The Lorax Kills John Carter

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If the Lorax went to Mars, John Carter still couldn't even have killed him.

Dr. Seuss's The Lorax opened on March 2nd, and was No. 1 with a shocking $70 million dollar intake for Universal. At that time, it left Warner's Project X in the dust.(1)

Which is appropriate. Or perhaps inappropriate, as "dust," as in what cars leave behind when they take off, and which is just the thing that Seuss's original story The Lorax is all against. A cautionary environmentalist tale, The Lorax has apparently been coöped by the media, as Stephen Colbert pointed out. Colbert noted on his February 27 program that Universal lined up some 70+ corporate tie-in co-sponsors, including an ad campaign tie-in with the Mazda CX5 crossover SUV. Universal is, as always, affiliated with NBC and GE under Comcast Corporation (NYSE: CC) (NASDAQ: CMCSA). Universal has released three of the last four Dr. Seuss adaptations (Fox did one of them) and of the Universal releases only ?The Cat in the Hat ?failed to perform in relation to its budget (and that may have been a casting issue – Mike Myers played the Cat). If Universal executives maintain their connection to the Seuss catalog prospects remain good for the company. Currently, CMCSA is trading around $29 dollars, and GE, also in the corporate loop, is trading around $20. 


March 2 In General

In the dust or wake of The Lorax's first weekend, Act of Valor (Relativity Media) dropped 40% of its business in its second week, Safe House (Universal) dropped 32% in its fourth week, and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Warner Bros.) and Tyler Perry's Good Deeds (Lionsgate) dropped over 50%. Warner Bros. is the scion of Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX), while Perry's picture is distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (NYSE: LGF). The Vow still performed for Screen Gems, the subsidiary of Sony Corporation (NYSE: SNE) via Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc. The film declined a mere 39%, or in other terms, making an additional $6 million dollars for a then-total of $111.6 million.

March 2's Ideological Head-to-Head

In its first weekend, Dr. Seuss' The Lorax made $70,217,070  in 3,729  theaters ($18,830 on average per screen). Its debutant competitor was Warner's Project X, a "found footage" teen tale about three guys who throw an awesome party while the 'rents are out of town. Low esteem from the reviewers did not quash viewer appetite, as it made  $21,051,363 at 3,055 screens ($6,891 per). You couldn't find a better ideological pairing. Curiously, while The Lorax celebrates conservation, Project X revels in mass destruction, as the awesome party ends up destroying the parental host house, and part of Los Angeles. We've come a long way since Risky Business.

March 9 Also Rans in Brief

This last weekend saw the release of four new pictures. Friends with Kids is the new comedy from the relatively obscure comedienne Jennifer Westfeldt. She is an writer-actress whose previous screenplays include Kissing Jessica Stein. But she is no sister of Bilitis. Ms. Westfeldt co-habitates famously with Mad Men's Jon Hamm, who has a supporting role in this film, written by, directed, and starring opposite TV's Adam Scott (Parks and Recreations), in which the leads play best friends seeking to avoid the horrors of married life yet while wanting to share the raising of a child. Kind of a Bridesmaids crossover, the film shares a lot of that hit's actors as well as its tone of potty mouthiness and orrificial humor. Either in spite of or despite that tone, the film ranked No. 13 for Roadside Attractions (Albert Nobbs, Margin Call), which is partially owned by Lionsgate. The film pulled in $2,169,000 at 374 theaters. Roadside makes some interesting artistic choices – it distributed the excellent Winter's Bone– ?but its taste in movies seems more suitable to the home video market, and Roadside's attachment to LGF may be a factor is keeping down Lionsgate's  market vitality. 

 

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Debuting in sixth place was a comedy starring Eddie Murphy sans makeup or CGI disguises. A Thousand Words is a convoluted Jim Carrey-style comedy in which Murphy's character loses a leaf of life for each word he speaks, the leaves residing on a bodhi tree. He's a shallow, fast talking character who needs to learn humility, you see.  Apparently the film's been on the shelf for two years, and was only unpacked from mothballs because Paramount-DreamWorks thought that he was going to host the Oscars. For their resurrectionary troubles they garnered $6,350,000 at 1,890 for this $40 million dollar budgeted movie.

Unsafe as Houses

Open Road Films scored fourth place with Silent House. This is the American remake of La casa muda from 2010, the Uruguayan horror story about a girl and her dad going out into the woods to clean up a summer cottage, only to be stalked by … something (bad memories, mostly). Silent House picked up $7,010,000 from 2,124 screens for a light opening, but probably off of a low budget, as there are only six people in it, mostly Elizabeth Olsen, the younger Olsen un-twin late of the well-regarded Martha Marcy May Marlene as the lead. The gimmick is that the film is shot in "one take," like Aleksandr Sokurov's loftier Russian Ark. Open Road Films is, of course CEO Tom Ortenberg's company financed by Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC) and AMC Entertainment Inc., the private property of Marquee Holdings (and not to be confused with the network).

Mars Has Women

Well, at least one woman. Lynn Collins, who is the terrific star of John Carter of Mars, the high profile science fiction "space romance" from Buena Vista AKA The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS). While Project X fell to third place with an additional $11,550,000, dropping -45.1% for a total thus far of $40,125,000, John Carter made "only" $30,603,000 in both 3-D and regular-D at 3,749 venues. This would be fine if the film had been made for $11 million, but reports of its budget have it as high as $250 million and some have said $350 (though these writers could be high on Barsoomian helium fumes). Meanwhile, The Lorax added an astonishing $39.1 million dollars in its second frame, dropping "only" -44.3% for a total take of $121,950,000.

Why the difference? Seuss is a known quantity, and family friendly. John Carter looked CGI heavy and too loud. Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs's 1912 magazine serial The Princess of Mars, published in book form in 1917 with about 10 more volumes in the series to follow, John Carter isn't as good as it could have been or as bad as one thinks it is going to be, though its shaky prologue with a onslaught of Marsian names and terms is daunting. If the film had started with the 10-minute sequence that BV released on line the week before, the audience might have been sucked into its Indiana Jones meets Flashman and Rick from Casablanca formula. Instead the film spread bad word of mouth, even after an inspiring profile of director Andrew Stanton (Wall-E) in the New Yorker and numerous reshoots and re-takes pre its release.

The film's saving grace is Ms. Collins as a warrior princess named Dejah Thoris. She has a physique that is both voluptuous and athletic at the same time and she holds her own against the otherwise chemistry-free cast of British accent specialists, Mark Strong (Darth Vader-ish bad guy), Ciarán Hinds (dad), Dominic West (villain suitor), and James Purefoy (can't remember).

John Carter might have seemed like a good bet. Brand name: Burroughs; setting vaguely Roman like many of the post-Gladiator toga films that have rushed to fill a previously unknown void. Yet the film is already being called a flop. Disney is supposed to be able to sell things – that is its great strength, that's what it does, even if the "thing" doesn't really exist, and this film is being widely derided for its bad marketing (last minute title change, mis-focussing of the film's few strong points). Nevertheless, DIS is trading at around $42 and is closely mirroring the S&P 500, with a healthy P/E Ratio of 16. Growth seems sketchy, though, if the movie makers kept making decisions like this one.

Now onward to next week and 21 Jump Street (Columbia, MGM, Relativity).

1 All according to Box Office Mojo.

 

 

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Fool blogger D. K. Holm does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this entry.

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