In recent years, it's been clear that the box office has taken a bit of a tumble. Annual attendance is usually down, while revenue only up slightly due to increased ticket prices. People appear to be losing interest in films. This is because Hollywood is out of decent original ideas, made obvious by their frequent attempts to adapt other works of art into feature films. More often than not, the project fails, at least critically. Lack of similarity to the source material, missing plot points, and the loss of the original work's initial spark of genius are all valid reasons why most forms of art are best left in their original medium. As the box office seemed destined for chaos, one genre that spreads across all the many mediums made way to the head of the pack to claim its rightful place as Hollywood's guardian angel...
By George Rose
March 27, 2009
I'm talking about super heroes, or rather, any feature character(s) with super-human abilities. Behind them is their legion of fanboy followers, geeks armed with the computer wizardry and lack of social life required to raise interest and online insanity over upcoming releases of their favorite comic icons. Naturally, behind every great geek idea lies a jock ready to take credit. What was to follow the comic-boom in box office was a type of devotion not seen since before the Church started granting divorces. Any sort of film that was adapted from previous source material and had any uncanny influence (mutants, wizards, vampires, etc.) became the talk of the town, and saw either box office fortune or direct-to-DVD fodder. The positive extreme end of the spectrum is Spider-Man, which changed movie-going forever when it announced to the world that fanboy-stamped films could be among the most profitable and record breaking if you stopped pushing the losers aside and started listening to them.
Comic books seemed the biggest of the behemoths, with the Spider-Man franchise claiming biggest opening weekend twice, The Dark Knight as our newest opening weekend champ and second largest film total, and countless other success stories. However, other source-material-first favorites have become equal competitors for breaking box office records. For every dork-driven Spider-Man and Watchmen there is a Transformers or Twilight. It's probably because many of the people in one group are also part of the other. I am a diehard fan of the comic book, which aside from film is my favorite medium. Then again, I saw all three Lord of the Rings midnight screenings. It's hard to draw the line between which medium has better control over the box office.
Rather than decide, it seems clear that interest in Marvel and DC properties now parallels other fanboy supported works, like children's novel series or even certain film maker's careers, such as J.J. Abrams. What's to be said of their superior box office receipts is that the average film-goer loves the super human, and if there's some sort of source material, then, well, let the contest for biggest fan begin. But Hollywood isn't blind. They're fully aware of this new fetish; the Twilight movies are all being fast-tracked, graphic novels are being over-adapted, and Hasboro now has a film division. You give them an inch and they'll ravage every mile (see: Punisher or Eragon).
Here, in the Uncanny Update, I hope to fill in the fanboys of the world about all the upcoming super-human projects on the release schedule. Since most of them know how to use a computer, or live in front of one, there is an over-saturation of this sort of information on the Internet and media. Knowing a thing or two about comics, movies, and waiting in line overnight for first screening tickets, I hope to consolidate your efforts and give you the quick testosterone boost your looking for before your own super-charged week fighting crime, or corporate culture. Both are pretty scary.
This week we have a mixed bag of goodies, including both comics and novels, some good and some bad. The most entertaing topic is the discrepancy around the Transformers 3 release date. Paramount announced it would be in theaters on July 2011, allowing for the same two year delay between films as the first sequel did. After whining about not having enough time for himself (the rich do need more free time to spend all that money), Michael Bay declared it wouldn't come out until July 2012. These sequels sure seemed poised for success with such poor communication behind the scenes. In what I can only imagine is a ploy to calm down confused and outraged fans, scans from an upcoming coloring book tie-in happened to find their way to the public, and revealed a few of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen plot spoilers. It's a Michael Bay film, so the they're are limited to "this and that blow up in exotic location A and B". He's such a constant disappointment, but like a five-car pile-up on the highway, I just can't stop watching.
Speaking of delays, my beloved Marvel has dropped a few bombs as well. Thor is delayed one year (June 17, 2011), First Avenger: Captain America is delayed two months (July 22, 2011), and The Avengers is delayed ten months (May 4, 2012). Pre-production delays don't always signify poor quality like those created decided during post-production, but I don't think Marvel is showing a lack of faith in their product here. The pieces are being arranged to line up nicely for the release of their Avengers movie, and more importantly, they now have tent-pole projects in all of the next three summers, and with the newly announced Spider-Man 4 release date (May 6, 2011) they are the newly crowned Summer movie-season starter. Last year Iron Man shocked with its impressive debut and the Wolverine movie looks to do the same this May. The first weekend of that month is officially my new Christmas.
Despite the new holiday, Marvel continues their disregard for not only fan anticipation, but actor appreciation. After the offensive first offer of $250,000 sent to Mickey Rourke to play Whiplash in Iron Man 2, he finally signed on for an undisclosed amount, which was reported to be moderately higher. I can't imagine it being worthy of any actor in a sequel to a $300+ grossing film (let alone one just nominated for a Best Actor Oscar), but Marvel clearly isn't laying the groundwork to be well known for their generosity or compensation. How on Earth did Terrence Howard make more money than Robert Downey Jr. for Iron Man? It's no wonder they dropped him from the sequel, but clearly their accountant isn't aware of who the draws here really are, nor do they seem to care. At this point, Marvel has proven itself bigger than the actors they cast, but I don't think snubbing them for their contribution to such a massive success is fair or will come without backlash in the future. Scarlett Johansson, who joined the cast this week to play Black Widow, is also unhappy with her pay and contractual obligations to the many expected sequels and spin-offs. I understand we're in a recession, but she's far too good at her craft to worry about unemployment. Iron Man is just as lucky to have her as she is to have the film. I would watch her act her way out of a paper bag, so while she may not be the reason anyone sees the second Iron Man film, cutting her anything less than 1% of the profit pie feels like robbery.
Salary rumors aside, there's also some speculation floating around about one of Marvel's other future Avengers. If reports are correct and contracts get signed, Natalie Portman and Josh Hartnett might be join the cast of the upcoming Thor. The Marvel branding will guarantee it some sort of success, but Thor is no X-Man. Casting on this one will be crucial. Hartnett's name doesn't ring any great bells for me, but Portman is sure to bring credibility to a project that otherwise might have become the next Ghost Rider. She was, after all, one of the main reasons V for Vendetta was so enjoyable.
In going with this week's theme that studios can't seem to get a hold on their hiring process, the Twilight franchise has hit a bit of a snag as well. In their attempt to rush out the vampire flicks before their 13-year-old-girl audience grows up too quickly, Summit has been searching for a director to the third entry in the series, Eclipse, to be released in Summer of 2010. Of the many names tossed around, Drew Barrymore's seemed the most surprising. It would have been a great launching pad to her career, but this series now comes with expectations too high for a new director to take on. My vampire craving has been on overdrive since True Blood debuted on HBO, so as of now I plan to be at all four opening nights regardless of their critical reception or director selection. With Dakota Fanning recently signed on for the first sequel as well, my interest seems destined to remain until no less than what its release proves to us this Fall. Twilight was good enough, but New Moon better step up or we'll all grow up.
One more note worth mentioning is the sad second weekend take of Watchmen. Despite being one of the greatest graphic novels of all time, and an above-par adaption to film, the vigilantes fell 67% from their already soft opening weekend outing of $55 million to $18 million. To anyone who is reading this article about super heroes that hasn't seen this film: you should be ashamed of yourselves. It's not The Dark Knight, but it's still a great experience.