Thursday, 31 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #704: Governator Gets Creatively Terminated

I was a big Arnold Schwarzenegger fan when I was a kid in the 1980s. Thanks to films like The Terminator, and Predator what kid at that time wasn't. That fandom started to fade when I got older and started delving deeper into the history of the action film and got into the films of Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, and the daddy of them all John Wayne. But there was still a warm place in this fanboy's heart for Ah-nuld's cinematic canon.

Well, that warm place has been rendered down to cold, wet ashes, because Arnold himself has just pissed all over it.

I'm not talking about his many failures as governor, this is not a political blog, I'm talking about his big comeback to pop culture in partnership with Stan Lee. Look upon this and despair...
Apparently Arnold's big comeback vehicle will be a comic and animated series called The Governator, starring Arnold as... well... Arnold... who, after a lackluster governorship, becomes a costumed crime fighter, called the Governator.

I don't know which is sadder, so I'll list them, and let you decide...

1. The sheer lack of imagination displayed by the once great, but now sadly pathetic Stan Lee, who managed to reach new depths of legacy-destruction than he did with 2004's
Stripperella.

2. That Arnold's ego is still so overwhelming that he thought this would be a good idea.

3. That the Lee/Schwarzenegger combo was enough to get other people/companies to go along with this hare-brained scheme.

4. That
Entertainment Weekly was that desperate for something to print that they made this steaming pile of an idea their cover story.

5. That people in Hollywood know so little about their own industry that they can't see that this whole enterprise is doomed to become nothing more than a punchline in some geek's stand up routine.

Now you're probably wondering how I know that this little endeavor is doomed to clog up the remainder bins of comic shops and remainder bins if they go through with....

--What? You're not wondering how I know? Fine, I'm just going to tell you anyway, it's my blog & I can pontificate if I want to.

I know that this will fail, because I know a little history, so unlike the people who are investing time and money in this little boondoggle I am not doomed to repeat history. I'll explain this history with a little thought experiment.

I want you to think back to all the times, probably deep in your childhood when you saw a cartoon or comic book based on a real celebrity. Especially where they tried to transform said celebrity into some sort of superhero or adventurer. Think Mr. T's illustrated/animated spin-offs, or Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos.

Now try to remember how many lasted more than few episodes, and how many are seen as nothing more than a quaint artifact of how stupid TV and comics people would try to cram anything down your throat as long as it had a famous name attached.

I couldn't think of any, so I did a little research, and came across 1, The Jackie Chan Adventures, that actually had a good 95 episode run. Possibly because it relied just as much on self-deprecating slapstick comedy than it did on heroics, giving it an element of humility. Even then it probably won't have legs in the ongoing pop-zeitgeist like a Batman, a Superman, or even Stan Lee's own Spider-Man.

So why do they fail?

Three reasons--

1. EGO. Having a superhero based on yourself is the ultimate ego trip, and you know how much comic book and cartoon fans love to spend their money feeding someone's ego.... NOT!

2. QUALITY. Usually these sorts of projects have very little thought put into them beyond the initial premise of slapping a famous face into a superhero suit. So you get characters that are thin, even by cartoon standards, lame villains, and plots with more holes in them then the corpse of John Dillinger. And lets not forget the inevitable, and lame kid sidekick they usual inject into these projects like potassium chloride into the arms of a condemned prisoner.

3. REPULSION. People who like superheroes have spent their entire seeing their favorite genre being disrespected as juvenile at best, or a sign of some social or personal abnormality at worst. So when a company puts out something like this they are telling those fans: "Look, this piece of shit has a famous face dressed like a superhero, and you people will buy any piece of shit with a superhero in it." It's the corporate equivalent of them pissing in the ears of fans and telling them it's raining lemonade. It usually fails badly, even with kids.

So why do they keep trying with lame-o stunts like this one?

1. NAME RECOGNITION. In Hollywood everything is about name recognition. If it's familiar, and sold well in the past, they automatically assume that it will sell well again in a new package. It doesn't matter if the original product's sell by date is decades old, they're going to toss it at the wall and see if it sticks.

2. TRACK RECORD. Hollywood is full of people who coast on past successes. They love to say that it's a "what have you done for me lately" kind of place, but having the status of an Oscar winner, mega-stardom, or status as an industry "legend" can cover up a lot of more recent foibles and failures. This really works when the backers of said project have a--

3. LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE MEDIUM/GENRE. Because if they did, then they'd know about the track record of celebrity based superhero projects. They'd also know that Arnold's movie career was more fizzle than sizzle before he entered politics, and that Stan Lee hasn't had a good idea since the death of disco, and that his biggest talent the past few years has been at wooing investors, and creating more frustration, aggravation and litigation than any wonderful flights of the imagination.

Now it's time for to make a prediction. I predict that this project will fail, Schwarzenegger's image and career will be damaged by the fiasco, lawsuits will fly freely, and Stan Lee will be seen meeting with Justin Bieber to pitch him his new concept, a cartoon about a boy singer with a magical haircut.

Just let it die now, before the hole gets any deeper.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #703: Lionsgate Goes Micro...

Mini-major Lionsgate has announced a new slate that's the opening salvo of their plan to release around 10 "microbudget" films a year, with each having a budget below $2 million.

It seems logical since Lionsgate got its start producing and releasing low budget genre pictures, and I do like the idea, however, I do have some doubts and fears that it will end up like Paramount's micro-budget Insurge label, which, so far, hasn't amounted to much of anything.

There's a purpose to micro-budget movies, actually several purposes and they are:

1. Creating a product that has low potential for risk, but high potential for reward.

2. Finding and fostering new talent.

3. Teaching that new talent how to make films that put every dollar on the screen.

Now purpose #1 is easy, at least relatively, because all it requires is to fight the urge to attempt to solve every problem with money instead of imagination. That can be done in the comfort of the corporate headquarters. Purposes #2 & #3 are different, they are hard, they require the burning of calories, because the sort of people interested in, and, capable of making movies so cheap are not going to be found in the Hollywood mainstream.

I'm certain the reason why Insurge has failed to surge in anything other than being just a graphic at the beginning of the Justin Bieber movie is that they made the announcement, patted themselves on the back, and then didn't know what the hell they were going to do next. Such projects only rarely fall on the laps of studio executives the way Paranormal Activity did. To find more of such films, and the people that make them they are going to have to go out and look.

Where?

1. Film schools, outside the usual UCLA/USC/NYU axis.

2. Regional film cooperatives outside Southern California.

3. Film festivals that are off the well beaten tracks of Sundance, SXSW, & Toronto International.

What do all these things have in common?

They involve getting out of Hollywood's precious Thirty Mile Zone and wearing out some shoe leather. Now it doesn't have to involve a lot of travel, resources on the internet can help narrow down the search, weed out the deadwood, space-cases, and people not interested in making films that actually seek an actual audience, but some travel in the outer provinces among the great unwashed will have to happen.

Will Lionsgate go through with this plan?

Will they succeed?

Well, they have more connections with the indie film world than Paramount, so the odds are better, but whether or not they have the gumption to put a little sweat on the brow getting it done, will have to be seen.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #702: Remake Rationale

As you probably remember, my dander was up last night over the news that Disney was bastardizing re-imagining elderly village spinster detective Miss Marple into a young urban hot single detective to be played by Jennifer Garner.

As I said yesterday, Disney gave a lot of money to the Agatha Christie Estate for a character with a commercially viable track record, then they tossed away everything about that character, to make it fit something probably cooked up by a marketing focus group consisting of unemployed chimpanzees wit
h head injuries.

They could have made their movie, called it "Miss Maple" and the Christie Estate wouldn't even notice it enough to sue.

But then they'd be missing the key rationale behind 99% of Hollywood remakes. That rational has nothing to do with trying to take a flawed work and make it better, or apply a new vision to a pre-existing story, no, that might make something worth seeing and involves creativity. The rationale behind Hollywood remakes has nothing to do with creativity, and everything to something studio executives learned between naps during their business administration and marketing classes.

That is "branding."

Branding is all about having a familiar name, or "brand" and trying to get people interested in it by making is seem somehow "hip" and "sexy." If it sells tickets, the executives can breath a little easier and keep their jobs another day without taking any of the risks inherent in using their imaginations.

Another classic example is the upcoming remake of the comedy Arthur starring the appropriately named Russell Brand and guess who, Jennifer Garner. The original Arthur starred Dudley Moore as a high society scion with too much money and too little maturity with a drinking problem who falls in love with a lower class waitress, a development that threatens his inheritance. It made around $82 million in its domestic release in 1981, which was pretty good money at that time. That means it would eventually be remade in the vain hope that a modest hit would somehow mutate into a major blockbuster if they spend a hell of a lot of money on it.

Yet here's why I think the remake will probably suck financially and critically.

1. Arthur was about an alcoholic and was made before the society as a whole saw alcoholism as a tragic disease. People could still laugh at the antics of someone with no impulse control and slurred speech.

2. Because of the whole tragic disease thing they appear to have removed the booze from the story, and attempted to remake Arthur Bach into a geeky man-child, and this is where miscasting comes into play. Russell Brand carries the vibe of being interested solely in drugs, whores, or doing drugs with whores. I can't buy him as a lovably geeky man-child.

3. Brand himself has only a middling box office record when it comes to starring vehicles. In fact, his only starring vehicle Get Him To The Greek, made about $90 million internationally, but probably cost closer to $100+ million to make, market, and release worldwide. The appeal of his "comedian who acts like a 70s rock star" image inside Hollywood is without dispute, but his appeal to a wide audience is still highly questionable.

4. The plot-line about Arthur having to marry an heiress in order to keep his fortune sounds way out of place now. High society is no longer the rarefied, mysterious, and impenetrable world it once was. We are now inundated with stories of various "debutards" doing everything from making sex tapes to being caught snorting lines of cocaine off the bare buttocks of dead transsexual prostitutes. Any high end patriarch should be logically relieved if their son wants to marry anyone who doesn't have a 10th trip to rehab is free punch-card.

5. The reports about the film say that the father of Jennifer Garner's character, played by Nick Nolte, is supposed to be some sort of strict religious fundamentalist. Yeah, that's not going to annoy and alienate the mostly Christian American audience. Especially since most Americans seem to know, thanks to the gossip sites and tabloid media, that the modern American upper crust is rarely the prime example of pious sanctity. It also makes his overweening desire to marry off his daughter to a total spaz extremely illogical. The original at least had the excuse that the character of the fiancee's father was a raging snob obsessed with some sort of upper crust version of eugenics.

I get the feeling that the amount of thought put into Arthur, and Miss Marple, like most remakes could fit on the head of a pin, and still leave room for more. Maybe if the audience started a movement declaring a boycott of remakes, then Hollywood might at least stop and actually try to use their remaining functional brain cell to drum up a little imagination for a change.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #701: Hollywood Has Topped Me

Maybe you, my wise and fragrant readers, can answer me this question.

How come the only way Hollywood exceeds my expectations is in the field of stupidity?

Sweet mother of Cthulu, sometimes I wonder is somebody's dropping stupid potion into the Evian and Perrier supply of the Greater Los Angeles area, because I can't really pierce the multiple layers of cognitive dissonance that goes into most Hollywood decisions.

If you follow my inane antics on twitter, then you probably know that I like to make fun of studio notes. Studio notes are those little neural farts that executives like to stink up movies and television with, either to show what they think is their brilliance, or to expose their own insecurities. In these notes they nitpick everything into oblivion, including the very essence of what makes a project commercially viable.

Well, they just topped my worst imaginings, and I want them to
stop.

Their latest victim of Hollywood's bastardization
machine is the venerable English mystery maven Miss Marple, created by Agatha Christie. Miss Marple is an elderly spinster living in the quaint village of St. Mary Mead who has a penchant for solving murders through a keen power of observation, shrewd deductive skills, the ability to get people to open up to her, and literally decades of life experience. The character has been successfully adapted many times, most recently with a very successful series of TV movies in Britain.

Well, the Walt Disney Company has seen those many years of success and they want some of that for themselves. They've paid the Christie estate what has to be some pretty good coin for an option on the character, and have hired a writer to handle the adaptation.... no, wait, adaptation is the wrong word, the
mot juste would be mutilation.

You see Disney has paid money for the character, but they don't actually want the actual character. What they want is to slap the commercially viable Miss Marple name onto what would be the pretty much new creation of a 30ish-40ish year old female detective.

That's right, Disney has paid money for something they are not going to use, chiefly the character, and everything about her, except her name. There are reasons behind the creation of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, one of them being an observation by Christie that English people of her generation tended to speak more freely around old women and foreigners than they did around each other, making them great repositories of secrets and sins. To ditch such an essential element of the character, namely, her age, is to essentially ditch the character.

An odd decision in an age where several actresses, like Helen Mirren or Judi Dench, could star as Marple and either sell tickets or score good TV ratings, depending on the nature of the project. (Most likely television since big screens are pretty much exclusively for big overwrought productions over the more contained mayhem of murder mysteries.)

What's next for Disney? Well, I'll bet dollars to donuts that they're planning another collaboration with the Christie estate, all they need to figure out is who would best play her Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot: Vin Diesel or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

______________

UPDATE: Disney has cast their lovable inquisitive spinster and it's Jennifer Garner.

But don't worry, she will be wearing her "smart glasses," so everything will be all right.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #700: Casting Conundrum Solved

It's all over the internet now, but I'll restate it if you've only just now crawled out of your cave. Zack Snyder, fresh from the critical drubbing and financial mediocrity of Sucker-Punch has named who will play Lois Lane in his reboot of the Superman franchise, and she is.... *drumroll* .... AMY ADAMS.

Personally, I was pretty sure he would have gone for Anne Hathaway, but I think he's made a pretty good choice, because, as I've previously discussed, and
Superman Returns proved, you really can't just shove any pretty face into that role. I'm not saying that Kate Bosworth is a bad actress, I'm just saying that she was in the wrong part. She was too young for the part, hell, she looked younger than the cast of Glee, and they're supposed to be high schoolers not Pulitzer prize winning reporters.

Plus they also tried to make Lois Lane into a woman of the 21st century, when she is in fact a throwback to the plucky, career oriented, adventuresome heroines of the 1930s and 1940s. A "helluva dame" who would have been played by Katherine Hepburn if it had been an "A-List" feature back in the Golden Age.

In my previous piece on this topic I mentioned that when playing Lois Lane there is a fine line between plucky heroine and narcissistic moron, and I think Amy Adams can keep the character on the right side of that line.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Lowbrow Laughs

Time to take a break from my usual ranting and raving about the business of pop culture and have a little laugh.

Today, a rather lowbrow sketch I stumbled upon that just cracked me up. Slightly NSFW & not for the delicate of constitutions...


Friday, 25 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #699: Sucker Punch Gets Sucker Punched

Welcome to the show folks...

Zack Snyder's
Sucker-Punch, his first feature film to not be based on a previously existing work, like a movie or a comic book has been roundly sucker-punched by the critics, who only give it a 20% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Well, from the moment I heard of the premise last year, I figured such a drubbing was inevitable, and when I saw the first trailer a few months ago my opinion was confirmed.

The whole thing sounds like a thirteen year old's visual movie wish list, let's go down that list:

1. Hot girls in skimpy outfits.

2. Hot girls in skimpy outfits shooting guns.

3. Hot girls in skimpy outfits fighting goons.

4. Hot girls in skimpy outfits fighting robots.

5. Hot girls in skimpy outfits fighting zombies.

6. Hot girls in skimpy outfits fighting dragons.

7. H
ot girls in skimpy outfits crashing all sorts of vehicles

8. Hot girls in skimpy outfits blowing shit up left and right.

9.
Hot girls in skimpy outfits getting advice from some wizened Yoda like figure.

10.
Hot girls in skimpy outfits being hot girls in skimpy outfits

What's not to love?

My theory is that Mr. Snyder is primarily a visual filmmaker rather than a narrative one. Give him a pre-existing story that has lots of potential for eye-popping visuals and he will deliver. His specialty is making the fantastical look fantastic, and he does it pretty well.

His film 300 was an excellent piece of bloody, near maniacal, martial melodrama that captured not only the visual style of the source material, but the spirit as well. His adaptation of The Watchmen didn't do as well both critically or commercially, but there were reasons for its failure that go beyond him or his ability. He was relatively faithful to the source material, that was, you have to admit was extremely 80s in both theme and attitude, and had taken on what everyone must admit was an impossible task.

Given free reign to be completely "original" has created a film that is pretty much the above mentioned list of visual tropes that he's probably had bubbling in his head since puberty but without the narrative backbone he's had with his other films because they were adaptations.

Now this critical drubbing could have little or no effect on the film's box office performance. The film is the sort of hyper-kinetic visual joy ride that audiences might flock too. Michael Bay has built his career on that ever since he gave up trying to be a "serious" filmmaker after Pearl Harbor.

There are others who think Warner Bros. might be re-thinking giving Snyder the reins of their upcoming Superman revival. I doubt it. The project is being overseen by Christopher Nolan, who thanks to the success of his Batman movies and Inception is the studio's Golden Boy, and he enjoys a near Kubrick level of trust with the company. He's also the man who took the comic book film to new narrative realms with The Dark Knight. I think Warner Bros. is hoping that Nolan's narrative skill will couple well with Snyder's visual acumen, to create a crowd pleasing blockbuster.

However, even if it doesn't, it still can't be any worse than Jon Peters's squandering of $50 million before a single frame of film was shot developing what became the tedious Superman Returns.

Now there are those of you who might criticize my liberal use of pictures of the
hot girls in skimpy outfits from Sucker-Punch, but I assure you that they are there for purely illustrative and educational reasons, not from some desire to get hits from the lecherous among you.

Really.... I mean that....

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #698: Re-Releasing The King's Speech

Welcome to the show folks...

Weinstein's gone through with it. He's re-edited the award winning film
The King's Speech, excised the flurry of fucks that got an R-Rating, got the new version a PG-13 rating, and will re-release it April 1.

I'm not going to talk about how stupid the
MPAA's ratings board was to slap an R-Rating over some F-bombs, the world is full of people who know, and talk about, how inefficient, arbitrary, and downright erratic the ratings system has become, so I'll look at it from a different tack.

Money.

This whole chop idea springs from Harvey Weinstein's desire to squeeze a little more money out of the film to keep his often floundering movie empire going another day. Many are saying that he thinks that a PG-13 re-release will be the big hit that the R-Rated release wasn't.

Well, let's look at the numbers.

The King's Speech had a production budget of $15 million dollars, otherwise known in Hollywood as chump change. Prints and advertising were probably along similar lines, but let's say the whole kit and kaboodle cost around $50 million. The movie made $133,084,470 in the United States, then it pulled in a further $226,439,429 in foreign box office for a worldwide total of $359,523,899.

Now I know that a lot of that take doesn't go directly to the Weinstein Co., I'm not an idiot. There's the theater's house nut to be covered, and the international release was probably sold to different regional and national distributors, and they all have to get their share. But it's a pretty good guess that the film made a profit.

But that's not the only thing the numbers are telling me.

Do you know what the numbers are telling me?

The numbers are telling me that everybody who wanted to pay to see The King's Speech in the theater have probably already paid to see The King's Speech in the theater. Remember the film's target audience are not children and teenagers, but adults interested in history and the British Royal Family before they all became fodder for the tabloids. These people aren't going to pay any heed to an R-Rating, unless the word of mouth tells them it's some sort of soft-core sex parody.

Among those same people are some people who are probably interested in seeing it again. However, I strongly doubt they're going to spend their hard earned money to see a chopped up version missing a brief scene that's probably important to the film's overall theme and narrative.

So why is the Weinstein Company so adamant about re-releasing the film?

There are two possible theories.

1. The Weinstein Bros. are almost delusional thinking that a PG-13 version will somehow become the next Avatar.

2. The Weinstein Bros. are going to use the re-edit, the re-release, and the costs involved with both, as an excuse to say the film ultimately lost money when it comes time to pay off investors and profit participants.

Which one is right? We will have to wait and see.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Studio Notes For Classic Novels

Welcome to the show folks...

Ex-NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff allegedly said: "Some see the glass as half full, others see the glass as half empty. A TV executive sees the glass and asks- 'Does it have to be a glass?'"

Which got me thinking, and for shiggles I started a little game for my own amusement on my twitter. They're basically Studio Notes for Classic Literature, or #ClassicStudioNotes. Here are what I've done so far...

- To. L. Tolstoy. Re. War & Peace. The Russian names are hard to read. Think relocating story to California.

- To. HP Lovecraft. Re. Antarctic book. Do they have to be mountains of madness? Makes it sound unpleasant.

- To. G. Orwell. Re. 1984. Needs some laughs, we're bringing Bruce Vilanch to punch it up. 14 hours ago Favorite Reply Delete

- To. M. Twain. Re. Tom Sawyer. We're not wild about the dialect. Makes everybody sound like a bunch of rubes.

- To. E.A. Poe. Re. New story. We love the pendulum, but market research isn't wild about the pit.

- To. C. Dickens. Re. Great Expectations. What kind of a name is Pip? Can you call him Steve?

- To. A. Christie. Re. New novel. Does your detective character have to Belgian? Luxemburg's the next big thing.

- To. W. Shakespeare. Re. Romeo & Juliet. Great play, but needs a happy ending. Hiring Ed Devere to punch up the laughs.

- To. H. Melville. Re. Moby Dick. We find title character all over the place thematically. Needs scene where he talks.

- To. G. Orwell. Re. Animal Farm. Need you to sign off on line of plush toys. They're too cute.

- To. RL Stevenson. Re. New scary story. I don't get where this Mr. Hyde character comes from? Is he an out of towner?

- To. A. Burgess. Re. A Clockwork Orange. We think the main character would work better if he was nicer.

- To. R. Bradbury. Re. Fahrenheit 451. Does he have to burn books? Magazines make better product placement opportunities.

- To. S. Beckett. Re. New play. We think the Godot character needs to be a sexy surprise. Think Paris Hilton.

- To. E.A. Poe. Re. Latest poem. We think the raven character is repetitive and annoying. Maybe a wisecracking pigeon?

- To. R. Graves. Re. I, Claudius. Love book, but ancient Rome's isn't hot now. Consider relocating it to Jersey Shore

- To. E.A. Poe. Re. Cask of Amontillado. We think making it a cask of merlot will work better.

- To. AC Doyle. Re. Baskerville book. Does it have to be a hound? Cats are very in this year.

- To. Z. Grey. Re. Book title. Does the riders' sage have to be purple?

- To. W. Shakespeare. Re. Henry V. Does the audience have to see Henry IV to understand this?

- To. R. Chandler. Re. The Big Sleep. We think the title implies the story could be boring. Perhaps something snappier.

- To. Homer. Re. The Odyssey. All that wandering makes it come across like a travelogue.

- To. A. Christie. Re. Orient Express book. Does it have to take place on a train? Buses are cheaper.

- To. HG Wells. Re. Invisible Man. Does he have to be invisible?

- To. B. Stoker. Re. Dracula. Your title character's name sounds foreign. Can't you call him Steve?

- To. S. Pepys. Re. Diary of... Do you really need to go into such detail about every damn day?

- To. C. Dickens. Re. Tale of 2 Cities. Your book keeps going back & forth between the same places, it needs more cities

- To. J. Austen. Re. Pride & Prejudice. Title sounds like a legal tome. Try "Sex & Sexability" it's much catchier.

- To: J. Tolkien. Re: The Hobbit. I don't like a hero that's so short. Can't he be taller?

- To: HG Wells. Re: War of the Worlds. The Martians come across as too nasty. Can't one own a cute dog?

- To: D. Hammett. Re: Maltese Falcon. How can a statue be a falcon & a Maltese dog? Is it a breed of bird-dog?

- To: R.E. Howard. Re: Conan's catchphrase. Can you change "By Crom," to "By crumb?" Think Twinkies product placement.

- To: HP Lovecraft. Re: Monster's name. Cthulu sounds like a sound made while sneezing. Rename him Squidface Steve.

- To: AC Doyle. Re: Your detective's sidekick Watson. Does he have to be a Doctor? Can't he be a sass talking monkey?

- To: Jules Verne Re: The 20,000 leagues. Is it really possible for a boat to go that deep? Get back to me Julie.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #697: Dune Blows Away

Welcome to the show folks...

Paramount has dropped plans to adapt Frank Herbert's science fiction epic
Dune as a big screen feature film.

I think that's for the best, and here's why I think so:

1. SIZE: The novel is too big to condense into a 2+ hour feature film. There's too much back-story, too many characters, and just plain too much. A mini-series format is a more apt medium. By the way, one was made in 2000 under the title Frank Herbert's Dune for the then Sci-Fi network.

2. MOTIVE: The only motive I can think is behind Paramount's desire to make the film was the fact that the miniseries and its sequel did so well for the Sci-Fi network. There was no grand artistic vision behind the decision, just a desire to pollute the screens with just another overpriced remake in the hope that the fans who liked the miniseries would pay good money to see it on the big screen.

3. TIME: That lack of a driven creative vision behind the project is probably one of the main reasons that the project remained in development hell for over 4 years. Without the main decisions were left in the hands of the executives, and they aren't exactly that great at making real decisions. All they can do is toss money at people to do something about it. Millions have probably already been spent on this project, so much that any movie version would require an Avatar level box office to make a bean.

And let's not forget that the first feature version in 1984 was a huge financial and critical bomb.

So let this sleeping sandworm lie for now. Let some more time pass, and then, maybe then, someone who might be able to do something with it could do it right.

At least Herbert's estate got some sweet option money for it. Gotta love that.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #696: You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

Welcome to the show folks...

Recently there have been some news in the arena of the entertainment business that I have written about before, but I think they deserve a second look, so I can clarify some points. First was the story that the AMC and Regal movie theater chains are joining forces to start their own distribution company called Open Road, and I wrote about the motives, means and methods behind the formation of the company. Later, video rental behemoth Netflix dove head first into the realm of original content by giving the greenlight to David Fincher & Kevin Spacey's adaptation of the British political satirical thriller
House of Cards. I wrote that it was a risky but necessary gamble for Netflix to make.

Now the fundamental basis of both of these decisions is the simple fact that the major studios are not putting out enough content for the sheer number of outlets, and the stuff they are putting out often doesn't come up to snuff. In the Golden Age of Hollywood each studio put out over 50 movies a year.

If a movie did poorly in one theater, it was quickly moved to another theater where it might do better, or pulled entirely, and another film put in its place. That way, the theaters weren't in danger of not making their "nut" or per screening operating cost by being stuck with a turkey that doesn't put popcorn & soda buying bums in the seats.

Things are much different. The output of the studios are way down, they don't make as many movies as they used to. However, they love to cram those few movies onto hundreds, if not thousands of screens at a time. The turnover of turkeys needed to protect the theaters from money losing movies is way harder, because if there are way fewer options.

However, they can't just expect this gap to be filled by a lot of independent filmmakers. Since the indie film boom of the 1990s, the bulk of the independent movie scene has gone from trying to do what the studios weren't doing, to becoming nothing more than critical praise/awards bait for Hollywood insiders and wannabe Hollywood insiders than in winning audiences. Open Road distribution will need to seek out filmmakers interested in not just making interesting films, but films that people will actually want to see.

If they don't the whole thing could backfire on them big time.

Netflix's situation is slightly different. They have access to more product, having older films in their back catalog, but have to deal with paying the studios hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the rights to rent their movies, and also witness a reduction in new movie product, and television product.

I don't have concrete numbers, but I suspect that the reality shows that currently clog up the major networks don't take up much space on people's Netflix queues. Most people looking at renting DVDs or digital streams of TV usually look for the dramas and comedies that they missed while they were wasting time watching the reality shows.

However, a lot of those shows that could be rented are made by divisions of the media conglomerates that own the networks. That means huge fees, and battling with the network's plans to create their own wholly owned and operated proprietary outlets especially for digital streaming video.

So it's inevitable that Netflix would get into original content. Now is House of Cards the right gamble for them?

Well, it might be a little too risky. Hollywood doesn't have a good record when it comes to dealing with politics. Especially when they translate the British Tory politician into an American Republican. There is immense potential to completely alienate a good chunk of the video renting audience. The project was passed on by HBO, which rarely meets a star-centric project that it didn't love, and the guaranteed 2 season commitment and $100+ million cost was just a little too much for them to take, and might be too much for Netflix to take.

I would have advised them to start on a smaller scale. Test the waters with cheaper programming, like a sitcom, or sketch comedy, before spending such big money for such a big risk.

Anyway, this is just all just a symptom, and the major Hollywood studios and networks need to shake up how they do business, or they could find themselves being replaced on almost every level.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Making The Best Of A Bad Situation

Welcome to the show folks...

Yesterday I wrote about why Comedy Central put The Situation on stage at the Donald Trump Roast, only to fail miserably. Today, we'll see how it's done right, here's Roastmaster General Jeffrey Ross.

WARNING: NSFW language and subject matter, and the picture is all mirror image flipped over for some reason.


Enjoy.


Friday, 18 March 2011

On Comedy: A Bad Situation

Welcome to the show folks...

Time for one of my irregularly scheduled posts where I talk about the funny business, and what makes something work and what makes something suck six kinds of donkey balls.

Speaking of sucking six kinds of donkey balls reality TV muscle-head The Shituation
Situation really embarrassed himself at the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump. I won't post the video of the weeping pustule called his routine, because I'm not a sadist. But I will tell you why he was put on that stage, even though anyone with half a brain cell, Situation excluded, saw that he could only be a teeth grating disaster.

The main reasons are corporate synergy and branding.

You see Comedy Central, the host for the roasts, is owned by Viacom. Viacom also owns MTV, the network behind the intellectual black hole otherwise known as
The Jersey Shore. Viacom never misses an opportunity to cram some promotion for one of its franchises into another one of its franchises, whether it hurts or not. They call it synergy.

While it's nice for Viacom when one of these cross-over promo-attempts works, it's even better if it falls flat on its face. Remember the Britney Spears on-stage meltdown at the MTV Music Awards a few years ago? She was a disaster, and every entertainment news outlet was harping on it, complete with the MTV logo in the lower right hand corner. That got their "brand" all over the place.

Someone at Viacom thought a repeat of that sort of attention attracting disaster would be a great idea. However they couldn't risk doing that sort of thing with the current crop of celebrity train-wrecks, like Lindsay Lohan, or Charlie Sheen, for legal and financial reasons. (One of those reasons would be the possibility that they might not even show up.)

No, they needed someone with very specific traits:

1. Viacom had to own this person, so to speak.

2. This person also had to have an immense ego to ensure that they think they could what is an extremely tough task without the weeks of preparation required to do it right. They also had to have such a hunger for un-earned attention and fame to make them accept the task
with as little thought as humanly possible put behind the decision.

3. This person had to have such a sheer and utter lack of talent that they could only blow chunks the second they hit the dais. Hence becoming a sad pathetic joke instead of a funny and clever one.

Shake well, step back, and watch the stink from this big steaming pile creep into every corner of the media, including critical internet blogs like this one.

So how does one take the stage to tell jokes and not wind up in a stinky situation like the Situation? You need what I call the Four Ps.

PERSONALITY: If you have a toxic and grating personality, like the subject of this post, you're going to need to find a new one. It has to have some elements of self-deprecation in order to get the audience on your side. You can be obnoxious, but you need something to make you seem human and vulnerable in order to win their sympathy.

PRESENCE: You have to know the conditions you are performing under. The stage, the audience, their mood, the national temper, and how you can use them to improve your own performance. This can be achieved through careful...

PLANNING: You need to write your material. Then rewrite it. Then you have to rehearse it, test it, rewrite it again, and keep honing it until you have everything right. One of the key ingredients you must master is....

PRONUNCIATION: Telling jokes is all about pronunciation. You have to know how to how every syllable, every breath, and every pause is going to work. A well written joke can be killed by something as seemingly innocuous as stressing the wrong syllable at the wrong moment. While instinct helps, practice and experience is essential.

Then you might be able to avoid becoming a public embarrassment, it's not foolproof, but it's better than the less than nothing that guy went in with.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #695: Maybe It's The Murdochs?

Welcome to the show folks...

Some shareholders have filed suit against Rupert Murdoch, claiming that News Corporation's purchase of Shine Group is tantamount to "paying for nepotism" because Shine is run by Rupert's daughter Elisabeth Murdoch.

Now you have to wonder why are they going after old Rupert Murdoch for this. Other media moguls run their companies like personal fiefdoms, often engaging in nepotism and familial infighting that make the Medicis and the Julio-Claudians look like the Osmonds. For the most part the Murdoch/News Corp. operation seems to run smoothly in comparison to the these other companies. Now this could be simply because of the powerful and dominant personality of Rupert Murdoch, but we'll have to wait until after he's gone to prove that theory.

Yet these other companies are rarely, if ever, involved in any sort of shareholder rebellion or litigation like this because of allegations of nepotism. It's not like News Corp's takeover of Shine is exactly a far-fetched idea, or some elaborate accounting scheme. It's a TV production company with a pretty solid valuation, a network of experienced and successful media content creators, and a record of steady growth. News Corp also got a price at the low end of the company's valuation at the time the deal was struck.

This should all be good news for a media conglomerate with more content outlets than content generators. So why are these shareholders freaking out?

Because it's Rupert Murdoch.

You see when the rich and powerful in the media go one way, Rupert goes the opposite way. This extends beyond business, and into politics, which has made Rupert Murdoch a convenient bogeyman for the role of "mad corporate robber baron run amok." It doesn't matter if he's no better or no worse than the others, he doesn't hate the same people that they hate, and they hate him for it.

Does that make any sense?

Let's remember that back when Rupert Murdoch was a fledgling newspaper baron in Australia, most of the country's media was politically conservative in the old puffy Tory mode. He took his papers to the left politically because there was an unexploited audience for that sort of reportage. When he expanded into England, the rest of the media was lurching to the left, so he swung to the right.

That sort of thing is just not done in polite circles. Everyone at the top of the media food chain are supposed to vote the same way, donate the same way, and make doubly sure not to rock the boat for the others by openly criticizing them or their media outlets.

Rupert Murdoch saw this clubhouse attitude and saw an opportunity. He'd stir the shit with a canoe paddle, not only offering differing views via his newspapers and networks, but actively criticizing his rivals for their views.

How does this make him money?

Well, his rivals promptly had a royal freak out over being openly criticized, and they went after Murdoch and his outlets with all guns blazing. This made his brands stand out with audiences, compel them the check them out, and the majority of said audiences either wonder what the big deal was, or they agree with what the outlet said. Either way, most of them keep watching/reading that outlet, allowing Murdoch to thrive in markets where his rivals are suffering.

This isn't exactly cricket to those rivals, and that feeling spreads throughout the moneyed community. In situations where other moguls get a pass, you're permitted to go after Murdoch & Co. hammer and tongs. This is because the others play by the rules established by their peers, and don't act like Murdoch who is playing a different game. One where money, not social standing, matters, and he keeps flipping them the finger every time he scores a goal.

I suspect this lawsuit will get tossed, the deal will go through, and Murdoch will go on to annoy them another day.

The more I learn about big business, the more I realize that it is run way too much like high school.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #694: Questionable Decisions

Welcome to the show folks...

1. SAY WHAT LIONSGATE?

Mini-major Lionsgate has signed a movie development deal with singer/actress Janet Jackson. A deal that Nikki Finke considers stupid, and while I'm not inclined to use Ms. Finke's colorful phraseology, I do wonder about the logic behind it. Musically she hasn't had a hit song in a very very long time, her movie career consists of roles in Tyler Perry films, but her presence doesn't really improve his box office performance. Tyler Perry's audience goes to Tyler Perry's films because they are Tyler Perry films, not because of the cinematic appeal of Miss Jackson (if you're nasty). The last time anyone really seemed to give a hoot about Janet Jackson when her nipple popped up and said hello during the Super Bowl half-time show, and those who did were the kind of people with nothing better to do than write cranky letters to the FCC.

Some say that it's a sop to Tyler Perry to keep him pumping out low costing/high grossing flicks for Lionsgate, but I think there may be something else influencing this decision.

That is
familiarity.

Hollywood loves the familiar, and there's nothing more familiar to Hollywood than the last name Jackson, which had been rejuvenated slightly when her brother Michael died and stopped actively associating it with the sort of freaky shit the tabloids love to talk about.

Will this work out? I don't know, I don't think so, but you never really know.

2. SAY WHAT MGM?

MGM is re-editing, and using digital effects to dramatically changing their long delayed remake of the 80s action flick
Red Dawn.

The original was about a Soviet Russian/Cuban invasion of America, the remake was originally supposed to be about the Communist People's Republic of China invading, but now they're being digitally reworked into becoming North Koreans. Why? Because China's communist government told them too.

Oh dear.

But MGM acquiesced because China is the golden goose of global markets. It has over a billion people, a fast growing economy, and a shitload of America's governmental debt.

You can understand why they don't want to offend a market with such potential, but does this golden goose really lay golden eggs, especially for Hollywood? While the country is getting rich, only a small percentage of the population is actually enjoying said wealth. The rest of the population will be extremely old before any of that wealth trickles down their way. There will be a dearth of young people to take care of that same aging population and there's a grievous shortage of women in China, due to the combination of the Communist Party's 1 child policy partnering with the ancient cultural preference for male children.

But that's in future, in the present, China is extremely protectionist in its trade policies, has a history of manipulating its own currency, and in terms of Hollywood, is a major center of industrial scale film piracy and box office ticket prices are tightly regulated, subsidized, and subject to all sorts of local political/financial interference.

So not only are we seeing a major film company censor itself because of pressure from what is still a dictatorship, but they're also doing it for some pretty weak, potentially pie in the sky, reasons.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #693: Random News

Welcome to the show folks....

A HOUSE OF CARDS GOES UP

Netflix, the online video rental/streaming service, is
diving head first into the realm of original programming by giving the green light to David Fincher and Kevin Spacey's adaptation of the British novel/miniseries trilogy House of Cards.

The
House of Cards trilogy centers on Francis Urquhart, a career politician who, after being denied the senior cabinet position he thinks is rightfully his engages in a ruthless campaign of deceit, treachery, and even murder to get power, keep it, and then use that power to go down in history as a great Prime Minister. Ian Richardson's performance in the role of Urquhart transformed him from a working character actor most famous for doing some dijon mustard ads in the 1980s into a UK TV star and top rank international character actor.

But enough about the original show, let's take a moment to talk about what this development is telling us, which is that Hollywood, specifically the major studios, are not doing their job. Most of the major studios are just small cogs in much larger media conglomerates. Many of these conglomerates also play home to broadcast networks as well as multiple cable channels, and home video divisions. In the name of corporate synergy, these many outlets rely mostly on their sister-studio divisions to produce content for them.

Most of the time these studio divisions fail to produce enough content for these outlets, because they're in a state of contraction when it comes to production. They're spending more money to create less product, because Hollywood's piss-poor business practices have given the industry an inflation rate somewhere between Zimbabwe and Weimar Germany.

When you're a content outlet like Netflix, and see less and less coming out to feed a growing global market that demands more and more, you're going to have to do something bold. That means creating your own content, in conjunction with independent producers, even it means making a 26 episode/2 season commitment, with a license fee of $4-6 million per episode.

For Netflix, this more than just a gamble, this is an essential step in the company's evolution, because the majors just don't cut it anymore.

A YELLOW SUBMARINE GOES DOWN TO DAVEY JONES' LOCKER

Disney has canceled Robert Zemeckis' planned motion-capture digital remake of the Beatles inspired cartoon Yellow Submarine. Now there's talk that the failure of Zemeckis' last mo-cap dip into the Uncanny Valley called Mars Needs Moms sank the submarine, but others deny that, personally I don't really care why, just that it was canceled.

Seriously, does the world really need another piece of baby-boomer 60s nostalgia hokum-horseshit combo using computer animated characters that look like a convention of the soulless undead?

I don't care how well you render their pores, or the hairs on their eyebrows, the Uncanny Valley, that region where the attempt to create realistic looking life just leaves people uneasy, is just too damn deep. The technology maybe there, but the audience, and the artistry ain't.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Cinemaniacal: Stop The Shaking!!!

Welcome to the show folks...

Film critic Christian Toto has raised an interesting question. That question is "Does anyone actually like that shaky cam?"

You know what I mean, you're watching an action movie and the goddamn camera won't stay at any one place for longer than a single frame. The camera's constantly swinging and swooping and wobbling to the point where you manage to get motion sickness and headaches without wearing 3D goggles.

I don't know anyone who goes to movies that actually likes it. I've never seen anyone say anything complimentary of shaky camera work, but I've heard and seen hundreds, if not thousands of complaints. People have actually walked out of movies because of the shaky cam.

So why does Hollywood do it?

Because Hollywood is lazy, loves imitation, and can't see past the surface of anything.

Christian Toto mentions that one of the earliest major films to use the shaky cam was the second Bourne movie directed by Paul Greengrass. The effect was impressive making the 4 foot 9 inch star Matt Damon look fast as a scorpion in the fight scenes and distracted from the narrative shortcomings, specifically the fact that all three Bourne films had pretty much the same plot.

When Hollywood saw the movie make money they looked at its surface, saw the deliberately shaky camerawork, and thought: "That must be it!" but this revelation came with gravy to appeal to their lazy side.

You see, the shaky cam is also shortcut, an easy way out. Where one used to create urgency through writing a suspenseful plot, choreographing elaborate stunts, and carefully constructing action montages in the editing suite, now all you have to do is shake the camera a lot. That means every director with either laziness or the slightest doubt in their own abilities chickens out and start jerking at the camera. And not just during the actions, because if it works in an action scene, then it's bound to liven up a simple dialogue scene, because it's kind of energetic, or at least it sort of looks like it.

So it goes from being new and novel and original to cliche overnight.

How do you get rid of it? Hollywood loves cliches and never lets one go without a fight.

Well, you have to make it an object of parody.

Remember slo-mo? Sam Peckinpah masterfully mixed regular speed and slow motion camera work in The Wild Bunch to recreate the mad chaotic cognitive dissonance of combat. Hollywood saw the slo-mo and said "That must be it!" to themselves and soon you saw slo-mo shots in all sorts of action scenes.

Very few, if any, of these imitators handled slo-mo with the brilliance of Peckinpah, but that didn't stop them, because they thought it looked cool. It was only until it became an object of parody, or mockery, inspiring more laughs than awe that it was finally put to rest.

Then, maybe, Hollywood can learn to leave the camera alone to take the shot, because it's making a lot of people motion sick.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Saturday Silliness Cinema: What's On Spock's Scanner

Welcome to the show folks...

Time for my usual Saturday break from ranting and raving about business to have a giggle.

Enjoy this parade of social awkwardness on the USS Enterprise.


Friday, 11 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #692: Clauses With Claws?

Welcome to show folks...

Sometimes I hate having to be topical, because sometimes being topical means you have to discuss something, or someone, coverage you don't want to talk about. My personal bugbear is Charlie Sheen, his every antic shows a complete failure of the imagination, the now thoroughly cliched banality of drug addiction without the discretion to keep his meltdown private. Even his "goddesses" all seem to look alike. Dude, if you're going to have a harem like a decadent potentate of some exotic kingdom that exists solely in your head, go for some variety, an international sampler if you will.

But thankfully I won't be talking about his private life. I leave that to the tabloids.

What I will talk about is the $100 million lawsuit he's filed against his former employers, that may, or may not be in arbitration. Personally, I don't see this ending well for Sheen, in fact, I think the only people in Sheen's camp that will be getting anything out of this fiasco will be his lawyers.

Why?

It all boils down to scale.

Studios and TV networks are large
scale operations. They have large teams of lawyers being paid hundreds, if not thousands of dollars an hour. They do nothing but compose contracts and fight over those contracts. They live and breath contracts.

They have people study and analyze said contracts making sure that not only is every "i" dotted and every "t" is crossed, and they use literally decades of contract law experience to make sure that they always have a way out.

That's the important part.

You see studios know that actors can veer from being incredibly entertaining to downright frustrating, and occasionally, as in the case with Mr. Sheen, bat-shit crazy without any notice. That means that they have to be prepared for such events, and that's why contracts for TV stars have what I call "clauses with claws."

In the old days the common tactic was to cite the "morality clause" to get rid of a star when he or she was mired in scandal. They aren't as prevalent these days, since Hollywood seems to prefer scandal to morality so they tend to only be enforced when the star in question gets busted for a felony like murder. And while Sheen hasn't been busted for murder, yet, there are, no doubt, other clauses the network and producers can cite to bury his lawsuit in counter-litigation until Sheen's either dead, or living under an overpass pushing a shopping cart full of rain-soaked porn vintage magazines.

There is no way they would have signed on with someone with Sheen's colorful past without such clauses. To do so would involve an almost NBC network level of stupidity, and neither CBS and Warner TV are that dumb. Sheen might think that being able to show up at the studio somehow gets him around these clauses, but that's just stupidity on his part, and if his lawyers are truly looking out for his interests, they'd be looking for some sort of quick settlement instead of a prolonged battle, especially when we return to the topic of scale.

Warner Bros. TV and the CBS network are individually immensely bigger than Sheen and his legal team, and combined basically make him a bug compared to an elephant. They can easily afford to drag this out. They can drop millions on lawyers over a period of years, because they have billions in their war chests. Sheen merely has millions, and several ex-wives, children, lawyers, porn stars, prostitutes, and drug dealers to support. He may be rich, but he's no where near rich enough to hang on for the sort of fight his opponents are going to give him. He will be bankrupted so far his children's grandchildren's genetically engineered clone-spawn will still be in debt.

And I think they're going to give a real whopper of a fight because they have to.

Sheen's behavior has cost them money, time, and a hell of a lot of public embarrassment. They are bound by what few principles they have to make an example out of him to serve as a warning to others whose behavior could negatively affect them and their business interests.

Unless there's some face saving settlement, and fast, this will get ugly, and Sheen will end up under the bus.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #691: Miscellaneous Musings

Welcome to the show folks...

Time for a few short snaps, enjoy.

PITY THE DICTATOR'S SPAWN

No, I'm not talking about the dimwitted heir(ess) of some hyper-cranky studio boss, I'm talking about the son of a real dictator. It seems the era when Hollywood loved blood money has ended, because former pop star employer turned wannabe movie producer Saadi Qaddafi, son of Muammar Qaddafi, is now a pariah in Hollywood who can't get anyone to play with him.

The ironic twist is that now it's more likely for Qaddafi to keep his money. If Hollywood really wanted to punish him, they'd treat him like an ordinary investor.

THE MURDOCH WAY

Actress Sienna Miller is currently suing Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation because a reporter for one of their newspapers hacked her cell phone and the phones of some other British celebs. Now folks are asking if she's worried that this lawsuit might prevent her from ever working for 20th Century Fox ever again, and she says she's not worried at all.

Of course she's not worried, but she I don't think she fully understands why she shouldn't be worried. The real reason she should be cool as a cucumber is what I call The Murdoch Way.

The Murdoch Way is simple and can be boiled down to a very basic rap lyric: It's all about the Benjamins.

If the Murdochs think you can make them money then they don't care what you say, or who you sue. The only time you have to worry about not being hired by one of their companies is if they think you will cost them more than you will earn them.

It's almost zen in its simplicity.

YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD BAG OF CASH

A first edition copy of
Amazing Fantasy #15 containing the debut of Spider-Man has sold for $1.1 million.

Coincidentally, that amount will be the ticket price needed for
Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark to break even.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #690: Universal Gets Lost In The Mountains Of Madness

Welcome to the show folks...

Sad news for lovers of strange creatures dwelling in dark corners, Universal Pictures' development of Guillermo Del Toro's
At The Mountains Of Madness has stalled indefinitely, and Del Toro has moved onto another project. Now while part of me wants to call the wrath of Cthulu down upon the slack-jawed philistines of Universal Pictures, I can actually understand where they're coming from. Let's look at the pros and cons and then you can decide about this project for yourself.

PROS:

1. THE SOURCE MATERIAL: For the ignorant among you the script is based on a novella by H.P. Lovecraft. It's the story of an expedition to the Antarctic who discover an ancient city among the ice and realize that it's alive with all sorts of strange and nasty horrors.

It's considered one of the classics of the horror genre, and has influenced generations of writers. The short story "Who Goes There," by John W. Campbell jr. which was the basis of
The Thing franchise (especially John Carpenter's version) was a spiritual sequel to At The Mountains Of Madness. It has a lot of fans who became doubly excited when they heard about...

2. THE PEOPLE BEHIND IT: This adaptation was to be made by Guillermo Del Toro, a director whose phantasmagorical visual style is considered by many to be perfect for the project. It was also set to be produced by James Cameron, fresh off of
Avatar, and could possibly star Tom Cruise in the role of the heroic geologist battling shape-shifting horrors.

CONS:

1. THE SOURCE MATERIAL: While the novella has its fans, it's not really a "mainstream" classic along the lines of the
Dracula or Frankenstein. The prose is dense, impenetrable to some, and a lot of people are just turned off by Lovecraft's name without giving his work any real chance. Plus, it is a horror story, pure and simple. It features mutilations, dissections, and nasty slimy oozy things coming at you from dark corners. It wouldn't really translate into a more mainstream adventure story very well, and could wind up getting hosed when it comes to...

2. THE RATING: The odds of this movie getting an R rating are pretty good. The MPAA ratings apparatus is highly capricious, and more and more prone to bump a rating up the ladder, rather than down, in the name of the illusion of "protecting the children." Now if they remain faithful to the source material, there's no sex, or coarse language, so the MPAA would have to rate it on the grounds of violence and gore, which the original novel has aplenty. Even if the film version is no gorier than an average episode of
CSI that gets repeat airings during weekend afternoons it could easily get branded with an R rating, just as a matter of principal.

R rated movies don't make as much money as movie rated PG-13, PG, or G, it's simple mathematics. Adult audiences don't go to repeat screenings the way younger audiences do, and R rated movies don't normally generate the merchandising opportunities found in their gentler cousins. You're not going to find kids screaming for a plush Shoggoth of their very own at Christmas time, instead they might scream if they do find one.

This film has to avoid the R rating, and the reduced returns from said rating if it's going to make a profit, which is a tricky proposition anyway considering....

3. THE COST: The proposed production budget for this film is $150 million dollars. Even in today's Hollywood economy that is a truckload of money. It could go even higher, namely because of producer James Cameron, who can't do a home video of his seventeenth wedding without spending $100 million on CGI and then there's Tom Cruise, who won't be offering to this movie for free, even though his recent box office performance says that's what he's worth.

Then there's the prints and advertising costs, which could easily hit another $150 million, meaning that the film would probably need to make $300,000,000+ just to break even. That's a task that would be nearly impossible for an R rated movie.

If they really want this movie to get made the filmmakers have to come up with a way to either make it much, much cheaper, or find a way to get a PG-13 rating at most, which is highly improbably unless they take out just about everything that made the original story such a classic shocker.

As Ned Flanders would say, this is a dilly of a pickle to be in.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #689: Twentieth Century Fox Needs A New Plan

Welcome to the show folks....

Can you name Fox's biggest money-making movie of 2010?

I won't keep you in suspense, it was the indie production/Fox Searchlight release Black Swan. The low budget bat-shit ballerina movie raked in $103.9 million, and here's why:

1. Fox Searchlight, unlike other major studio's "indie" divisions actually hopes for a return on their investment beyond getting their executives invites to the swankier Oscar parties. So they handled the promotion and release of the film extremely well with the intention of selling it to more than Academy and Indie Spirit voters.

2. Two hot chicks making out.

3. The buzz about the film's strangeness inspired curiosity, good word of mouth from the initially curious ticket-buyers inspired consistently solid ticket sales.

Now that we know why Black Swan did well, why did it beat so many of Fox's other productions from A-Team to Date Night to Knight & Day?

Well, there's a lot of conjecture, but from what I've seen that conjecture seems to be quite accurate. The legend I heard is that Fox operates everything around a simple strategy. That strategy is to release certain types of films at certain times of the year, and watch the money roll in.

If this is true, then they're making the classic gambler's mistake. Releasing films is an inherently risky business. It doesn't matter how good or bad the film is, or how well you promote it, a film's ultimate fate is based on a capricious, fickle, and often perverse creature called The Whimsy Of The Audience.

Folks think they can understand this strange creature, and create "systems" to bring it under control, but it's all an illusion. Sure, you can have a few wins when you roll the proverbial dice, but sooner or later, the hideous bitch goddess of success will turn on you and kick you square in the cinematic pills.

The best system is no system at all. Using instinct, looking at projects and thinking: "I would pay money to see that!" over trying to find something to fit some sort of release date protocol is good. Working hard to make sure you make and market the most entertaining and interesting films around is good. Understanding that the business will always be risky, and understanding that you can only prepare for, but only rarely prevent, disaster is good.

In fact, maybe you should put someone with absolutely no system outside common sense and gut instinct to run your movie business, might I humbly suggest:
You can't blame me for trying. Have you seen what these CEOs are making these days?