This Week in Movies with Pete Hammond – “Battle: Los Angeles”

By Pete Hammond The real shocker about this week in movies is not that Sony’s male-oriented Battle: LA kicked ass all the way to number one and an estimated $36 million. It’s also not that Warner’s Red Riding Hood placed only third with about $14 million, failing to grab the expected female audience that flocked to director Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight. No, it’s clearly the disastrous belly flop of Disney’s kid-friendly Mars Needs Moms.

Wow. This flame-out is one for the ages . At a reported $150 million budget and another $60 million or so for marketing this 3D’d , IMAX’d animation which came from a best selling and beloved kids book would have seemed a slam dunk for success. But with only $6.8 million for the entire weekend and another measly $2.1 in initial international engagements this will turn out to be one of the biggest money losers on record. What went wrong? Of the three new wide releases Mars drew the most affection of the critics although its 40% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes isn’t anything to write home about. Still it is a lot better than Battle LA’s 31% and especially Red Riding Hood’s dismal 11%. And first night audiences, small as they were, gave it a decent ‘B’ Cinemascore rating so it’s clearly not the kind of stinker its boxoffice status as a non-starter might indicate. Coming from Image Movers, the company founded and championed by Robert Zemeckis, which has produced hits in the same “performance capture” process like Polar Express, Beowulf, Monster House and A Christmas Carol this latest effort was perhaps the most sophisticated yet in terms of advancing the process which uses actors in almost life-like animation. It may be though that parents have had enough of high 3D prices and this whole experience. Many complain how difficult it is to keep their kids engaged in the process even to the point of keeping the lumbering glasses on during the whole movie. Since Mars by the nature of its title and subject matter might have skewed exceptionally young, the 3D negative effect might have adversely impacted its potential.

Is there a turnaround happening? A backlash? It IS interesting to note that Mars got whipped good by the week’s number two film, another animated entry, Rango which dropped only about 40% in its second week to an overall total so far of $61 million. It is NOT in 3D so is earning lower ticket returns but it has the advantage of Johnny Depp in the lead. Mars has Seth Green and may be suffering from the fact it has no starry name to promote above the title. Certainly with Image Movers past successes they have had Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie and Jim Carrey among others to tout. But a 2D animated film giving a whooping to a Disney 3D ‘toon gives one pause.

With its Number one ranking this week , Battle: LA proves the power of young men to drive the boxoffice despite the fact that the film drew only the same B Cinemascore response that Mars got. Still overall audiences clearly preferred the aliens of the Sony film to those of the Disney film. Perhaps it is all in a title, heh? Even the recent failure of the very similar Skyline, which Universal released to little fanfare in November and which also was about an alien/human battle above the skies of Los Angeles, did not seem to dent the enthusiasm for this one. And as for Red Riding Hood , it also scored in the B’s from Cinemascore (a B- ) but there just weren’t enough rabid Twilight fangirls lining up to see Amanda Seyfried and Shiloh Fernandez go at it. Perhaps Big Bad Wolves just aren’t as compelling as Vampires, although we won’t tell that to Taylor Lautner.

So aliens, wolves, red riding hood , martians all made the box office headlines this week for various reasons it is still heartening to know that that old chestnut , Jane Eyre still can draw a crowd. In limited release the umpteenth cinematic treatment of Charlotte Bronte’s immortal tale of love found, lost, and found again did a sterling $45,000 per screen in limited release, the best specialty opening of the year to date. Yes, there are new movies out there for adults and it’s only March. Sweeeet.

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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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