For all intents and purposes, the 2007 box office campaign ended on Labor Day. In the interim since the perfect storm of summer threequels, there has not been much out there to excite consumers. What had passed for a run of the mill blockbuster during the summer such as Ocean's 13 or Live Free Or Die Hard wouuld have been one of the strongest titles of Fall 2007. It has been grim out there, and I can best demonstrate this with an anecdote. During a dinner with my brother's family around Halloween, I was asked what were the big titles of Holiday 2007. The question stumped me. I came up with only two answers for titles that I consider to be foolproof hits. Everything else I could list had a downside to it. This means that the December list you read below has a lot of depth to it, but the number of slam dunk hits ends at #2...a number that accurately represents the movie release schedule since Labor Day.
December 2007 Forecast
By David Mumpower
December 8, 2007
1) National Treasure: Book of Secretss
I thought that the first title would be a hit, but I would be lying to a degree that would make Pinocchio uncomfortable if I said I knew it would be that huge. The movie made roughly $350 million worldwide. People know this was a Nicholas Cage movie, right? This story is the genius of Hollywood, really.
If an actual person tried to steal the Declaration of Independence, we would treat them like King Leonidas treats Team Xerxes...or like Isaiah Thomas treats his female employees...or like the women on that strange island treat Nicholas Cage after they see him wearing the bear suit. It wouldn't be pretty. Make a fictitious story about it that is not quite legally actionable for Dan Brown and suddenly we have ourselves a ballgame.
I found National Treasure to be the most overblown, creatively empty action blockbuster since Con Air (hmm, what could be the commonality here?). That in no way prevents me from recognizing that this sequel is damn near invincible at the box office. The only real question to be determined is whether mainstream audiences are more enticed by this sequel or the much more creative entry listed directly below.
2) I Am Legend
I have been covering movies for so long now that this has become the third "It will never happen" project of the 1990s to get made. The first was A.I., a movie I was certain died with Stanley Kubrick. The second was the project that Jim Cameron could never get off the ground no matter how hard he tried, Spider-Man. I Am Legend is almost as surprising to me as A.I. Budget escalation over the years had led me to believe that a third major re-make of the Richard Matheson novel would not be forthcoming. But here we are. And it looks huuuuuge.
A nice combination of post-apocalyptic dystopian horror and vampire mythos, the premise of I Am Legend is timeless. A virus wipes out the human race save for one man. Not all of the species is eradicated, though. Some evolve (or devolve?) into a nocturnal race that fears the light and also fears the only remaining daywalker. Two prior adaptations of the novel have featured Vincent Price and Charlton Heston and each one is a masterpiece. That is a hard road for I Am Legend to follow, but this discussion is not about the film's quality but instead its box office. If you have seen the marketing campaign for this title, you have no doubt on the matter of its financial success. I Am Legend is a juggernaut waiting to happen. It will continue Will Smith's hot streak as one of the few consistent draws in the industry.
3) The Golden Compass
A series of unengaging, dare I say dull, trailers has finally been replaced by a white hot ad that plays up the strongest selling point of the book. Armor clad polar bears want to beat ass. It just doesn't get any more hardcore than that. If Fox wants to run this reality show during the writers' strike, I'll watch. You put a gigantic white bear in some golden armor, starve him for a few days then point him in the direction of some potential meat and that's a sight to behold. Of course, it's also a theological cousin to the type of activities that got Michael Vick in trouble, but I think I can suppress my liberal guilt long enough to enjoy a few good maulings.
The problem with The Golden Compass as a movie is that I get the feeling the polar bear royal rumble won't come until I am already bored to sleep by the proceedings. I have read this book and it was as big a snooze fest as there is outside of the Thomas Pynchon collection. The first few trailers seem much more in tone with the novel than the recent spot that socks-rocks. In talking to others about the film, this feeling is confirmed and the early tracking, while not alarming, certainly does little to indicate that Aslan should be shaking in his paw-booties. The Golden Compass is intended to be a family film that will entice children, but I cannot shake the notion that there are going to be an unusually high percentage of snoozing kids during those first few screenings. And parents talk. Word-of-mouth on this is not going to be pretty.
4) Charlie Wilson's War
My love of Aaron Sorkin is well documented, which means two things. I legally cannot get with 50 yards of him and these comments should be construed as those of someone who has a bias on the topic. Those of you who are more casual movie fans as well as BOP readers probably don't understand what any of this means. The short answer is that Aaron Sorkin is the writer of A Few Good Men as well as Charlie Wilson's War. He also did three television shows, two of which you may know. Those are The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He also did a show called Sports Night that it hurts me to acknowledge you probably don't know. Please be a dear and add it to your Netflix queue. I promise not to spit on your family's graves if you do....unless you piss me off at a later date. But I digress.
The point is that Aaron Sorkin has not done a movie in a while. The last time he did one, arguably the biggest male and female leads in Hollywood, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, frontlined the project. Amazingly enough, the same could be said of Charlie Wilson's War as Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are the stars. This immediately guarantees at least a solid amount of box office. I would like to predict more. Really, I would. Unfortunately, I did something I almost never do. I cheated and read the script. While I loved it, the reality is that there is an aspect of this movie I expect to alienate some viewers. Without going into spoileriffic details, suffice it to say that I believe that unless the reviews are orgasmic, word-of-mouth on this will not be strong enough to make it the type of hit Tom Hanks usually does. I would love to be wrong, though.
5) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
If I lived to be a thousand years old (Come on, modern medical science! Hook a brother up!), I still would not ever grow to understand the appeal of this. Jersey Girl features this musical as a sub-plot, and I had to ask my wife why Kevin Smith would do such a thing. Knowing as little as I possibly can about the story (and believe that I have tried to shield myself for most details), this looks like Little Shop of Horrors with scissors. I love Johnny Depp so, so much yet I could not possibly have less interest in this project. His and Tim Burton's names on the billboard combined with some Oscar buzz should make it the second musical hit of the year after Hairspray (High School Musical 2 wasn't released in theaters, so all you 13-year-old girls can save your spiteful emails).
6) The Great Debaters
Feel good films do so much better in December, which is good news for Denzel Washington's latest project. Of course, the better news is that Washington is in it. While not quite the box office draw that Tom Hanks and Will Smith are, Washington is among the most consistent performers in the industry. This tale of African-American pride is a bit like another wonderful movie Washington did, Remember the Titans, except that The Great Debaters celebrates more intellectual pursuits. The trailer for this is a charming celebration of triumph over adversity and prejudice. This project looks to be a nice sized sleeper hit that can also make a claim as one of the best quality pictures on the December release schedule.
7) Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
How exactly does one walk hard? Is it something you do with the balls of your feet? Or the heels? Or both? Can you walk hard in a sandal or do you need a good steel-toed boot to pull off this effect? I don't expect the movie to answer any of these questions. I do, however, expect John C. Reilly's first attempt as a lead actor to continue producer Judd Apatow's hot streak that reached a crescendo with summer releases Knocked Up and Superbad. I have to be honest that I think that the commercials are pretty lousy, save for one funny mention of Patrick Duffy. I don't think it matters, though. The Apatow stamp of approval is starting to mean something in the industry.
8) Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
This got a sequel? Seriously? Is Gabrielle Union back? No? Then screw this dreck. I hope a terminator shows up and whips both their asses...assuming aliens and predators have asses.
9) Alvin and the Chipmunks
10) The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
I lump these two titles in together because they are intended to have the same appeal. While Alvin and the Chipmunks looks preposterously bad, name recognition alone should secure a more successful run than The Waterhorse. This is unfortunate, because the story of a boy who befriends The Loch Ness Monster is so much more imaginative. It is a shame that creativity cannot overcome brand loyalty stemming from rampant commercialization, but I guess that's a fitting enough way to end a discussion of a December topic. Now go buy stuff at the store. Otherwise, Wal-Mart won't let Jesus celebrate his birthday.