Hot Button Archive for May, 2002

Spider-Man Opens & Early Bourne Review

What does the estimated $114 million start for Spider-Man mean?
Why beat around the bush by writing about anything else first, even if Mike Ovitz’ exit from AMG is a bigger story in the overall framework of the industry? Of course, your never-modest correspondent might point out that the Spider-Man story is really just an extension of the ongoing insanity in this industry as covered in this column for the last couple of years in particular.
The story of this weekend is not likely to be one that lasts very long. It’s not so much a matter of Star Wars: Episode Two beating the Spider-number in two weeks. The truth is, it is really up to George Lucas and Fox to decide whether the record falls. Yes, I am saying that George Lucas can decide for himself whether he wants to have the next record-breaking opening. All he and Fox has to do is to allow enough theaters enough flexibility to show Attack of the Clones on more than 6000 actual screens, just as Sony did on this opening weekend. (The screen count/per-screen statistic is now the most abused number in box office analysis.)
Everything else that LucasFilm and Fox have done in preparation for Clones is right on target. Besides masterminding the buzz on the supposedly independent internet and newsmagazines, they have now taken the amazing step of opening the media floodgates by screening the film for the press this Tuesday, more than a week before opening night and close enough to the Spidey opening to shift the buzz a full week ahead of schedule. There have even been reports that Fox has released the embargo rules – something they have since denied. However, the fact that the alleged memo freed the press to review as of this Wednesday – the day after the press screenings – suggest that it was real… and that Fox is expecting the door to open regardless of what the rules are.
After all, what else can be expected after last week’s Time Magazine review by Jess Cagle, which misleadingly suggested that Time’s film critic, Richard Schickel, had seen and approved the picture, and the parade of internet reviews that has started appearing, as per LucasFilm’s plan (they all saw the film weeks ago). Don’t even get me started on the most clever (ab)use of Ain’t It Cool since DreamWorks used the site to beat the Gladiator drum early.
But what about Spider-Man? Oops… I already forgot about the record-shattering weekend. Spider-Man is a good movie. The most amazing part of this weekend’s record-breaker – and I know some of you will get a quizzical look on your face when you read this – is how quiet it was. Yes, there was a whole lot of cross promotion and hype. But it was nothing in comparison to the Harry Potter hype… not even close. More pointedly, I was floored by how easy it was to get into the movie this weekend. My nephew, who went to see Spidey as part of a birthday party on Sunday, was amazed by the line that snaked down the street. But it was a third the size of the lines for Episode One and a quarter the size of weekend lines for Batman. And seats were available for a 4:15 show. You’ll notice that most of the “look at these sell-out” stories are about Saturday.
Sorry, Spider-Man just isn’t one of those industry-changing franchises. Of course, it’s not X-Men either… solid but not stunning. It’s a terrific franchise. To my mind’s eye, it’s a better franchise than the Harry Potter franchise (fewer percentage players with smaller percentages for the those who exist). In some ways, it is better than the Lord of The Rings franchise (it’s not limited to three films and the sequels don’t inherently have to feel like continuations).
But it’s just not Star Wars or Indiana Jones or even a Batman. It just isn’t. The $411 million worldwide scored by Batman thirteen years ago would likely be over a billion these days. Of course,
the production and P&A costs would be treble as well.
Remember, the film whose record Spider-Man just broke, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, had a hard time passing the $300 million mark domestically after a $90 million opening weekend and no major franchise opposition (Lord of the Rings) for over a month. And while Lord of the Rings opened with a little better than half the number that Potter did, their final domestic tally will be separated by less than $10 million total.
Titanic, the highest domestic and worldwide grosser of all time, opened to under $29 million. And Star Wars: Episode One, which opened to less than $65 million, a number that lingers in the record books behind four separate openings from last summer (Pearl Harbor, Planet of the Apes, The Mummy Returns and Rush Hour 2), but still became the fourth highest grossing film domestically, the
second highest domestic grosser ever if you don’t count re-releases and the third highest grossing film of all time worldwide. We can all whine and bitch about Jar Jar Binks, but understand something… audiences did not turn their backs on The Phantom Menace and its box office was not a phenomena of a massive opening weekend. Episode One was the leggiest franchise movie since Jurassic Park hit in 1993… back when second-run houses actually made money and a film could run for over a year in first and second run.
Of course, I feel a little silly dissing Spidey just as it becomes the first film with a $100 million weekend. But it’s about perspective. Sony execs are quite smart not to start guessing, as Warner Bros. execs did, that Spider-Man could end up doing Titanic numbers. They know that a domestic haul of $350 million is more likely and that $400 million would be a stunning triumph in today’s (or any day’s) marketplace. Chasing Titanic’s $1.8 billion theatrical haul will require a true freak of movie nature. Harry Potter is now #2 all-time, coming just short of the billion-dollar mark. Think about that. The number two film of all time is more than 44 percent behind number one.
So, does Spider-Man have a legitimate shot at $1 billion worldwide? Not really.. Attack of the Clones is the only film with a legitimate shot at the billion mark this year. My bet is that the next Harry Potter movie will drop slightly and the next Lord of the Rings movie will rise slightly. If there really was
a disappointment factor on The Phantom Menace and if Attack of the Clones is really that much better, making up the $78 million that TPM was short of a billion shouldn’t be that difficult. Additionally, Clones has the advantage, as did Spidey, of a 50 cent ticket increase across much of the nation marking the start of summer. When you are talking about these numbers of tickets sold, the increase can account for $5 million to $7 million in additional gross on opening weekend and as much as $50 million in total gross numbers.
Oh yeah… Spider-Man. Look for a final number between $650 and $750 million worldwide. And there is nothing wrong with that. Anyone who writes about next weekend being a disappointment when Spider-Man slides to $52 million is an idiot. And when Attack of the Clones opens to $78 million – $97 million with Thursday included – anyone who writes about Star Wars being in trouble is also an idiot. I anticipate
that Lucas and Fox will plan a huge, but not record-chasing opening and plan on being the leggiest film of the summer, outgrossing Spider-Man by $100 million or more domestically and by $200 million or more in
foreign territories. That’s the plan I anticipate. The reality? Who knows?

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin