Thursday, May 15, 2008

Feared And Respected

This past Sunday afternoon must have been a horribly desperate time for Warner Bros executives. Especially when the studio announces their weekend estimates and it turns out that Speed Racer, one of their flagship summer movies, could only claw a miserable $20.2 million from the American box office.

With the movie costing well in the region of $120 million, even before the additional expense of P&A are slathered on top, you don’t have to be a certified maths genius to know that it’s going to be brutal. What do you do in a situation like that? I mean other than shit yourself, obviously.

I suppose the only thing to tell yourself is it could have been worse. Which is just what happens when Monday comes and the actual totals are revealed, revealing Warner Bros had over-estimated the estimates. It turns out that in fact Speed Racer only made $18.6 million, which puts it not only behind Iron Man, creaming off a further $51.2 million in it’s second weekend, but What Happens in Vegas, a typically rancid-looking comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. Really, that’s pretty much the equivalent of punching the hooker in the jaw before she’s finished blowing you.

The Yahoo! Movies website is showing the first seven minutes of Speed Racer, starting with the Warner Bros/Village Roadshow/Silver Pictures logos. Have a look. I managed to stick it all the way through, although toward the end had to shift the browser over to the second monitor so it wasn’t in my direct line of sight.

It’s certainly far too lurid and noisy for me, and there isn’t one character in that opening I could give a shit about. I may not be alone in that opinion because the same kind of apathy toward Speed Racer greeted the film in the UK where it came fourth in its opening weekend with takings of £362,102, putting it behind even Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Iron Man took close to two million smackers and yesterday I added my nine quid to the pot. While Speed Racer looks like the bright and shiny packaging of an empty box, Iron Man concentrates on establishing the characters as much as the story, making it all the more approachable. After seeing Robert Downey Jr. as playboy industrialist Tony Stark, it makes you realise that nobody else could have filled the role so well, especially the interplay between Paul Bettany’s Jarvis and the AI robots down in his garage workshop.

As he deftly brings the character to life, it helps that director Jon Favreau and the writers Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway all understand that it’s more about the man behind the mask rather than a superhero encased in metal. With Stark embroiled in corporate boardroom shenanigans, in some respects Iron Man is closer to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins than the previous Marvel offerings, but with a little hotrod red thrown in to replace the dark angst.

It’s almost as it Favreau learnt his lesson playing “Foggy” Nelson in the 2003 Daredevil. Playing everything for laughs and denigrating the source material won’t get you anywhere, but there are times when mean and moody needs to lighten up. Investing Iron Man with enough action, invention, comedy, character byplay, and simmering sexual tension between Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow’s PA, Pepper Potts, it ticked practically every box required for a successful entertaining summer movie.

Watching it two weeks after release meant that while it was still playing in big picture houses with a quality sound system, the early afternoon performance – which made up my extended “long lunch” – wasn’t packed out. Come the third time I was close to jumping out of my chair and cheering, or rocking back in the seat with laughter, I figured I ought to go to the cinema more regularly.

It definitely revised my opinion of summer movies, although we’ll see how long that lasts. Still, it is nice to get out more.


At 11:14 pm, Blogger Ian said...

There's a lot wrong with "Speed Racer" (it's way too long for one thing) but I think the critics have been unfair.

The marketing has been appalling. I blogged a while back about Warner Brothers expecting reviewers to travel to their HQ just to watch 5 minutes of preview rather than the whole film itself - way to sell a movie Warner Brothers! The mags which have been full of nothing but Iron Man, Indiana Jones and The Hulk for month after month have had barely a mention of "Speed Racer". What the hell have WB marketing been doing?

Personally I think "Iron Man" has been over-hyped. Sure it's not a bad film, but the last 20 minutes (the "poor man's Transformers" showdown) are really quite dreadful. And anybody who didn't spot the bad guy right from the get-go (come on, he's bald and severe looking. Well duh!) needs to get a brain.

At 2:20 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I suppose it could have been that Speed Racer wasn’t finished in time to show the whole thing. But screening only five minutes certainly is a bit rubbish. Of all the major studios, Warner Brothers seems to have the strangest marketing department – one that seems to hinder, rather than help push the movies.

But I’m sure one of the film magazines here had a big Speed Racer cover and feature. Although it might have been Total Film, so... After those first seven+ minutes, I thought no way could I put up with this for two and a quarter hours. You must have Teflon eyeballs. Oh, and at the end of the clip they announce it’s showing in IMAX. Holy cow!

I think Iron Man is being heaped with praise because it has turned out far better than anyone expected. As I said, for me it ticked enough boxes. There were moments that made me laugh out loud – like Stark’s very first flight test when he’s just wearing the boots, and the robot’s over-enthusiasm with the extinguisher – or be on the edge of my seat.

Having downloaded and watched the three trailers on the Apple website, I was surprised that the final one showed scenes that revealed the real villain of the piece. Paramount’s publicity bods obviously think people go to the cinema for the shared experience rather than the story. Still, I did like the way it didn’t blame the terrorists but double-dealing corporate America.

As for the final battle between Iron Man and the Iron Monger, I suppose there couldn’t be anything else. It actually reminded me of Gladiator: After all the battles, fights in the Colosseum with chariots and then tigers, it all comes down to the two men using swords and fists. In much the same way Iron Man has Stark and Obadiah duking it out for control, having already planted enough seeds for the next movie.

At 2:27 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

My nine year old loved Iron Man...But he also loved Speed Racer too.

And isn't it that that's important, not whether the grown ups liked it too? (I preferred Iron Man)

At 3:13 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Maybe the best thing about big, dumb summer movies is that they offer you the chance to not be a grown up for two or three hours.

Bloody hell, have I just tried to be profound? Bit too late in the day for that.

At 4:38 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Too late in the day as in Friday?

Or too late in the day as in your twilight years are swiftly approaching???


At 5:10 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

That's very sweet of you to even suggest the former, but I think we both know it's the latter option I was alluding to.


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