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This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond – Water for Elephants

By Pete Hammond

HollywoodNews.com: Continuing a very good first quarter of 2011 for adult-themed fare, 20th Century Fox’s big screen adaptation of the Sara Gruen best seller, Water For Elephants scored an encouraging third place opening (behind Rio and Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family) an estimated $17.5 million and garnered a very promising A- rating from Cinemascore meaning the largely older (25 and up) female audience it drew liked what they saw and with a $7 million first day haul were clearly eager to see it as it dropped slightly (about $500,000) from Friday to Saturday, unusual for such an adult skewing movie. Usually for the slow-to-show older audience it’s the opposite especially as word of mouth and positive critics reviews kick in. In terms of the latter Elephants scored only a middling 52% among all critics and even less , 44%, among so-caled top critics checking in with Rotten Tomatoes. The audience seemed to like it better if the exit polls are to be believed. On the heels of respectable showings for grown up fodder like The Lincoln Lawyer, Limitless, Source Code and The Adjustment Bureau, it’s clear that if they have a good experience at the multiplex adults will keep coming back for more , albeit not in blockbuster numbers like the kind of business summer tentpoles Fast Five , Thor , Pirates Of The Carribean etc will do this summer. Fox has has luck turning female friendly best sellers aimed at the 25-plus demo into hit movies in recent years with The Devil Wears Prada and Marley and Me demonstrating strong appeal , each grossing in the hundreds of millions worldwide. Elephants , an old-fashioned period depression-era circus-set movie is decidedly darker but its love triangle and marketing campaign emphasizing the romantic angle is what used to sell in Hollywood once upon a time and now Fox has proven it’s not quite dead. These films always have legs too so expect slower than normal drops in the weeks to come as more mindless fare opens aimed at the fanboys, and adults crowd around the precious few films targeted with them in mind during the summer months.

When I visited one of the elaborate sets of the film on the 20th Century Fox lot while the film was just wrapping up production, Studio co-chairman Tom Rothman told me this was the kind of movie Hollywood still had to take chances on. As we looked at the elaborate small town street and circus parade taking place he said it looked like old times on the backlot of a studio. It did indeed as stars Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz marched down the street full of extras and animals , Witherspoon atop the film’s star elephant Rosie (played brilliantly by showbiz veteran Tai). In the finished film this whole sequence last less than 10 seconds tops. It’s interesting to see all the time, effort and hoopla director Francis Lawrence took in getting it done right just for that small amount of time in the actual movie (it’s part of a larger montage sequence showing the success of the circus ). Author Sara Gruen was also on set that day in period garb serving as an extra but blink and you’ll miss her , if she didn’t wind up on the cutting room floor in the first place . Fox 2000 topper Elizabeth Gabler was clearly also proud that she could get a movie like this made at a major studio and told me she was hopeful audiences were going to support it. It’s somewhat risky in today’s mindset where comic book fare, remakes and sequels rule the roost. At a budget of $40 million it certainly looks like this will be a moneymaker for Fox and hopefully serve as a signal that there are audiences out there clamoring for something a little more sophisticated.

Fox had a very good weekend with their smash hit ‘toon Rio scoring first place again and also burning up the wickets internationally. With over $26 million for the Easter weekend and over $80 million domestically after just 10 days Rio stands as 2011’s biggest success story to date. As for the number two movie, Tyler Perry just keeps turning out this stuff. Every Easter he has another flick, this one focusing again on his popular cross-dressing creation Madea. Lionsgate had no screenings for critics but it doesn’t really matter does it? Perry is one of the few who deliver a faithful audience no matter what any of us sour-faced media types have to say. He even has his name in the actual title. That’s clout. As Madea movies go this one was on the softer side but still should pump up an overall respectable gross before it’s finished.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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One Comment

  • April 26, 2011 | Permalink |

    Do not miss Rosie’s story in this movie. She shows how badly treated circus animals were in the 30’s. Sadly here we are 80 years later and Rosie/Tia fellow circus elephant performers still live an abusive and inhumane life to entertain the public. If you haven’t seen the photos and videos released in 2009 showing how the circus industry trains it’s baby and adult elephants, you haven’t looked on the Internet and YouTube. The trainers are using real bullhooks, real ropes and a real electric prod to hit, shock, jab their baby elephants, these training sessions continue for months or year. You soon realize that people like August still exist in our modern day circuses. Circus elephant abuse is still alive and going strong in the 21st century.
    If you think animals should be treated humanely the circus is the last place you should go. Otherwise you will miss Rosie’s message.

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