Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Dead Horse

I'm not going to once again discuss why the media is completely wrong and stupid about box office numbers during this post, because I believe that is a given. After I write what sparked this post, I will go in a different direction than usual. Whereas usually I would bring up valid points to dismiss the slump craze, I am going to assume that people know what criticisms I would make to such reporting. No, there are a couple of things I want to discuss as an offshoot of the slump talk and the reasons for it, and they were brought up in my reading of yet another article concerning this myth.

Today's USA Today once again couldn't help itself after this past weekend's box office business drooped below last year's same-week grosses, this after a 2-week winning streak. They blew out their Life section, once again, discussing why people aren't going to movie theatres anymore. A whopping two hundred people responded to their survey, clearly a great representative of the entire country, discussing their likes and dislikes about the theatre experience.

And they got the same answers that experts have been discussing the entire summer--those high prices! those annoying other moviegoers! those long lines! those cellphones! Then there was resident critic Mike Clark talking about how he loves the home experience so much more--he's got a great sound system and DVDs have a crisper picture, and lamented that his movie theatre-going experience was not up to par because the movie he was watching (Fantastic Four) was not The Magnificent Seven.

There are two things I want to discuss concerning this article.

1. Sound in theatres compared to sound at home.

The sound that people have rigged in their homes have ruined the experience at movie theatres. It's not because the sound is so much better--that's debatable. It's because people can tailor sound to their exact wants and needs. Now, you might say, that's the reason why the home experience gets a nod over the theatre experience. But then, you'd be forgetting that tailoring your specific sound needs often means changing the sound that the director and his sound team have intended. The number one complaint I get about sound concerns the surround speakers.

People think surrounds are supposed to be ambushing you with sound at all times: when people talk, when there's a musical score, and so on. Does it surprise anyone that surround speakers are used only for sound effects, and that it's usually intended for things that happen offscreen? It is illogical to have someone talking onscreen and that voice be coming out of the right or left side of the auditorium. In real life, when you have a conversation with someone, their voice doesn't magically sound like it's coming from your left or your right, unless you are talking to an evil ventriloquist. Yet, people at home constantly gear their home systems to where the surround speakers are relaying this information. Ha, ha, the home theatre enthusiast thinks, I've got it made. Listen to those babies purr.

But it makes no sense, though. Why, if people are talking in front of you, and the center speaker behind the screen is giving you nice, clear speech, would you need to hear it in any other speakers to enjoy it? This USA Today article makes mention of someone who just loves his surround sound at home. Guys, there's surround sound in theatres, and it's engineered the correct way, and it's the way that the director and sound team want you to hear it. Surround speakers are probably the least-used speakers, and it's supposed to be that way. You want a hit list? In general:

Left and right front speakers behind the screen are used for musical score, and sound effects onscreen.
Center speaker behind the screen is used mostly for dialogue but serves other sounds as well if it makes sense.
Surround speakers are used for sound effects offscreen (if you hear dialogue, it's because it is happening offscreen).
Subwoofers are for bass reproduction, but no one really ever complains about these.

If you don't believe me, then I'd ask you why would we purposefully not play the sound correctly, or have no desire to fix it? Are we lazy? I would say that most projectionists hate hearing complaints more than enjoying a nice sit any day.

2. My prediction concerning this year.

I predict that sales for this year will end up passing last year's. And the articles, if you see any, will be scratching their heads as to how a summer slump so terrible could have produced a year that beat last year's anyway. Why do I think this? First off, let me get something out of the way. Even if this year doesn't beat last year, the media hype surrounding this is still ridiculous and wrong. But, I am banking on the holiday season to come up with the "hail mary" that will push it past last year.

Remember Alexander? Remember The Polar Express? Remember that almost no holiday films were doing well...like that Christmas Day behemoth Fat Albert? The only one in that mix that did well is The Incredibles. The only one to meet or exceed expectations, and it was released on November 5 and was the last mega-hit of 2004. This year, there are some surefire hits and some almost bankable films surrounding them (all dates subject to change, and may be limited releases):

First off, there's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, opening November 18. Last year, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released in the summer, and its ticket sales helped 2004's summer be a difficult one to beat. Then there's King Kong, opening December 14. Those two movies are assuredly going to beat the movies that came out last year during similar time periods. Then you have movies like Zathura (November 23) and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (December 9). Do not underestimate the family aspect of Narnia, and especially don't underestimate the Christian dollars for it. Narnia just might be a combination of Passion of the Christ and Lord of the Rings.

I also wouldn't discount Chicken Little, getting a November 4 release date ahead of all the holiday family competition. It's Disney's first digitally animated film without Pixar, which might be bad for it's quality (we don't know yet), but there's no denying the marketing machine that is Disney, and there's also no denying that every one of these family digitally-animated movies have made over $100 million. There also should be no doubt that Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, will be highly-anticipated and it gets a Shark Tale-esque release date of October 7. Also, Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride should be getting some great interest when it hits on September 23, getting into the spirit of Halloween. One other Disney release that might be getting some attention is The Greatest Game Ever Played, which has that Remember the Titans feel.

That's a lot of family movies with a great amount of buzz attached to them. Nothing for adults, you say? How about Steven Spielberg's Munich (December 23), which is already getting Oscar talk? Then there's other Oscar bait like Memoirs of a Geisha (December 9) and All the King's Men (December 16). Or how about the musical adaptations of Rent (November 11) and The Producers (December 21), both with most of their original cast, and a big built-in audience? There's the Mask of Zorro sequel Legend of Zorro on October 28, along with the Saw sequel, which was a surprise hit that became an even bigger one on video. You can never discount Jim Carrey's draw either, even though he hit a slight rough spell at one point, as he stars in Fun With Dick & Jane on December 21. I've got high hopes for Elizabethtown (October 14), of course, given Cameron Crowe's track record.

There's also some movies that could claim some cult-hit dollars. I'm thinking one of them is Serenity (September 30), which is based on the now cult-hit "Firefly" TV show, and getting a Sci-Fi Channel lead-in to the release date as they run the original season. And even though it has a video game pedigree, perhaps Doom (October 21) will be a small hit. And perhaps Sin City's crowd will visit V For Vendetta (November 4), set up to be another fanboy wet dream. There's also a Big Momma's House sequel on December 16--I didn't like the 1st one but it made some bank I didn't expect. There are a few others in this late 3rd Quarter and 4th Quarter release schedule I could me missing, but those are the biggies, and many have some some sort of anticipation to them. Some are even likely to be bombs, but this fall and winter schedule looks like a promising bet to beat last year's but good.

And let me say one more thing: even if I'm right, it's still not the way to look at business. I just hope I am right, so then the media can be befuddled as to how it all happened.


At 7/27/2005 08:50:00 AM, Blogger MaraJade said...

Yes people with surround sound have no idea what it's supposed to do. Ah well.

Are you saying they're making Rent into a movie? Why have I not heard of this?

At 7/27/2005 09:36:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I do not know how you have not heard of RENT being made into a movie, but it is indeed coming out November 11 and has nearly all of the original cast. If you have quicktime, you can go to apple.com and see the trailer there.

At 7/27/2005 10:10:00 AM, Blogger MaraJade said...

I live under a rock.


At 7/27/2005 10:17:00 AM, Blogger MaraJade said...

Okay, I know I am really great at getting the comments section completely off topic from the post and I do apologize, but this is important! lol.

I just went to apple and watched the trailer. Oh my god. I know where I'll be November 11th!

But is it a musical? I know they sang through the whole thing and I did see the tango scene in there so that would imply it is, but I was just wondering since you guys hear all this stuff apparently way before I ever do. I am so excited to see this! I hope it doesn't suck. . .

At 7/27/2005 10:44:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

It's my understanding that it's a musical. As is the Producers movie that hits in December.

At 7/27/2005 10:46:00 AM, Blogger MaraJade said...

good good

At 7/27/2005 12:39:00 PM, Blogger NLock said...

As for Narnia, from the previews it looks like they good job of avoiding the cheese factor. It looks good and I can't wait to see it myself.

At 7/27/2005 03:29:00 PM, Blogger MaraJade said...

narnia is going to totally rule. I loved those books and it looks like they do a fairly good job of re-creating them. Can't wait.


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