In what's turning out to be a nightmarish Holiday season for Hollywood, the hits keep on not coming. The last sure thing of the year debuts on Wednesday, but perhaps as damaged goods, and may just reinforce the current narrative of a terrible year.
Weekend Forecast for December 19-21, 2014 Part 1
By Reagen Sulewski
December 17, 2014
The final entry in the Hobbit series, and by extension The Lord of the Rings (coming next, seven part Silmarillion!) arrives on Wednesday *coughcoughTuesdaynight* with The Battle of the Five Armies, another nearly three hour slog through maybe 45 minutes worth of material. This time around, our intrepid hobbit Bilbo finds himself immersed in an all-comers fight that's also aimed at stopping the dragon Smaug from seizing a giant pile of treasure and dooming all of Middle Earth somehow. Look, it's not my story. All of the main living players from the last two films are present, including all of those dwarves you can't quite place, a bunch of elves you don't really care about, and probably our last peek at Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Christopher Lee as Saruman. It's a movie of farewells, but it's from a series that may have seriously worn out its welcome.
While no one is denying Peter Jackson's vast technical skill and passion for world-building, it's his storytelling that's falling flat, with the vast worlds he's created (or, I supposed, realized is the better term) serving as something more like a play set than a fully-fledged film. There's only so much that moviegoers are really willing to take of this, even dedicated fantasy fans, and it's shown in the box office so far. The Lord of the Rings series peaked with Return of the King, and it's been a steady slide downward. An $85 million opening for The Hobbit translated into “just” $300 million (and, admittedly, a billion worldwide), and led on to a $74 million opening for Desolation of Smaug a year later (and, admittedly, almost another billion worldwide). We're not in Matrix Revolutions territory here, but the series has without a doubt shed some of its fan base.
Whether that slide continues is an open question, but not in question is the wiseness of the financial decision to split it into three movies – a universally good idea, if you're a bean counter, as the trilogy of films will have earned $2 billion or so more than it would have as a single entity, and perhaps up to a billion more than if it had been the original split into two films. It's also been a bit of a Trojan horse for the 48 fps exhibition technology, which one might notice has not really caught on with other films, nor has it been as strongly hyped with the last two entries, since it does make the film look like hot garbage compared to regular frame rates.
It's a bit of a whimpery ending to a franchise that redefined what franchises could be and led into Hollywood's excessive mining of the ready-made trilogy. It's a dependency that's threatening to stifle a lot of studios, as they toss millions and millions at the next cinematic lottery ticket. In this case, the drop will even be exacerbated from the early opening, pulling a significant portion of the film's audience away from the weekend. I'd look for $64 million this weekend, with about $35 million on Wednesday and Thursday. Come back later this week for further updates on the weekend's releases.