30 May 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: One Maleficent Way to Die in the West

There are two films hitting the Box Office this weekend with relatively high expectations. One is another in a long line of surprisingly successful live action epic fantasy adaptations, and the other is a dirty comedy western. Unbelievably, this is Summer Fodder. Will either reign supreme as a commercial, critical, or most importantly, a cultural champion? Let's discuss:
Craw! Craw!

The frist, and undoubtedly higher profile release today is Disney's Maleficent (2014), the celebrated retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story (or more specifically, the Disney Sleeping Beauty [1959] story) from the perspective of the chief baddie in that film, Maleficent. Maleficent is a sweet villain as far as classic animated cinematic villains go, and she is usually the one that all the other Disney Villains answer to, after all, she's the Mistress of All Evil. Not only is she totes wicked as a human (is she human? With the green skin and horns?) but she also turns into a giant black dragon at the end and spews hot green fire. As far as Disney Princess movies go, that part always really hit me as a prepubescent boy.

And now we have all this in a big budgeted Disney Summer thrillride. And be sure - this is not the kind of movie you make if you don't have Angelina Jolie in the title role. She looks perfect in every way, from the visual facsimile to the intimidating weight of her stardom. It would appear like a perfect match. My only question is, what the hell is the audience for this thing?

As I mentioned, there has been a glut of these kinds of heady fantasy adaptations lately dating back to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010), which also took a spin on the specifically Disney-canonized version of the material. That made a ridiculous amount of money, which naturally led to more classic fantasy stories getting the Big Hollywood treatment like Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). Neither of these really struck what Alice struck, though, which was also one of the first films that started this trend of being completely critically and culturally ignored in the United States, but made crazy crazy money overseas. I mean, we had things like AVABAR (2009), but that was at least lauded for its quality here and also made an insane amount of money domestically. Alice proved that you can pull off completely screwing the American audience in the name of spectacle. Snow White and Oz didn't really pull off that same feat, but it's what everyone major motion picture release has been going for since.

So, there is that audience there. Note that also due to its PG rating, it's neatly positioned itself as the family-friendly blockbuster entertainment of the summer, even though if I was a little kid I may be creeped out by all the witches and Ent monsters running around. I'm also curious if anyone is familiar with the 55-year old source material, but Disney's Princess line, for all their criticism, has done a spectacular job of keeping these ladies and their stories in the public consciousness. But will this family / princess enthusiast crowd be interested in the re-telling from the villain's perspective? Well, I think that's where Angelina fits in, who just owns this part.

So, yes, I think this will make a lot of money. Will anyone care about it come August? I don't think so. It won't make headway in the kinds of fan-crowds that continue propagating a piece of pop culture (nerds) and it doesn't, frankly, look like all that good of a film to sustain interest or positive word-of-mouth. It won't be Lone Ranger (2013)-level of dismissal, but I just can't picture this stealing anyone's hearts. Maybe it wins a Costume Design or Art Direction Oscar like Alice did, but other than that, I don't think this will find any long-term love. But, money - that's important.
Basically, Brian in a Western

The other epic opus we're seeing this week is Seth MacFarlane's One Million Ways to Die in the West (2014), which has had a truly insane amount of advertising this past month. There's hardly a commercial break that goes by where I don't hear Liam Neeson exclaiming that "Some one in this town is going to die." On that part , the cast is largely a dream, with Charlize Theron and Neil Patrick Harris rounding things out. It looks like a delight, but again, there's this big gap concerning who the hell is actually going to see this thing.

Seth MacFarlane's empire and stock is rising, (maybe not, actually, The Cleveland Show was just cancelled, but at least making fun of it was one of the funniest and on-target things Family Guy has done in a while) at least among his fans, after TED (2012) and the Oscars, and that was also a nice way to show what he can do with live action. But as much as his fans turned out for it (And I'm the rare dude who generally has never cared for any of his shows, but I do dig, well, I guess just TED and his go at the Oscars), there is such an equally huge contingent of people who hate MacFarlane, for pretty justifiable reasons.

Also, what's the market for comedy westerns, exactly? What do we even have to go on? Blazing Saddles (1974) is the easy one, of course, and that fits the offensive bill as well, but does MacFarlane really want to go up against the funniest movie of all time? And if we look more recently we have only...jeez...Rango (2011)? Let's take out animation. Wild Wild West (1999)? That could be considered more an adventure film. Back to the Future Part III (1990)? There's not really anything like One Million Ways, which makes it hard to draw comparisons. I have no idea if people will be up for a romp in the West with Seth MacFarlane, and with the very recent success of Neighbors (2014), I'm not sure we're really comedy starved, either. And in two weeks we get 22 Jump Street (2014). He had better be bringing his A-game here, because if not, this movie will get lost forever in a sea of superior Summer 2014 comedies.

It's really a wildly divergent weekend. Will you go to see the Disney live action fantasy revival? Or the Hard R-Western Comedy? My guess is that your answer is going to say a lot about where you are in your life right now. Or just see Neighbors, Godzilla (2014), or Days of Future Past (2014) again, they're all solid. Maleficent and One Million Ways to Die in the West hit theaters today.

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