Monday Morning Quarterback Part I
By BOP Staff
June 20, 2005

Batman Begins is tackled well short of the goal line.

Liar, Liar?

David Mumpower: According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, Batman Begins has earned $71.1 million domestic in its first five days. The figures were "within expectations" according to Warner Bros. studio boss Dan Fellman. So...Are Dan Fellman's pants on fire?

Tim Briody: He's got quite the poker face.

Reagen Sulewski: That's or he's a terrible pessimist.

Kim Hollis: I say that his pants threaten to consume the body of Los Angeles at this point.

David Mumpower: It's a future storyline for Dennis Leary on Rescue Me!

Tim Briody: I'd go as far to say that people are still burned by the hideousness of the last two Batman films, even though that's ten and eight years ago now. Thus, Batman Begins doesn't have the mystique in a franchise that's still fresh, like, say Spider-Man.

Reagen Sulewski: I believe that's the most reasonable explanation.

David Mumpower: I think that's valid. I've already seen some apologists stating that this is Joel Schumaker's fault as much as anything. An attempt has been made, as John Hamann stated in the wrap, to completely reboot.

Tim Briody: Yeah, and it's completely the right idea they have going.

David Mumpower: So, do you think that this is a black eye in the short term, but a needed move in order to secure and re-establish the long-term potential of the franchise?

Reagen Sulewski: So many people had this idea that it was carrying on the franchise from before and were hesitant to give it a try. And yet, this is only about 10% above what a Fast and the Furious sequel without Vin Diesel opened to.

David Mumpower: Even worse, Batman and Robin inflation adjusts to a $58 million opening weekend. Throwing $11 million under the film that saw Arnold Schwarzenegger embarrass himself as Mr. Freeze is impossible to pass off as a short term positive.

Better villains?

Tim Briody: Where I think the only flaw might have been is in not having a household name as Batman or a lead villain. This, of course, led to the problems with Batman Forever and Batman & Robin but you cross that bridge when you get there.

David Mumpower: Tim, do you really think that having, say, Johnny Depp as The Scarecrow (instead of Cillian Murphy doing Johnny Depp doing The Scarecrow) would have made a huge difference with regards to opening weekend?

Tim Briody: I'd consider it worth a few million, absolutely.

Kim Hollis: Well, I do think they could have had a marketable name that they could have emphasized as villain. You'll notice that in commercials and trailers, the villains were not given much attention at all.

David Mumpower: A marketable villain to be sure but doesn't WB get bonus points for getting this right?

Kim Hollis: From me, sure, but from Joe Public who has never heard of Ken Watanabe or Cillian Murphy, maybe not. If you look back to the past Batman movies, each one of them had *at least* one bankable star. Batman, of course, had Jack Nicholson, who was drawing rave reviews as Joker and certainly a big name. Batman Returns had the goodwill from the first film to propel it, but even with that, it still had Hollywood's only big name female star at the time, Michelle Pfeiffer, as Catwoman. Moving on to Batman Forever, Jim Carrey was at the height of his big ascension when he starred as The Riddler. Tommy Lee Jones was still a guy who could draw audiences as well. And finally, even though Batman & Robin was craptacular, it did have the monster name of Arnold Schwarzenegger attached. This film went with extreme talent - Watanabe and Murphy are both spectacular - rather than going for a big name to propel recognition.

David Mumpower: I mean, if we ignore the opening five-day numbers for a moment, they've made a two and a half hour long movie that is getting sensational critical reception as well as word-of-mouth.

David Mumpower: Putting a bigger name in there to bag a few more million opening weekend...would that be worth forsaking the potential of the franchise this iteration?

Tim Briody: I think they got it right at the expense of the opening. It could easily pay divedends down the line. And the suits were figuring for this one "hey, it's Batman, people will see it regardless."

David Mumpower: I think that's an exceptional evaluation of the real problem with the marketing. There was an issue of arrogance. I've seen more War of the Worlds commercials by a factor of eight than I did of Batman Begins. Even worse, the Wednesday release got nowhere near the hype that the Episode III Thursday opening did.

Kim Hollis: Where was the McDonald's tie-in? I want my Batman mug!

Reagen Sulewski: What was the budget on this, $180 million? When you've invested that kind of coin, don't you pull out all the stops for it?

David Mumpower: $135 million was the shooting budget. Negative cost for prints and marketing reportedly adds about $40 million range.

Reagen Sulewski: $135 million is still a tremendous number - five years ago that was a runaway production. That's six crappy horror films you could make!

David Mumpower: There have been comparisons made to the creation of word-of-mouth/buzz a la Pirates of the Carribbean, but I struggle to understand how this is accomplished if nobody seems to have their heart into the Wednesday start.

Kim Hollis: I fault the absence of marketing rather than what they did do with the advertising for the most part.

Reagen Sulewski: Well, there's an interesting angle in that the ads did not really look like a Batman film - which is a function of Bale being out of costume so much in the film.

Tim Briody: So we fault the marketing? I can't say I know much about the business, but how do you market a known commodity like Batman? "Now without nipples?"

Reagen Sulewski: Someone at WB is smacking themselves on the forehead right now, Tim.

Does anyone care about Oscar winners?

David Mumpower: I do think Tim makes a good point. I blame the marketing, but it's hard to say "from the director of Memento and starring The Machinist" in an attempt to add box office.

Kim Hollis: But by the same token, it had an extremely marketable cast in my opinion. What was past Academy Award nominees in the cast?

Tim Briody: ...and Katie Holmes!

David Mumpower: Right, the quality of the cast, one I expect will contend for Best Cast in the Calvins this year, is a great selling point.

Kim Hollis: Does that mean much to Joe Moviegoer as opposed to aficionados, though?

David Mumpower: I think it does. James Bond was re-invented under that theory, was it not? They didn't add Judi Dench for her box office pull, anyway.

Reagen Sulewski: That's the thing though - you never see that mentioned in a big action film. No one cares. Spidey didn't mention Willem Dafoe's two nominations

Kim Hollis: But they did at least show him in the previews. Which is a bit more than we can say for Liam Neeson and Ken Watanabe.

David Mumpower: I don't think it's fair to say that no one cares. I would argue that this circles back to the actual quality of the production. Spider-Man and its sequel work because they are Shakespearean in nature. You have a tortured lead who doesn't want to be different. It keeps the woman he loves at arm's length and it causes his best friend to hate him. Christopher Nolan has saved Batman from the madness of Schumacher by putting the chaos back into the hero. Making him a zealot and a vigilante takes the kiddie appeal out of the film, but it makes for a much better film.

Reagen Sulewski: To clarify, it's not that they don't care about the cast, it's that they don't care if the secondary mob boss villain in the film once got a nomination for In the Bedroom. Aside, Gary Oldman has never been nominated for an Oscar. That's insane.

Tim Briody: David, so maybe there was a "not-quite-for-kids" factor at work here, which hearkens back to Tim Burton's Batman movies?

Kim Hollis: This is absolutely the case. It's not a movie for any kid who is say, under 11 or 12.

Watch for Part II of Monday Morning Quarterback on Tuesday. That's right - Tuesday! (This took longer to edit than we were expecting.)