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21 Jump Street the Trailer

So we’ve gone well beyond the point where we look at a pointless remake and go, “Why”, not that it isn’t a valid response, but because we’d be doing it all day. Still with that said, why?

I can understand making 21 Jump Street the Movie. When you’re making Battleship the Movie and Footloose the remake and Transformers 4 will probably bring in more money than Guam has ever seen, it’s not so crazy anymore. But 21 Jump Street isn’t a very complicated story, bunch of cops who can pass for TV teens go undercover and comment on social issues. So swap that out with Jonah Hill and somebody going back to high school to be able to drink beer and be popular again.

It’s not like 21 Jump Street was some kind of perfect formula, but there were distinct characters doing something. This is like a parody of an 80’s movie with a whole lot of bro jokes and the whole thing isn’t funny. Jonah Hill used to have great line delivery and maybe it’s around here someplace, but it’s weak.

Mostly this reminds me of Green Hornet, where there’s no real action, just comedy and something classic that really isn’t hard to make is completely ruined for no discernible reason.

The Dimension Sequel Factory

The Weinstein Company isn’t doing that great, but neither is the Dimension side of the business which has become a sequel factory. Going sequel factory was an okay enough plan in a crazy environment where everything is being remade or rebooted. But Scream 4 and Spy Kids 4 both failed. And next up is Scary Movie 5, Halloween 3 and a bunch of stuff like it.

Obvious problems are longish lead times from the last movie released. Horror franchises work when movies keep being released. But when you wait 5-10 years to do a sequel, the only people who remember it are already in their 20’s or 30’s. That’s what killed Scream 4, a movie aimed at teens, from a franchise that was shaky when today’s teens were in diapers. Spy Kids is the same thing, except the kids who enjoyed it then aren’t parents yet, and today’s kids have never heard of it.

Then there’s the goofy ones like Short Circuit 3. A sequel to a classic and ridiculous 80’s movie series that’s going to feature Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens has my vote. But how many people are actually going to go see it? Dimension Films is distributing, not producing it, which is even sadder, because it’s the only palatable thing they’ve got.

The Avengers Avenge with the Avenging

Forget for a moment that the Avengers is supposed to showcase Marvel’s genius in getting all their cinematic ducks in a row and combining some of their franchises into one movie… and the Avengers trailer looks a lot like the trailer for some Fantastic Four sequel. It’s generic, “urban shot”, “we have to fight”, “some huge danger is coming”, “urban areas are being blown up” and if it didn’t have the cachet that it does, it would be Generic Superhero Movie Trailer #96.

The only appealing thing about the trailer is also the only truly successful movie in the bunch, and that’s Downey’s Iron Man, which is why the trailer features him. But Iron Man 2 was already watered down by the Avengers connection, moving Iron Man into Avengers feels like an even more watered down movie.

I was never a fan of grouping superheroes together into the Justice League or the Avengers, it never made much sense or did anything more interesting than they were apart. The Avengers movie doesn’t look to change that. It looks less interesting than all the movies in which Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, etc appear.

Maybe it’s the cookie effect. When you’re young enough, you just want more cookies and you think a big pile of them will taste better. Then you realize it doesn’t work that way.

Return of the Hand Drawn Animated Cartoon

The Lion King beat Moneyball to rule the box office (I could make some joke about roaring to the top, but why bother) and score some 70 million bucks. Not bad for a movie from the 90’s that dared to break Disney’s princess template, upset Pocahontas and became one of the few late Disney movies to endure for its characters, not for its line of backpacks.

In the age of Pixar, the return of the Lion King is a reminder that maybe the old cel-shaded animated hand drawn movie isn’t dead, it’s just been allowed to die off, replaced by Pixar’s plastic. Sure the Lion King release is 3D, the original movie was partly modeled in 3D, but it was smooth art, not Pixar’s plastic parades of characters who look like toys, even when they’re not supposed to be.

The Lion King was cinematic in a way that no Pixar production can be. And it’s what Disney left behind when it jumped all the way on the Pixar train. Disney killed its own animated golden goose with mediocre art by committee movies following a template. And Pixar which had a whole different workflow has taken over. But the Lion King reminds us of what we we lost getting there and what we could have again.

Summer of Blockbuster Failures

Four underperforming comic book movies. A Conan reboot that bombed. And a whole lot of other underformers made this the summer of blockbuster failures.

Now most of these movies haven’t really lost money or not as much it seems, but they’re still failures. Cowboys and Aliens was a major failure, but it could have been worse. At least it wasn’t Conan. Captain America pulled in a hefty enough international box office that its mediocre domestic performance didn’t hurt too badly… but it wasn’t much good either. X-Men First Class didn’t even make it that far and took in most of its money from foreign box office. Green Lantern barely passed a 100 mil. Even Thor which was supposed to be a winner didn’t pass 200 mil and that puts it right up there with Wolverine.

There were some winners. The awful Apes kept its budget low and profited big even though its box office total isn’t that fantastic. Harry Potter minted money for its last film. But the Smurfs were so-so in America taking in its cash internationally (not a surprise, Tintin will do the same.) Transformers 3 made plenty of money but didn’t match Transformers 2. Not a good trajectory.

The sequels? Final Destination 5, Spy Kids Whatever didn’t live up to franchise box office total. The Hangover II scored plenty of cash despite or maybe because it was the same movie.

Pirates of the Caribbean 4 underperformed in the US but took insane amounts of money internationally. And I mean insane. We’re talking over a 100 million in Japan. That’s half of what the movie made in the US. 63 million in Russia. 54 million in the UK. 70 million in China. So this franchise isn’t going anywhere no matter how Americans neglect it.

But the American box office is weakening and the business models will have to change. Throwing a ton of cash at a tentpole has become a better strategy internationally than at home.

Some Things… Aren’t Meant to be Changed…

Some cliches never go away. Flash back to Jurassic Park with Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond delivering the same embarrassing mad scientist speech in a maudlin way, that has been delivered over and over again. Usually this happens right around the time giant radioactive animals begin rampaging around the countryside. And the arrogant scientists are held responsible for playing white coated deities.

Sure animal research doesn’t lead to giant animal rampages, but any time it could. And the attitude comes from outside the movies and goes outside it. Clone a sheep? You’re just waiting for trouble in the form of hordes of giant rampaging radioactive sheep. Bang some atoms together and you’re just waiting for trouble to happen. Why do you have to experiment and explore the universe? Some things aren’t meant to be changed.

Not that this stops those same people from wanting the latest and greatest medical treatments right now. But we shouldn’t change things, except the ones we benefit from changing.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes… Worst Movie of 2011?

Imagine a few hundred apes escape? End of civilization, right. That’s the plot of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an early contender for the worst movie of 2011. The apes are smart. Really smart. So smart that they rampage through traffic. How will we ever confront this terrible threat of leaping apes with our puny machine guns, hopelessly weak atomic weapons and millions and millions of troops who can’t possibly stand up to monkeys.

People like to take shots at Burton’s Planet of the Apes, but at least it had a sense of wonder. This is apes as monsters. An idea so stupid it could only appear in studio notes. But the selling point will be the ape CG. Burton’s apes were more human, but these apes are shiny. They have expressions. And we’re supposed to appreciate that.

Least helpful is James Franco, who’s supposed to be a research scientist or guy who gives speeches to them, doing his stoned act as the least believable scientist speech giving guy ever. And his speeches. “You don’t know what they’re capable of.” “Some things aren’t meant to be changed.” The two most original lines in monster movie history.

Straw Dogs, Then and Now

Straw Dogs was one of the movies that it made the least sense to remake. But if you do remake it, swapping out Dustin Hoffman for James Marsden makes even less sense, not just from the acting angle, but because putting a guy who plays comic book superheroes into a suit and sticking glasses on him is just a pose. Having Dustin Hoffman go violent was a game changer. Having James Marsden do it is no biggie.

Going from England to American hicks makes it an even bigger cliche and you end up with something that looks a lot like a hundred other movies. The undertone of contempt in the relationship is also missing. So the real question then is why bother.

Were there are a lot of people who wanted to see a remake of Straw Dogs? I doubt there’s anyone who saw Straw Dogs, who wanted to see a remake of Straw Dogs. It’s like a remake of 2001 or Taxi Driver (I’m sure that’s coming) except that’s way more obscure. And if you’re going to make a generic thriller loosely based on a famous movie, what’s the market for it? There isn’t one.

Is ‘R’ the New ‘NC-17’

A lot of factors are getting the blame for Conan’s failure, but an obvious point is its R rating. The day of the R rated action movie when out with Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. They still get made, some even do acceptable numbers, but they usually don’t have 90 million dollar budgets.

The R Rated movie is still around, but as comedies, where the grossout is the new joke. Or the old joke, ever since the Farrelly Brothers helped turn comedies into a race to put the most disgusting bodily function possible on screen. And that’s where the R rated box office still hangs out in movies like Hangover, Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher. And the Apatow class stoner comedy.

In the distance is teenage horror, which is not exactly on fire lately, movies like Fright Night, Final Destination 5 and Scream 4. The rest don’t even show up. The occasional artsy pic can still be R rated, but they’re not much of a risk, and The King’s Speech, which was a big box office hit still got recut later to bring in more audiences.

Making Conan an R-Rated movie wasn’t much of a risk back in 1982. Making the sequel to it anything less than an R was the bad idea. But an R-rated 90 million dollar action movie is a major risk today. 300 pulled it off and Conan was hoping for some of that same box office.

R Rated movies still get made, but they’re usually a lower risk and a smaller investment. If they go big, they go big. If they don’t, money isn’t lost.

More Blade Runner

Assuming the Ridley Scott helmed Blade Runner isn’t a reboot or a remake, then it might be one of the more palatable of these projects. Unlike Alien, Blade Runner wasn’t mined to death in multiple sequels. But is there room for a sequel?

Purists might say no, but the K.W. Jeter novels were loosely plausible ways to keep the story going. Those aren’t a factor without Harrison Ford and even in Ford’s career state now, he’s not too likely to sign on for this. And even if he did, age would be an issue.

That means a story set in the same universe. Also doable. The challenge would be making it work in the present day movie environment. No one’s putting up money to make another Blade Runner, a surreal chrome edged noir. Scott will be working from an action movie script, and if Prometheus turns out to be a disaster, he’ll have even more people looking over his shoulder.

So can a Blade Runner movie deliver action and a compelling story? Maybe. Depends on the script. Ridley Scott isn’t at the top of his game either. And the only reason a Blade Runner movie is being made is because it’s a name people have heard of. Still it’s not the worst idea ever. We have Battleship to thank for that.

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