This Week In Movies with Pete Hammond

By Pete Hammond For the first time two 3D movies opened against each other on the same weekend grabbing a combined total of an estimated $60 million at the box office just one week after the debut of another 3D family epic, The Chronicles Of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader which held pretty well from a soft opening, and only one week before yet another 3Der, Jack Black’s Gulliver’s Travels. Both of those movies plus both of this week’s flicks, Tron: Legacy and Yogi Bear are blasts from the past rebooted with new technological advances to make their dormant characters hot again. The future is here, movie-wise, and the studios are clearly stating their aim with this kind of holiday programming.

As for Tron: Legacy its $43.6 million dollar start plus B+ Cinemascore bodes well for a sci-fi reinvention based on a 28 year old Disney movie that was no great shakes to start with. Jeff Bridges starred in that one and he’s back this time but the difference is literally night and day as he is now playing opposite his younger self thanks to some remarkable effects by Digital Domain. This technology of actually making the same actor age up or down instead of hiring different actors to play a character at different ages was first brought to light in a major way with DD’s Oscar winning work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in which we saw Brad Pitt go from old man to baby and all points in-between. When I visited Digital Domain’s Venice , California headquarters recently DD head Cliff Plummer, Visual Effects Supervisor (and ‘Benjamin Button’ Visual Effects Oscar winner) Eric Barba, “Mothership” head Ed Ulbrich and Oscar winning head of DD animation Steve Preeg helped explain the process and showed me a remarkable teaser that they, along with Tron: Legacy director Joe Kosinski, put together in order to even convince Disney it would be possible to do this reboot and make Bridges convincing as both his 60 year old current self and his 30 years younger version.

So they created a mini-trailer and took it to Comic Con where fanboys went wild and convinced Disney to give the greenlight to the expensive project. After all the original Tron was no great shakes at the box office (about $33 million in 1982 dollars) and something of a critical bust, thus the bar was set pretty low but these guys really raised it. They also had to convince their leading man he wouldn’t look foolish so they brought him in on the experiment as well , using his 1984 film Against All Odds as sort of a template for the look of the younger Bridges. As the team explained it is one thing to take a dead actor from a certain period in their career , like Steve McQueen , and just stick them in a new film by manipulating the images with computer technology but it is quite something else to have a living actor play so dramatically younger and make it credible – visually and vocally. The results are on the screen and as Ulbrich told me , “there is no going back , this is the way movies are going to be made and it will only get more sophisticated and exciting as we move ahead”. At a packed industry screening last Thursday night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Kosinski and a panel of crew members including Barba took plaudits from the crowd as he explained Disney took a real leap of faith in hiring him, a first time feature director, and then letting him hire a number of key creative people who also had little hands-on experience working on a major movie before. The idea was to get a fresh perspective and take this Tron not only way beyond the first one , but also into unchartered territory for any movie. Ultimately it’s still about story and content but this group has wrapped it in a package that makes me very eager to see where they go next.

The success over past holiday seasons of cartoon icons, Alvin And The Chipmunks obviously encouraged Warner Bros and their Hanna Barbera division to take a stab at Yogi Bear and his trusty sidekick Boo Boo in the same kind of live action/animation hybrid that 20th mined so successfully with Alvin. Creatively the results are unimpressive despite the vocal talents of Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake, but considering this is a cartoon bear whose popularity peaked in the early 60’s its nearly $17 million haul is not bad. With kids out of school the B.O. should just keep percolating for Warners over the holiday season. Adults will want to take some valium before getting dragged to this thing by their six year olds. It’s definitely NOT smarter than the average kid flick but with an A- Cinemascore and an under 80 minute running time (Warners added a cartoon short just to pad the length) it seems to be the perfect babysitter for ansty tykes out there.

With all this 3D sci-fi, cartoon kid fare rampant this season you might wonder if Hollywood has somehow forgotten there is a large baby boomer adult audience out there ready to go to movies as soon as the presents are unwrapped.

As I discussed last week both Black Swan , The Fighter and The King’s Speech are strong entries in that regard and are expanding nicely as all should be fairly wide by Christmas Day.

This weekend’s new adult alternative, and the only romantic comedy in the market, How Do You Know apparently did not measure up. That’s too nice. It bombed. Big time. How do I know after just three days? Earning only an estimated $7.6 million, the first film from James L. Brooks since his 2004 disappointment Spanglish, was clearly a non-starter coming in 8th place and , here’s the really bad news, it managed only a C- Cinemascore rating from the older crowd that did manage to show up and just a 35% positive recommendation from critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Word of mouth will be poisonous and Sony is ending its big year on a sour note. Surprising that a romcom with no seasonal competition in the genre and starring such a likeable cast including Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd could drop dead like this particularly since Brooks is the guy who won all those Oscars for Terms Of Endearment, and nominations for Broadcast News, As Good As It Gets and as producer of Jerry McGuire, not to mention TV classics like Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi and The Simpsons. Not a Merry Christmas for Brooks but still a helluva talent even with a misfire like How Do You Know.

Pete Hammond

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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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