Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009: #12: America Rejects Paleolithic Era
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
December 29, 2009
During a scene in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Jack Black had a cameo as an angry biker who drop-kicked the titular character's Spanish-speaking puppy, Baxter, off a bridge. He then relished the pain of the grieving character played by Will Ferrell. If you imagine both of these comedic actors as Baxter and North American television audiences as the kicky biker, you have a good idea of how the summer played out for both celebrities.
Sometimes, the first impression is the correct one. For years, the idea of making a movie adaptation of the 1970s television staple, Land of the Lost, had been tossed around but generally discarded as a bad idea. Sure, audiences may be looking for a Jurassic lark (sorry), but it seems unlikely. Keeping this in mind, a decision to make not one but two movies of a similar theme and inflict them upon movie goers is, well, the problem with the Hollywood studio system.
We see it time and time again when a pair of titles enter pre-production at roughly the same time with each group vaguely if not explicitly aware of the existence of the competition. Sometimes, it works out well for both parties, as was the case with Deep Impact and Armageddon. Mostly, the situation plays out like Mission to Mars and Red Planet wherein the films have combined production budgets of $165 million only to earn back about $100 million less than that. Were professional pride and ego not a factor in the industry, this sort of situation would be avoidable. Since it's Hollywood, the cycle continues to repeat itself every few years.
This iteration is a step back on the evolutionary scale, especially in comparison to the exploration of Mars. This time around, Hollywood took a page from Mel Brooks and decided to focus on the history of the world. What no one was willing to accept is that there are only so many fire and wheel and *gulp* Cain and Abel jokes that can be made before people start throwing popcorn at the screen. But this is an industry that is going to force feed consumers a product whether they want it or not. In these instances, audiences clearly checked the Do Not Want box.
Land of the Lost was the first to enter theaters on June 5th. Universal banked its hopes for success upon two factors: the love 30-somethings have for the ill-costumed villains of their youth, Sleestaks, and the star power of Will Ferrell. The mistake in expecting Sleestaks to draw in consumers is self-evident. The Will Ferrell aspect is more understandable. Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Elf, Blades of Glory, and the afore-mentioned Anchorman are all successful, fondly remembered comedies. Sure, the box office failure of Semi-Pro offered concern that he may be approaching his expiration date as a box office draw (comedic actors are notorious for having hot stretches followed by long instances of mediocre fare). The $100 million result from Step Brothers afterward largely alleviated those concerns, though. Ferrell isn't perfect, but he's generally well regarded by consumers and has developed a level of trust with them, not just as a principal lead but also as a supporting player in films such as Old School and Wedding Crashers. He's generally reliable.