don’t know what the point of this e-mail is, really. I just felt the need to say something.
Thanks for giving attention to the movie, be it positive or not so positive.
Devin replies: I am glad that you had a good time at that kind of event, but that shit gives me the willies. I like going to a crowded movie screening as much as the next guy, but sitting with a group that like-minded seems weird. The closest I have come (at least since I was a kid. I was once a Trekkie and proud, until I made it to my first convention. I quickly rethought the whole thing) was Butt-Numb-A-Thon last year. The difference is that we were all there for the experience, not the specific movies. And hopefully not for Harry. It was really weird, though. Good for you that you dig it, but it creeps me out, and that’s my opinion. I have not yet gathered enough evil power to make my opinion actually matter beyond the words you see on a screen.
And hey, I’m glad to keep at least some people thinking about the movie. All press is good press, you know.
JSW shouts: The next time anyone talks some shit to you, calls you a fucking idiot, or the countless other shit that gets hurled at you on a semi-daily basis. Just send them your response to Joss, and after it type; "FACE." One of the better written responses on the net I have ever read.
Unlike those malukes on AICN, who have revealed themselves scared by any responses that goes against their line of thinking. You have written a response that takes into effect the Browncoats, their zeal, and the possible ramifications of such. Again, good fucking job dude.
I would like to state one simple fact that has become glaring about Universal. Since they have been taken over by new executives. Their decisions have been worse and worse. Serenity should have arrived in April. Instead of screening all over the country and playing only to audiences of hardcore fans. It would have made it’s budget back and more in April, and box office would not be a question. Luckily the Euros get Joss, and I have a feeling Serenity will do fine over there.
Universal botched the release of Joss’ film like they botched the marketing of Romero’s film. They chose, poorly, and will have to take the hits on their quarterly reports. I love this film, and it sort of hurts that the mainstream doesnt give a damn. But what do they know really?
Have a nice day.
Devin replies: Interestingly, I think that if Serenity and Land of the Dead had swapped release dates, we wouldn’t be having this brouhaha at all.
Thanks for all the responses, even the ones that sucked. They’re fun to forward to my friends. By the way, if you still don’t believe me about the frightening zealotry of this fanbase, please take a minute to read this.