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Well, folks, the big news this weekend was the $31 million opening for Greg Mottola’s Superbad, although all the talk and praise is being showered on writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, stars Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, and most especially on exec producer Judd Apatow, who’s batting a thousand lately with anything that has his name on it.
So, naturally, I want to talk about the poor $6 million opening for The Invasion.The New York Times has a fascinating piece up about the enduring appeal of Jack Finney’s original novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which has now spawned four films in five decades (the passage about how the films reflect our changing attitudes toward psychology is especially interesting). Fortunately, that’s not what I want to talk about, either.
Rather, let’s address Warner Bros.’ decision to take the film away from German director Oliver Hirschbiegel and hand it over to the Wachowski brothers and their apprentice James McTeague. Word around the campfire is that Hirschbiegel’s version did not have enough action, suspence, gore… the things studios usually complain about. They decided revisions were necessary. So Hirschbiegel was given the boot, and Andy and Larry Wachowski were brought on to rewrite roughly half the script attributed to relative newcomer David Kajganich, then had V for Vendetta director James McTeague shoot the new pages.
The Wachowski’s involvement tells me that this was almost certainly the doing of uber-producer Joel Silver, and he should know better.
Film is a director’s medium. Great movies have come out of scripts with dozens of credited and uncredited writers (The Fugitive, for instance). Actors can drop out mid-way through production (like Harvey Keitel in Apocalypse Now). But changing directors mid-stream? I don’t think that ever works.
There may be examples where it works, which I’d love to hear about, but mostly I’m thinking of movies like Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, in which the studio cut fifty minutes out of the film (the editor doing the dirty work was none other than Robert Wise, who would go on to direct West Side Story, among many other films), and must have hired someone- who’s name I can’t seem to find- to reshoot the ending and a few other scenes. The result is not a bad movie, certainly better than the rest on this list, but then, they were starting with an Orson Welles film. It’s almost certainly not the masterpiece it could have been (although we’ll never know; RKO destroyed the fifty minutes of film Wise cut from the picture).
Example number two is Halloween II, which, rumor has it, was so botched by director Rick Rosenthal that John Carpenter came back on the reshoot several scenes and make them scarier. The result, obviously, doesn’t come close to the original, and sits right behind Jaws 2 on my list of sequels that should never have been made. (Oddly enough, it only took 20 years for everyone to forget about this, as Rosenthal was again given the reins on Mike Myers eighth outing, Halloween: Resurrection. It’s not very good, either, although I enjoy the opening scenes with Jaime Lee Curtis).
Finally, and perhaps most applicably, we come to the debacle that was the Exorcist prequel. What a mess that was (and Warner Bros. was behind it again, wouldn’t you know). The story is well known, but I’ll recap for anyone that hasn’t heard. The studio brought in respected, if difficult, screenwriter and director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Affliction) to direct the film. They complained that it wasn’t violent or scary enough, wound up locking Schrader out of the editing process, and hired Renny Harlin (studio hack doesn’t begin to cover this guy) to reshoot half the movie. The result: a whopping 11% rating on rottentomatoes.com and a $41 million domestic haul for a movie that cost at least $80 million to make. They were so desperate to recoup that they released Schrader’s cut as Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, and while that only brought in $250k and was still not regarded as a good movie, it’s generally accepted (including by yours truly) as the superior film.
Why? Because it has a voice.
Which brings us back to The Invasion. Why on earth would you give this movie to Hirschbiegel, a German director whose only other substantial credit is the Oscar-nominated Hitler biopic Downfall, and be upset when he brings you a character-driven political allegory instead of a gross-out action movie? And, to be fair, I like the Wachowski’s. Sure, they bungled those last two Matrix movies (all three of which were produced by Silver), but the first one is one of the smartest and most stylistically impressive action films I’ve ever seen, and Bound is an equally impressive, albeit much smaller, piece of genre work. And I really liked McTeague’s work on V for Vendetta, but what the hell was Silver thinking?
This was obviously a troubled production from many points of view, but now that the verdict is in- $6 million and a $2k average off an $80 million budget, not to mention a 22% rating on rottentomatoes.com- I can’t help but wonder, how much worse could Hirschbiegel’s version have been? I mean, really, if you had just released his cut, could it have been any worse than this? All you really did was waste millions more dollars on the reshoots and ruin your relationship with Hirschbiegel, who may yet emerge as a viable commercial director.
Bottom line, folks: when you hire a director, you’re putting all your eggs in that basket. Try to pull them out further down the road, and it’s only going to get worse. And I shouldn’t have to explain this to Joel Silver.
So now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the rest of the numbers. In second place was Rush Hour 3 with $21 million, down a steep (but not devastating) 55% for an $88 million total. New Line will have to do a lot of business overseas to make up the $140 million budget. Just as I suspected, good word of mouth is catching up with The Bourne Ultimatum, which had a decent hold in it’s third week and even added theatres, dropping 42% to $19 million and a $163 million total.
I don’t know where that $75 million went in The Simpsons Movie, but it’s proving a good investment. It fell 40% to $6.6 million and a $165 million total, and has topped $400 million worldwide. The Invasion opened in fifth, followed by Stardust, which also had a decent hold, bringing in $5.2 million, a 42% drop, for a $19 million total. I still say Paramount bungled this one, though it’s unlikely they would’ve recouped their $70 million investment no matter how they handled the release. Hairspray had the best hold in the top ten, slipping 33% to $4.2 million and just barely cracking the $100 million mark.
Underdog was eighth with $3.6 million and a shockingly respectable $31 million total, followed by HPATOOTP (you thought I was kidding last week, didn’t you?) with $3.5 million and a $278 million total. In tenth place was INPYCAL, also with $3.5 million and a $110 million total. And finally, the poor Weinstein Company failed to piggyback on 300‘s success with The Last Legion, which opened dismally outside the top ten with $2.3 million from 2,002 theatres for a $1.2k average, in spite of a fairly aggressive, and no doubt expensive, marketing campaign. I remember a time when Bob and Harvey were out in front, instead of trying to capitalize on the success of others. But alas, moviegasm’s immutable law on that subject continues to hold true; you should have made 300 instead of trying to copy it.
So that’s it for this week, my friends and neighbors. Join us next week when Mr. Bean’s Holliday doesn’t translate for Americans; The Nanny Diaries proves that it is not the next Devil Wears Prada; Sam Jackson impersonates his own Caveman’s Valentine performance (which is quite good, if you haven’t seen that one) in Resurrecting the Champ; and the combo of Jason Statham and Jett Li warrants the weekend’s widest release at just 2,200 theatres in War. See you then.