Friday, November 30, 2007

The Golden Figure

Next Wednesday sees the opening of the main tentpole film of the Winter/Christmas period: The Golden Compass. In previous years this position has been fairly profitable for the high profile and high advertising budgeted (see: half the Harry Potter films, Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, King Kong, Narnia, Casino Royale) and Compass is no different. Except for one particular oddity: Nobody in Hollywood is expecting it to make a profit in the cinema.

According to it's director, Chris Weitz, the budget for The Golden Compass is around "the 220 million dollar mark". This figure is for the production alone and does not include the cost of advertising and the amount of money it takes to produce the thousands of 32mm prints for distribution to cinemas. So, the final magic figure for New Line Cinema (it's production company) is somewhere in the region of $350 million. Of course, the film will easily make that amount in worldwide box office receipts after about 2 weeks, but a good deal of it will go to the theaters for their operating costs and their own profit. Therefore, The Golden Compass will need to make between $800 to $900 million until New Line actually sees any profit. This doesn't really make any sense (as it's not going to make anything near that amount in theaters) until you consider DVD sales and TV syndication deals.

New Line is expecting the current DVD market to snap up The Golden Compass, to make enough money to push it into that profitable realm and be the deciding factor in the question of further sequels. It's thinking like this that makes current blockbuster budgets appear to be astronomical (see Spider-Man 3, Transformers, Pirates Of The Caribbean) when, in fact, they are pre-approved as an investment in DVD sales.

The current Writers' Strike is is sign that all is not well with this system. Writers (and soon directors and actors unless an agreement is reached) feel that producers are reaping the benefits of DVDs which have come swiftly with the dawn of the product (and so swiftly that the WGA had neither the time nor the inclination to renegotiate contracts) while they get minimal returns themselves. It's fair (and right) to say that writers deserve their slice, but the issue of money is hiding another, more strange fact.

If blockbusters are expected to finish their run in cinemas with an overall loss, then it's reducing a theatrical release to an advertising campaign for DVD. Now, this is not the case for most of the films currently released on these shores and Hollywood has shown signs that they are budget conscious with some potential blockbusters, Cloverfield for example. But it remains a fact that as the opening weekend figures for The Golden Compass come in that, unless it's a total failure, the studio heads will barely take any notice.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Catch Up!

I've been fairly busy (and ill, darn colds!) of late and haven't been posting at all, but that hasn't stopped me from going to ye ol' pictures. Some short reviews of what I've seen during November...

If you go to see this, make sure it's in the main screen (The Mezz) in Dundrum as it's there that you'll find the Real D Cinema version. It's in 3D (the same type that James Cameron is using for Avatar) and looks fantastic. Don't, however, see it in the IMC as their 3D version is your old-skool, red/green, headache-inducing shite-fest. As a film, it's better then you think it is but is still only ok.
Rating: * * * (3 Stars)

Into The Wild
One of the films of the year. This deserves a longer review as it's an incredible tale and handled really well by screenwriter/director Sean Penn. It does drag at some points which makes it's 2 hour plus runtime feel almost longer, but there's no denying it's brilliance. It comes highly recommended and will stay long in your memory after you've left the cinema.
Rating: * * * * * (5 Stars)

Here's something that I can guarantee has already been said in countless other reviews of this film: if you liked The Princess Bride then you'll love Stardust! Why do I repeat it? Because it's the best way to summarize it! While not as funny, witty or clever as Bride, it's still quite enjoyable and a lot of fun. Not quite a 4 star film, but not as bad as a 3 star.
Rating: * * * and a half (3.5 stars)

Eastern Promises
Very well directed and performed (Viggo is excellent!), Eastern Promises is let down by a script that is confused of its own focus. Two stories are told here: one concerns Naomi Watts and a baby orphaned by a badly treated Russian girl, and the other is about the Russian mafia in London. They chose to conclude the former (in an unsatisfying fashion) and leave the latter dangling. It's unfortunate that the latter story is where Eastern Promises is at its most riveting.
Rating: * * * (3 Stars)

Horrorthon: Day 5

Director Tim O'Sullivan was the festival guest for the final day, bringing with him screenings of Hood Of Horror (which I missed, thankfully!) and his new film Driftwood.

Review: Driftwood
It's a TV movie essentially. Same kind of production value, actors who you'll find in the depths of mediocre or worse TV shows and a story that pretty much riffs off The Devil's Backbone (a much better film). And it wasn't all that scary, or even looked like it was even trying to be scary. A poor effort, but the DVD is apparently selling well in the States.
Rating: * * (2 Stars)

Following a rather long Q & A with O'Sullivan, where he came across as a decent individual and decried the emergence of torture porn (go Tim!), there was a screening of Close Encounters. What was interesting about this is that it was a brand new print from Columbia Pictures of Spielberg's definitive edit. Most of the additional scenes from the Collector's Edition DVD remain (and some are trimmed) but gone is the final scene inside the mothership, something that Spielberg hated having to include in a re-release some time following the original. It looked great and was a good reason as any for those with Blu Ray players to buy the new disc.

Review: Planet Terror
Talk about the perfect way to end the festival! Full of over-the-top gore, violence, laughs and in-jokes it was a hell of a ride, especially while watching it with a cinema full of horror hounds. A film like this is practically impossible to review, as it's shortcomings are on purpose and any attempt to pick at them is utterly pointless. So instead I ask the question: how enjoyable was it? It was great, but it's subject won't push it beyond anything that could be construed as a masterpiece.
Rating: * * * * (4 Stars)

5 days of horror movies and I was exhausted. The following 2 days I took in Psycho, The Exorcist and Halloween at another horror fest in the IMC in Dun Laoghaire. While it doesn't compare to the "official" IFI Horrorthon it was good to see some effort in a multiplex attempting to give it's audience something that resembles purposeful programming. It showed they're not totally governed by a studio release schedule and I hope they continue it next year.