Contradicting Popular Opinion: 20.07.06

Contradicting Popular Opinion:
An Enquiry Concerning Why Your Favorite Movie Sucks

Enquiries concerning the box office, over-people (Ubermensch) and the taxonomy of sequels.

First, a word from elsewhere around the Pulse.

What’s most disappointing about all of this is that a large reason why Singer’s film has failed is because what people went in expecting and what they watched on screen didn’t match up. Many people were going in expected a wall to wall summer action film with big explosions and a lot of large things being thrown around. Instead Bryan took a cerebral approach, much like he did in X2, and showed us a human side to these characters.

Sitting here now writing this, I’m realizing that this movie, which is basically a remake of Superman: The Movie, only with a slightly new plot and (more or less) bombed. Yet Now (sic)Pirates 2 (screw writing out that ridiculously long title) is nearing the $300 million mark and much like Returns, is just the first movie on a larger scale. Why does one succeed while the other fail?

-From the latest Weekly Movie Pulse.

Okay, so we’ve got a lot of topics, let’s delve into a couple and see what we can figure out.

Inspecting the Numbers

First, we’ll start by looking into the top earning movies for the first half of this year. Basically, everything that came out before Superman. (This list comes from Entertainment Weekly #886 p. 65.) The top movie was another comic book movie, X-Men: The Last Stand. X3 had tepid reviews, at best. The number two earner was another tepidly reviewed action flick with Sir Ian, The Da Vinci Code. Then we have three CGI cartoons, at least one of which (i.e. Cars) is actually good.

The Number 6 spot is filled by Mission:Impossible:III, a flick which disappointed by making 131 million dollars, and was over-shadowed by the prodigious lunacy of its star, one Commander Tom from Rocketship 7.

Spots 7 and 9 are taken by modern “romantic comedies” starring TV actresses. I use the quotations around “romantic comedies” as their modern incarnations are usually neither romantic nor comedic. Most of the time, these movies consist of two unlikable and horribly manipulative leads, one remarkably contrived plot device, a second act breakup, and an insultingly stupid happily ever after. Mind you, I haven’t seen The Break-Up or Failure to Launch, but in my own way, I’ve probably seen them a couple of dozen times already.

The eighth place movie is Scary Movie 4. No one admits to liking or even seeing these movies. People would rather be caught in the raincoat crowd of a porn movie than in a theater showing a Scary Movie.

Let’s look at some “highlights” of the rest of the top 20 box office earners for the year 2006. The unnecessary remake and critically panned Pink Panther is at number 11. At number 14 we find Big Momma’s House 2. The Shaggy Dog takes the number 18 spot, and the list ends with The Benchwarmers at number 20.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I’ve only seen two of the twenty movies listed. Two. BUT I feel that I can quite comfortably say that most of these movies suck and that is the reason why I only spent my money on two of them.

So, using this admittedly limited data, what makes a movie successful in this modern world?

The first thing that studios and people often think is “Star Power.” Now, this thing is true to an extent, but are we really going to the movies to see movies stars? X3 is not dependent on star power. If anything, the biggest name star of the flick is the most despised by the fans. CoughHalleCough. DaVinci would’ve opened to over 70 million starring just about anybody. Ice Age, Cars, and Hedge are all animated. What movie stars are in Scary Movie 4?

So the next though is, a franchise. Half of the top 8 movies are sequels. But this answer,to be a successful movie, follow a successful movie, isn’t satisfying for obvious reasons.

So where to go? Despite the old adage of “sex sells” what we find in film is often the opposite. Generally speaking, the most successful movies hardly have any sex. What are some of the top earners ever? E.T., The Sound of Music, The Jungle Book, Spider-Man, Star Wars, Titanic, etc. The most you have there is “artistic nudity” or a steamy car make-out session (both in Titanic).

Sex sells, but the big money is in movies that whole families go to see. Don’t believe me? Let me just say that this year a movie starring a sloth and a mammoth made 60 million more than a Tom Cruise action vehicle.

How can a bunch of Pirates beat Superman?

Let’s see. Both flicks seem equally family friendly, so let’s look at some of the other factors.

A. Star Power.
Superman Returns stars an unknown as its lead. Seconding is Kate Bosworth who is the young female equivalent of Bill Pullman to Kate Beckinsale’s Bill Paxton. We’ve got the dude who played Cyclops, but who is pretty indistinguishable without his eyegear. Finally, we’ve got Kevin Spacey. Now, Kevin Spacey is the biggest name in the movie, but there are a few things to consider. Fist, a number of people find Kevin Spacey smarmy and reprehensible. Two, people who would go to a film to see Kevin Spacey, might have an electric pellet reaction. Let’s say Sally loved Kevin Spacey in American Beauty and The Usual Suspects. Because of this, let’s say she spent her hard earned money on K-Pax, Pay It Forward, The Life of David Gale, and his frightfully bad Bobby Darin biopic. Now Sally is going to take much more care with her money, and put Spacey movies on the Netflix queue instead.

Pirates 2 on the other hand stars that femmy elf who all the young girls like, Orlando Bloom. It also has Keira, who people like despite Domino. Most of all though, it’s got Depp, who has in the past few years managed to turn himself from box-office poison to… whatever the opposite of box office poison is.

Advantage: Pirates

B. Franchise Power.
Pirates 2 follows a recent and ridiculously popular movie. Superman Returns is part of a franchise that hasn’t made a decent movie in the lifespan of its target audience. It’s been nearly 20 years since Superman IV, and Superman IV was lousy. Returns follows up, instead on Superman 1 and 2, which were made in ’78 and ’80 if memory serves.

Advantage: Pirates

C. Hipness Factor
People like pirates. They’ve been hip on the internet for a while now, thanks in part to this guy. We have talk like a pirate day, pirate jokes, etc. Pirates kick ass and might get around to taking names once they sober up a bit.

The perception of Superman is that he is a square.

Advantage: Pirates

But is Superman Returns any good?

Surprisingly, yes.

Superman Returns is pretty good. The pacing is nice. It feels just like a Donner flick. The action sequences are easy to follow. The script and direction are perfectly acceptable. The non-Kryptonian things in the movie tend to behave in a manner reasonably consistent with physics. (The airplane wing ripping off and the ship cracking were both things that I thought should happen right before they did, huzzah!) Plus, it has a nice classic score, as opposed to an annoying soundtrack.

It had a couple of memorable moments, too. The earthquake sequence was really interesting. The actual return of Superman to Metropolis was at least somewhat moving. The understated appearance of Ma Kent and the Superman vigil was a nice touch.

In terms of comic book movies, it is definitely better than Superman III, Superman IV, Supergirl, X-Men, X-Men: The Last Stand, Batman, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, The Punisher, Daredevil, or the under-loved Fantastic Four.

Is it as good as the Spider-Man films or The Incredibles? Not really.

I felt that Superman Returns kept dancing around its themes. This one is my major gripe with the movie. Among several other things, it felt as though the movie was trying to be about Superman dealing with his potential obsolescence. Superman was gone for five years, and Earth seems to have gotten along fine without him. Lois Lane won the Pulitzer for writing an editorial on why the world doesn’t need Superman. But we don’t really get to dig into these things. We don’t see any tragedies that occurred when Supes was away. We don’t get to examine Lois’s article. Maybe I was expecting something closer to “What’s so funny about Truth, Justice and the American Way?” I don’t know. It feels as though there is a piece of this puzzle missing. Maybe if the scene of Superman telling Lois about his ability to hear all those cries for help was stretched out a little bit…

Ah well.

The Taxonomy of Sequels

It used to be so much clearer for me. There were sequels, and there were remakes.

But as I see more and more movies, the lines are blurred. Things get fuzzy.

Take, for instance, the Bond franchise. It is basically 30 different versions of the same damn movie. Okay, so that statement might not be entirely fair.

So, we have Superman Returns. It re-launches an older franchise with new actors. It takes into account some continuity of the first two films of said franchise. But because the older franchise started nearly thirty years ago, it also feels free to borrow several elements in order to re-introduce the character. So, you get the same Brando speeches, the same dialogue from Lex Luthor about real estate, a similar plot from Lex to put a good chunk of America under water. You get Superman saving Lois from an aircraft and delivering the same line about the safety of air travel. You get similar shots of Jimmy Olsen scanning the Daily Planet with his camera.

Let’s make this classification, THE RELAUNCH SEQUEL.

Superman Returns also falls under the heading of THE LET’S PRETEND THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN SEQUEL/REMAKE, by virtue of it wisely ignoring Superman 3 and 4. You’ll find some Bond movies in this category, as well as Batman Begins.

Then we have the RELAUNCH BRANCHOUT SEQUEL. An example of this would be the Samuel L. Jackson version of Shaft. It doesn’t really acknowledge the 3 previous Shaft flicks apart from the confusing appearance of Richard Roundtree as the elder Shaft. It doesn’t really make sense as a sequel as the SLJ Shaft takes place in a different universe from theShaft classic. (A world where Toronto is New York versus a world where New York is New York.) It would at first seem to be a remake, but this is not the case. The newer Shaft tells a completely different story than the original, opting for variation 4B of the “your gun and your badge” rogue cop plot.

Then we have the REMAKE SEQUEL. The remake sequel tends to have all the parts of the original, and serve as a slightly different, usually bigger version of the first. The Men in Black sequel would fall in this category, as would Die Harder

We also have the HYPER REMAKE SEQUEL. This is just like the previous class of sequel, except that it doesn’t really acknowledge the existence of the previous flick. An example of would be Evil Dead II which basically spends its first half as a remake of the first movie before moving on to slightly different things. Movies in this category tend to be odd ducks. Return of the Living Dead: Part 2 has the same actors that got zombiefied in part one get zombiefied in part 2 as slightly different characters.

This form is slightly different from the VAGUELY CONNECTED SEQUEL AS A REMAKE. These things are popular right now. You take a popular or somewhat popular movie, remake it usually without any of the same actors, and slightly different characters. The Dirty Dancing sequel falls under this category. As does, The Rage: Carrie 2. As do the direct to DVD sequels to The Net and Road House. Or the TV Movie sequels to The Omen and The Cutting Edge.

You can make one of these movies all by yourself via the power of MADLIBS.


I filled mine in already!

Dead Poets Society 2
Kathy Griffin plays Marilu Keating, wife to second cousin of the original John Keating of Dead Poets Society. In a stunning turn of events, she finds herself teaching a poetry class to preppies and must race against time!

Don’t laugh, somebody would make that thing.