An unbelievably dismal December finally yields up some quality, with what is almost certain to be the biggest film of the Holiday season. And yet, it's tough to recall an anointed season topper coming in with as many questions surrounding it as this one.
Weekend Forecast for December 14-16, 2012
By Reagen Sulewski
December 14, 2012
Or perhaps appropriately enough for The Hobbit, which opens on Friday, it was the first Lord of the Rings film, which had people wondering if the first film in a fantasy series based on a book that had questionable popularity could really succeed and justify its big budget. Hey, did anyone just see a black cat walk past them twice? In the case of The Hobbit, the biggest struggles were in getting to the big screen in the first place. After the Lord of the Rings films grossed approximately eleventy billion dollars, looking back to JRR Tolkien's earlier work in the same world was beyond a no-brainer. However, after internal struggles at New Line, a.k.a. “screwing Peter Jackson out of his money," the project was initially given over to Guillermo del Toro, who was then fired/quit over creative differences, a.k.a. “he was trying to make it an R." So New Line and Jackson mended fences, and he got the gang back together, so to speak.
And then it turned into two movies. And then three. Okay, you say, but wasn't there enough material for nine hours of film with the other books (12 if you count the extended editions)? Yes, but there we were dealing with a 1,600 page trilogy, whereas The Hobbit checks in an a brisk 300 or do. So we're undoubtedly dealing with a bit of filler here. It also trends a bit more kiddie adventure than Rings, although they've done their best to hide that fact in the ads so far.
Is that not enough? Then let's add in that Jackson picked this film to debut a new filming technique that doubles the usual frames per second to 48, and which has been described as creating a hyper-real effect that is at times stunning, and at other times distracting and nausea-inducing. Although the regular 24 FPS version is out there, there going to be some inevitable confusion about formats, and it's far from a sure thing to win people over.
It is still a Tolkien movie helmed by Peter Jackson, though. That formula of adventure has proven itself over the three previous films, and there's probably a tremendous appetite for any material in that world (I'd put off the six-film adaptation of The Silmarillion, however). That it's the setup story for Bilbo Baggins (played here by Martin Freeman), and brings Gandalf (Ian McKellen again) back into the mix is another major selling point. I'm not as sold on the Aardman-esque dwarves that make up the rest of the major characters, on a quest to retrieve treasure from the dragon Smaug, and I don't think there's as solid an anchoring character among them as with Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn.
So almost ten years (!) on from Return of the King, New Line is definitely hoping that The Hobbit can build on that film's $72 million opening. There's ten years of ticket inflation, plus 3D, plus plus plus, so you sure hope that the floor for it is well above that. The ceiling could be huge, but I think there's still a number of people that need to be convinced about the project. With all these factors in mind, I believe we're looking at an opening weekend of about $93 million.
With no other new films out this weekend in wide release, we're already down to Skyfall and Rise of the Guardians battling it out for second place. Skyfall unusually regained first place after three weeks of Twilight thanks to solid word-of-mouth, and is still on an intercept course with $300 million, simply a paradigm shift when it comes to the earnings of Bond films. Expect around $7 million this weekend.
Rise of the Guardians, meanwhile, seems to be benefiting slightly from there being few other big options when it comes to kids' films, and should take second place with around $8 million. After a very disappointing start, it's at least managed to make it to Christmas is acceptable shape, but there's not much chance of that being more than cold comfort considering the $150 million budget of the film.
The two big dramas of the Holiday season so far, Lincoln and Life of Pi, should both keep cruising on at about $6 million, though in Lincoln's case, that involves it crossing the $100 million plateau. Life of Pi might hope to reach that if it can snag some Oscar nominations.