November 2004 Forecast

By David Mumpower

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After going into hibernation for the fall, studios return in force this month with ten stellar wide releases and a few platforms that will perform wonderfully during awards season.

1. The Incredibles

Brad Bird + Pixar is the formula for box office dominance this November. While I have seen some analysts (rightly) question the viability of such adult subject matter in a CGI family film, the reality is that Pixar has become the epic storyteller of our day. Even such adult subject fare will prove impossible for families to resist. While parents might have reservations about a cartoon where heroes live, fail and sometimes even die, they should still applaud Pixar for not taking the easy way out here. Making another quest story where friends and/or family are separated would have been the simple play. The fact that the nascent studio refuses to play it safe is to their credit. Besides, growing pains are to be expected of any rising business entity, and no matter how adult the subject matter, the film is still a lock to do $275 million.

2. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

She's fat, she's British, and she's helplessly drawn to emotionally unavailable men. Despite the fact that this constant victim of love and luck is played by a (normally) size two Hollywood glamor queen does not seem to matter at all. Women love their Bridget Jones, as demonstrated by the first film's tremendous box office performance worldwide and, more importantly, its staggering video/DVD sales. A bold decision has been made with the sequel. The story moves away from the writing of author Helen Fielding toward a newer, more Hugh Grant Returns-friendly plot. This allows the sequel to repeat certain key elements of the first film while (theoretically) embarking on new adventures. I have concerns about what this means for the quality of the film but from a box office perspective, it's a slam dunk. Do not underestimate either the opening weekend or the legs of this film. The second adventure of Bridget Jones will be a worldwide juggernaut.

3. The Polar Express

The Incredibles is not the only CGI family film this month. In point of fact, it’s the other title that is more pedigreed in that Tom Hanks does most of the voices and the children’s book of the same title is quite popular. Were it to have a Pixar branding on it, The Polar Express would be a lock for $300 million. Plus, it would look quite a bit better. Let’s be honest. The one area where CGI has always come up short is in animating people. We could do a Best Of compilation which shows all of the absurd attempts (starting with Ice Age and its Circle-Head humans). The artificiality of The Polar Express is readily apparent in the trailers, but that small concern will be dismissed as kids become engrossed by the wondrous storyline. The Polar Express will not be just a hit this holiday season. It will be a classic shown ad nauseam for years to come.

4. SpongeBob SquarePants

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea and is due to make a boatload of money? SpongeBob SquarePants. Like the Rugrats and Pokemon before it, the adorable but unexplainable creature is ready to clean up at the box office this holiday season. Despite brutal competition from other children’s films, the built-in fan base for this Nickelodeon savior will create a dynamic financial performance. On a personal note, I have a warm fondness for the show, and I have found the trailers that use shots from submarine films and a Baywatch-clad David Hasselhoff to be inspired.

5. National Treasure

Okay, ignore the presence of Nic Cage. Sure, that’s a huge negative and I acknowledge this going in. Even so, it’s hard to refute the fact that this is one of the most clever action film concepts in the past several years. A group of intrepid adventurers grow to realize that the only way they can discover a treasure left by the founders of the United States of America is to steal the Declaration of Independence…to, uh, keep it from bad guys. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I fear that the Cage stigma might prevent it from doing as well as it should, but this is one of my anticipated projects of the year. I doubt I am alone in this as the marketing has been top notch. That Bigfoot joke kills.

6. After the Sunset

I hope that Pierce Brosnan's latest outing surprises at the box office. Nobody would be happier about such a feat than me. After all, I love master thief movies (To Catch a Thief is my all-time favorite), I love Brosnan (going all the way back to Remington Steele), I love Woody Harrelson (there are 14 episodes of Cheers on my TiVo as we speak), and Don Cheadle is my favorite actor. Even allowing for the presence of the annoying (but hot) Salma Hayek, this feels like a dream project for me. Unfortunately, I am too aware that the last time Brosnan tried to play a darker character, The Tailor of Panama, audiences failed to follow. Similarly, despite its tremendous quality, The Thomas Crown Affair did not exactly light up the box office. The pull of director Brett Rattner will bring this project a strong marketing push, but even the best case scenario is for it to be a middling box office player rather than a mega-opener.

7. Christmas with the Kranks

This production is like a philosophical question. It's the box office equivalent of immovable force coming into contact with irresistible object. Tim Allen is the surest thing at Christmastime this side of Salvation Army kiosks and the Miami Dolphins choking. The film he is starring in looks at best to be of equal quality to the already forgotten Surviving Christmas. Something has to give, but I have no idea which it will be. And the fact that I badly miscalculated Elf last year is not helping any. My gut says that the Kranks will be joining Team Affleck at Holiday Failures line (though obviously not to that degree). People do weird stuff as the holidays approach, though.

8. Alexander

Wow, does this ever look like a disaster in the making. The production has a massive budget, two non-box office draws as the titular warrior and his mother, and a significantly homosexual story element in a time when gay rights are being prejudicially denied on ballots across the country. The only way Alexander could feel more ill-conceived or poorly timed were if it included a joke about the Red Sox never winning the World Series. Troy found significant international receipts, and Alexander may do the same. In North America, though, I foresee a lot of What Went Wrong stories about the film in the days following its release.

9. Seed of Chucky

I don't intend to depress you or anything, but there is a decent chance that this evil Pinnocchio wannabe lives a richer, fuller existence than you. Think about it. He dates a woman, enslaves her in puppet form, and then decides he can do better. Who does he target for impregnation of his demon seed? Bound goddess Jennifer Tilly bears the fruit of his loins. He's got a wife, a movie career, an illegitimate child from his mistress and oh yeah, he somehow finds time to be a serial killer on the side. Doesn't it make you depressed about the fact that you spent most of last week playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas?

This sequel sounded like a miss when I first heard it. The trailers, however, indicate another clever outing for Team Chucky (no, I don't mean the Tampa Bay Bucs). Having Jennifer Tilly be carried over into puppet form last time out seemingly eliminated her non-vocal participation now. Having her play herself in order to broach the Hollywood self-referential jokes that Wes Craven mined in Scream is truly inspired. I have high hopes for this one.

10. Alfie

At local cineplexes, Jude Law is more ubiquitous than popcorn these days. I am not a fan of the actor (as I have said on multiple occasions, his only look is 'sneering patrician'), and have found his second half of 2004 films to be forgettable save the clever I Heart Huckabees. Sadly, Alfie looks to be a notch below even his most mediocre of recent fare. While throwing under a financial disaster like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is not without its impressiveness, such a feat is certainly not a positive. The good news is that this trying period in our nation's history is almost over. Law's voluminous recent releases preclude him from appearing in anything else for the next year or so. I picture a bartender throwing Jude out at closing then yelling, "And stay out, ya bum!" This mental image pleases me.



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