(FilmThreat – 12/25/05)
And so, my friends, we come to the end of 2005. What was the biggest movie story of 2005? Was it Tom Cruise obviously going off the meds he’s been on for 20 years just prior to going on Oprah? Was it the return of the true adult oriented R-rated comedy? No, I don’t think either of those fit the bill. I think the biggest story of the year was the firing of Geoffrey Ammar from his position as the head of marketing at Sony Pictures. Now many of you might be thinking, “Are you high?” Others might be thinking, “Why does FilmThreat continue to publish this guy’s column?” Good questions, both of those. Allow me to explain.
2005 saw a dramatic slump occurring in box-office receipts. Inflated ticket prices had kept grosses artificially high for years and high energy prices combined with lousy movies caused many (many) people to simply shrug their shoulders and decide to stay home. Ammar’s firing was the equivalent of the Waponis sending Tom Hanks’ Joe to jump into the volcano. It was largely symbolic but meant by the villagers (in this case other Sony executives) to appease the gods and hold off their displeasure.
Poor marketing became the scapegoat for the failure of such movies as “Bewitched,” “Stealth,” XxX: State of Union, Into the Blue and countless others. Was marketing really to blame for the underperformance of “Stealth”? No, it was the fact that the story revolved around pilots trying to stop a super-intelligent plane that basically was Johnny 5, only armed with nuclear missiles. Ammar was shown the door as a way to show stockholders that the company was doing something and holding someone to blame, even if that man had failed in his task to turn cow shit into platinum.
So now that I’ve ranted for a bit, let’s take a look at some of the movies that whose campaigns I reviewed and see how what I said about them compared to how they did at the box-office.
WHAT I WROTE: Everything about this campaign reeks of a studio toss-off in the post-Christmas wasteland.
WHAT PETE VONDER HAAR THOUGHT: “Elektra” represents all the problems that go along with making movies out of lesser known comic book characters
BOX OFFICE: $24 million
THE LESSON: If you’re going to put Jennifer Garner in tight leather, at least make sure that’s not the only thing you’re hanging the success of your movie on.
WHAT I WROTE: Have I mentioned Jessica Alba plays a stripper?
WHAT KJ DOUGHTON THOUGHT: Sin City” has the visual kick of a roman candle. Abandoned factories, Oceanside docks, and sleazy strip clubs come to vibrant life, colors blooming like tulips in a garden of black and white. However, roller-coasters are only fun with a build-up and a wind-down. Otherwise, even the most jaded thrill-seekers will eventually want off. “Sin City” is like that. It doesn’t know when to take a break.
BOX OFFICE: $74 million
THE LESSON: A bold, creative movie that doesn’t get bogged down in trying to cater to the lowest common denominator can be a hit, especially if it’s got a fun and striking marketing campaign.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
WHAT I WROTE: Between the unfunny posters, unfunny trailers and unfunny website Disney isn’t doing a very good job of marketing this as a movie. The campaign had such potential that has been pissed away.
WHAT PETE VONDER HAAR THOUGHT: Devotees of the original stories are going to be frustrated that their favorite bits have been truncated or excised outright, while newbies will likely wonder what all the fuss has been about these last few decades. I’m going to go ahead and recommend it, if only because I’m happy to finally see a big budget version of Douglas Adams’ magnum opus on the silver screen
BOX OFFICE: $51 million
THE LESSON: Quirky, funny books that feature very dry humor should not be made by Americans who specialize in over-the-top whiz-bang mindless crap. Something will, and did, get lost.
Revenge of the Sith
WHAT I WROTE: Does it really matter how good the campaign actually is? No. The trailer could have featured Lucas taking a dump on a Millennium Falcon toy and it still would have registered millions of views in the first few hours.
WHAT PETE VONDER HAAR THOUGHT: “Episode III” manages, in the end, to almost redeem the franchise. I’m not going to lie and say every single continuity problem is addressed, or that “Revenge of the Sith” is the best movie of the year, but it is without a doubt the film we’ve been waiting for Lucas to make since 1998.”
BOX OFFICE: $380 million
THE LESSON: Maybe Lucas just needed to shake the dust off after taking 16 years off from directing. Unfortunately he did that by making the first two prequels. Whatever the case, Revenge of the Sith was the most emotionally satisfying entry, even if Christensen did look like he was brought to the set just he was about to go take a dump every time.
WHAT I WROTE: Vaughn and Wilson look like they’re having fun, and that’s to be expected.
WHAT RICK KISONAK THOUGHT: Will a better comedy come along this summer? I seriously doubt it. This is a major blast of fast-talking, loopily plotted, politically incorrect film fun.
BOX OFFICE: $209 million
THE LESSON: You can make an adult comedy that is both hilarious and intelligent that does well at the box-office. If this one hadn’t done well The 40-Year Old Virgin would have been put into turn around so fast Steve Carrel’s head would have been spinning.
WHAT I WROTE: It’s clear from the trailer that many of the laughs are going to come at the expense of what could be called political correctness. Many of the jokes are racist, sexist or otherwise completely inappropriate. For that I have a whole new level of respect for the filmmakers.
WHAT HEIDI MARTINUZZI THOUGHT: The lack of focus on the direction of the story leaves the course a little skewed, and the funny scenes are never really THAT funny, and the dramatic scenes are never really THAT sad. This movie doesn’t bite. It doesn’t create anything. It’s not a masterpiece. But it is funny.
BOX OFFICE: $305,000. Yeah, you read that right.
THE LESSON: A well put together marketing campaign can mask the smell of a half-assed movie. As if we needed to be told this.
WHAT I WROTE: While Crowe’s existing fan base will probably be enticed by the campaign I’m not sure it goes far enough in trying to reach out to a general audience. I don’t know if the formal campaign can overcome the bad word-of-mouth the early screenings let loose.
WHAT PETE VONDER HAAR THOUGHT: Unfortunately, with “Elizabethtown,” Crowe finally has his first genuine dog since 1984’s “The Wild Life.”
BOX OFFICE: $26 million.
THE LESSON: Sometimes even the greats can misfire. Hopefully he can get it back in the same way that Tim Burton has been doing the last few years.
The Weather Man
WHAT I WROTE: Bland and uninspired for a movie that looks bland and uninspired. How many times are we going to have to watch someone be sad in their sucky life until they discover that the spouse and kids they’ve been ignoring hold the key to their redemption?
WHAT PETE VONDER HAAR THOUGHT: If you’re going to see this based on Paramount’s marketing spiel that it’s a comedy, be warned. “The Weather Man” is definitely a darker film than you’ve been led to believe. “The Weather Man” misfires occasionally, but Cage is quite believable as the man watching his life slip out of control.
BOX OFFICE: $12 million
THE LESSON: The movie probably didn’t even know what it was supposed to be, a comedy or drama. Considering people didn’t even want to go to movies that were marketed well I’m not surprised they skipped this one.
As usual there were awful campaigns for good movies and good campaigns for bad movies in 2005. 2006 will of course have the same mix and I’ll be here (unless someone wises up) to shout “bullshit!” when the situation warrants. See you then.