The Summer Blockbuster Challenge – Recap!

As of today, the summer season (at least in the US) has officially drawn to a close. The tickets have been sold, the films have been watched, the reviews have been written, the popcorn has been eaten and unceremoniously distributed on the floors by moronic teenagers… and so on. Therefore, I think it’s high time I saw how I’ve done with my predictions as to which films would dominate the box offices over these last few months.

Let me reiterate the rules of the challenge, as described by the good folks over at Slashfilm. By the way, whenever they come out (hopefully in the following days) with their results and the details of the scoring system, I shall make a note of it to see how I stand in comparison to the ‘big guys’.

First of all, the challenger gets to choose 10 films released in the period between the first weekend of May and the first weekend of September (inclusive) and arrange them according to the predicted domestic box office revenue from highest to lowest. Additionally, the challenger gets to name 3 Dark Horse entries that will gain extra points in case they make it to the top 10. The challenger will then be scored based on the accuracy of his/her predictions.

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Because I didn’t quite know the exact scoring rules, which I hope to learn in the foreseeable future, for a time being I decided to come up with a scoring system of my own that would reflect the accuracy of predictions, so let me walk you through it.

Quite logically, I assume that the perfect score would be to predict the ten films in exact order, for which the challenger would be awarded a score of 100%. From there, it’s quite easy to notice that in this system, predicting each entrant awards the challenger a maximum of 10%, which can be broken down further with regard to the accuracy in predicting its spot in the top 10. I think that in order to best reflect the real accuracy, a given film should be awarded 10% score if its predicted place on the list matches perfectly. A penalty of subtracting 1% from an individual score would be enforced on a film, if its predicted spot in the top ten differs by one from the actual result. For example, if the challenger predicted “Iron Man 3” to come up on top, which it did in reality, then no penalty would be awarded. But if he predicted this film to come up fifth, then 5% would be subtracted from the individual score. The Dark Horse entrant showing up in the top ten grants 5% score regardless of its positioning in the bracket. The sum of individual scores then gives the total score as a percentage.

Regardless of the actual rules of the Slashfilm challenge, I believe that this particular system doesn’t have any major flaws, as it awards accuracy and punishes its lack the most in its extremes. I think naming the top contenders is the easiest; therefore mistakes in that region should be punished most severely. The same goes for the bottom of the bracket.

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Above you can see what I came up with based on a quick analysis of the past top grossing summer films based on the release date, direct competition during release weekends and current trends in movie-going (left-hand column) against the harsh reality of the US summer box office results. Right of the bat, you can spot that I did a particularly terrible job at actually predicting the top 10, because as many as four films that I predicted never made it near the top. Plus, my personal Dark Horses (“White House Down”, “After Earth”, and “The Lone Ranger”) turned out to be the biggest bombs of the entire summer. How unlucky is that?

I also failed to listen to reason when I hoped “Man of Steel” would win the whole summer and show “Iron Man 3” where to go, which it didn’t. As predicted, though, I managed to pick the two animations that got to the top 10, but messed it up when it comes to the order and seriously underestimated the hype machine of the minions from “Despicable Me 2”. In other news, I failed to recognize the potentials of “World War Z” (which I thought would tank like the Titanic) and “The Great Gatsby”. “The Heat” and “The Conjuring” got me by complete surprise, because never in my life would I have thought that Sandra Bullock would stand a chance against a franchise like “The Hangover” (which under-performed severely). Plus, a horror film in the bracket? Nobody knew…

As a result, the collective penalties amounted to 53% which gave me a shameful score of 47%. Seriously, I need to work on my foretelling skills, because this is a joke. I know I might have included some titles in my list that were more like good wishes than actual cold calculations, but I didn’t think a film like “Pacific Rim” would bomb in the US. Well, I can only give myself a pat on the back for good effort and better luck next year.

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But wait, there’s more… Since I have already begun writing up the summer season for a proper analysis (and I will roll it out some time this week) I could put my predictions against the worldwide box office results to see how I did on the global market. Granted, I might not know the American trends all that well, because I don’t live there, so what the hell…

Well, it’s not that bad! I was actually pleasantly surprised to note that I managed to get 9 out of 10 films, which is already an achievement. Plus, I got one film – “Wolverine” that I ironically refused to see – perfectly on the nose. Still, I vastly overestimated “Man of Steel”, and apart from a slight miscalculation on “Despicable Me 2” and “Fast and Furious 6” (I’m baffled as to why this film was so popular), I did quite respectably. And one more thing – taking into account the foreign markets, my personal favorite “Pacific Rim” landed finally in the top 10, as if to please me in some way.

In the end, I scored 64% against the global top 10 this summer, a score that might not look impressive, but it’s nothing to sniff at. Still, I think I should re-evaluate my methods for the next year, but then again, if I take into account all the harsh assumptions I made, I should be rather glad the moviegoers proved me wrong. How can I be mad at the fact that a phenomenal horror made a lot of money? And the less money sequels make, the better for everyone…

 

Terrible box office performance isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, never left your house in the last two weeks, or you have been disconnected from the World Wide Web, you should know about the highly anticipated “Pacific Rim” hitting the screens this past weekend. Well, Internet, I have to say I am a bit disappointed in you… again, because it looks to me that “Pacific Rim” is going to go down in history as that awesome film that nobody went to see; a bit like “Dredd 3D” last year, but on a bigger budget.

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This morning (and it’s a bank holiday here where I live) when I looked at the Box Office news, I couldn’t really believe my own eyes. Well, I have already heard that the opening night was a tad underwhelming, but coming in third behind “Grown Ups 2” (!!!) and “Despicable Me 2”, which by the way has been put for two weeks already, just did not add up. How that could happen, I ask… Does the general public fear anything that’s not a sequel and/or a remake? Is that it?

I shouldn’t really be surprised given how this summer has been unfolding so far. From the current top ten highest grossing films of this summer, five are direct sequels, one is a reboot (and that’s “Man of Steel”), and there are two high-profile book adaptations (“World War Z” and “The Great Gatsby”; nothing against it, but I just had to put it out there). That leaves us with only two examples of “original thought” that has made a considerable profit. Note the ironic use of quotation marks, because the original films in question involve the horrid “Now you see me” and “The Heat” that I haven’t seen yet (and I doubt I will, at least in the cinema). This leads me to conclude that the rampaging sequelitis that’s been at large for the best part of the last decade or so, has finally done it: now your average Joe will never trust a given title (and let’s confine ourselves only to high-profile blockbusters) unless it’s something he has seen before one way or another. Unless it’s another comic book movie with well-established mythos, a sequel, prequel, or a reboot, there’s no chance Average Joe is going to buy the ticket. After all, the times are tough, money is scarce and it’s far better to spend your money on something that you know is going to be good, right?

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Even if you compare “Pacific Rim” to, say, “Transformers” trio (I refuse to call it a trilogy) in terms of content versus box office revenue, I’d say that an Average Joe should be able to draw a parallel between the two and think it might be just like “Transformers”, but with giant monsters… And I have to say that Michael Bay on his best day wouldn’t be able to create a spectacle like “Pacific Rim”, full stop. And I don’t even want to venture into how shite “Transformers” really are; not in the widely acceptable film quality, but in the geek-type quality. I might put together a short rant later on about just that, but suffice to say now that “Pacific Rim” in my eyes is the closest to being the modern standard for any type of movie about giant anything.

But there’s a silver lining to it all, I think… I like to believe that because the average stream of teenagers failed to recognize how awesome “Pacific Rim” was, makes it even more special to us, nerds. You heard me, now I get to feel like a Brooklyn hipster and no outlander shall taint this mountain of epicness with their comparisons to any other sci-fi that might, or might not have had Robert Downey Jr. in it.

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Apart from the nerdy bragging rights, I now feel safe about one thing: due to terrible box office revenue, “Pacific Rim” will most likely never get to breed a sequel. Can you imagine, how cool that is? It’s never going to be bastardized with the ‘bigger and louder’ clone of itself and I sincerely hope “Pacific Rim” will remain the stand-alone bad-ass fountain of awesome that stands proud in every nerd’s apartment. Who knows, maybe it will develop a genuine cult following… Maybe it will spin off a slew of fan fiction and then after a decade or two, someone in Hollywood will recognize the potential that might lie within “Pacific Rim”, and then someone will shoot a sequel or whatever. So, here’s to hoping for “Pacific Rim” to be left alone. After all, it didn’t make any money, so leave it be for me and my kind…

What’s with the obsession with 3’s?

It didn’t take too long – a couple of days perhaps – for the head-ups in Paramount to announce they would be dishing out money for a sequel to this weekend’s “World War Z”. I will try and stay ‘zen’ about all that, because every single time I hear that a good financial performance is enough for some people in Hollywood to plop a number two on a film (not that kind of ‘number two’), a little part of me dies. Seriously, how many decent films ended up ruined, due to being pointlessly over-extended? I think I might sit down and list a couple at some point in time, but for the sake of argument, think about “Die Hard”, or “Planet of the Apes” and how pathetically ridiculous it was to keep them going until the viewers called the producers on their bulls**t.

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But that’s not the problem here. What bothers me nowadays, and I know I’m not alone in this, is the fact that potential blockbusters and/or surprisingly well performing underdogs are already planned out into trilogies. I mean – what the hell? What makes you think it’s right to take any story and extend it into two additional films? Especially that a trilogy by definition cannot consist of three random stories, that share protagonists, or the universe all jumbled together under the same banner; it simply doesn’t work that way. A trilogy needs to be carefully framed to have each of the chapters as their own separate entities bound together into a larger design that only the three stories together can unravel. The same rules apply to any framework, be it a set of four, five, seven or twelve parts. Quite simply speaking, for a trilogy to make sense, one cannot be allowed to pick up any randomly chosen part of it without creating gaping holes in his knowledge of the story arcs.

And in Hollywood nobody seems to care, because it is apparently sexy to apply the rule of three to anything that moves. Seriously, is it at all necessary to take “Prometheus” and already plan it out to be a trilogy? And how does any of this work for shameful duds like “The Hangover”? Really? Just because the first one was quite funny, does it mean we need more of the same dressed up as a ‘trilogy’? It just doesn’t make sense… And it’s not about the idea of making a sequel, because it is a totally separate matter. It seems that every time a film does well in the theatres, I might as well start counting down until I see the remaining ‘parts of the trilogy’ be released. Whatever happened to telling stories within the same universe? If you really have to, please make it easier on yourselves and skip the rule of three because half the time it doesn’t look right and the only thing that it would share with an actual trilogy would be the amount of volumes that it constitutes.

I seriously doubt we need to see “World War Z” as a trilogy. I know that the book contains countless arcs and peripheral stories, but confining oneself to three parts cannot be a good solution at all here. You can turn it into a collection of shorts, or a miniseries, or even a TV show if you must, but extending everything into trilogies is downright wrong and repulsive and there is no logical explanation for it.

While I might understand that a new set of “Star Wars” films is being planned as a trilogy, but the precedent states the previous came in threes as well, and were mostly proper trilogies anyway. What I will never understand is stretching something like “The Hobbit” into three films; there’s no need for it, the book is short enough and it looks stupid, thank you very much. Is it only because three films make more money than one?

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All this brings us to a point wherein we would be anticipating a trilogy virtually out of every little piece of crap that ends up bringing money. Even intellectual duds like “Transformers” ended up a trilogy. Yes, I know Michael Bay is making a fourth instalment, but it is leaving the original three with their characters and arcs alone and starting everything anew. And so, we will have “The Avengers Trilogy”, “The Independence Day Trilogy”, “Man of Steel Trilogy” and many more… And I could bet money that once “Pacific Rim” does well, we will see another two – exactly two, because it is not enough to bastardize decent films by proliferating them pointlessly. To please the average popcorn eater, we need to serve them their franchises in sets of three. Therefore, I cannot wait to see things like “Insidious 3 – the final whatever” (because why not), “Bridesmaids 3 – the fat one gets married”, or “Wall Street 3 – money goes camping”. And yes, sometimes I actually count on the big potential blockbusters to flop, because for once nobody will turn them into trilogies. Could you imagine what “28 months later” could possibly be about?

“World War Z” – It turns out that dropping the Z-bomb isn’t that bad after all…

Although I was initially convinced that writing up “World War Z” should present itself as rather straightforward, in reality it took me a while to get my thoughts right in order to do that. Perhaps I didn’t have my own mind quite made up about it in the first place, but more so because there is so many things this film is not, and it seems to bother the general public. I, on the other hand, had a good time watching it and I believe I ought to address these points of contention whilst reviewing.

What I think is the major problem with “World War Z” is the fact it suffers from a major case of ‘shyamalanitis’ with so many people having an opinion about it without even having seen it in the first place; and no wonder if it flops big time, because that’s what happens to films that are superseded by vindictive gossip. Therefore it is all the more difficult to write something coherent about it without falling victim to any such nonsense.

In that spirit, I think it wise to start with the facts. “World War Z” is a very loose adaptation of a best-selling novel by Max Brooks and the reason I (as much as everybody else) say ‘loose’ is because the book as it stands is virtually unfilmable. I have to admit I still have 80 pages to finish it myself, but I think even at this stage I am qualified enough to say that no-one in their right mind would even attempt to adapt this fantastic book verbatim and expect a return on their investment. For those of you who don’t know (and you should know because it’s a terrific read) the book is not a novel per se, but more of a fictional collection of interviews with various people who lived through the zombie war, where the author assumes the role of a UN analyst tasked with preparing a report on the war and its implications nearly a decade after it had ended. In short, reading “World War Z” provides an ultimately immersive experience where we see the war and its atrocities through the eyes of survivors without much help from the narrator. Thus, slowly but inevitably unravels the horrifying picture of the world struggling with the undead and once the pieces fall into place, the emotional impact of the book is truly magnificent.

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Maybe the book needed to be left alone… But we all know this is not how the game is played. If a book sells in millions it is simply a matter of time before someone picks it up for a film. And whoop-dee-doo, wouldn’t you know, the script had to undergo a string of re-writes, overhauls and what-not before the filming could start. And not only that: after the film had been basically done and paid for, Paramount halted the post-production and the entire ending was re-shot. I’ll divulge more details on that a bit further on, but in the end “World War Z” cost way more money than expected (the re-shooting itself took nearly $30M) and as far as 6 months before release the buzz on the grape vine was pretty damn clear on how much of a stink-bomb it was going to become.

Nevertheless, the final product directed by Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”, “Finding Neverland”, “Quantum of Solace”) and written by a gazillion people has finally hit the screens and – thank heavens – is nothing like the book. Side note, I wonder how many book adaptations are there which completely disregarded the source material and still got away with it… Now that I think about it, I think I would have been seriously disappointed in “World War Z”, had it remained true to the original with the documentary style and fragmented narrative, because it would have certainly lost the impact and failed to convey the book’s message. What it is instead is a story set in the greater world outlined in the book (with only a handful of scenes or characters taken from it). In it, a former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family find themselves in the midst of a global outbreak of a deadly virus that turns people into bloodthirsty ghouls. After they seek refuge on an aircraft carrier, Gerry is asked to help solve the origin of the pandemic (in exchange for his family’s safety). If he can find the ‘patient zero’ or what’s left of him, then the dwindling humanity might have a fighting chance in developing a cure. And off he goes, surrounded by a garnish of NAVY Seals he travels the world to look for answers, but in reality to give us – the viewers – a chance to see how a zombie apocalypse would look like on global scale.

In light of the film’s sub-par score on Rotten Tomatoes and some dreadful reviews, I shall say the following: “World War Z” is actually not that bad, especially when put in context of the zombie genre in general. There’s nothing more stale and overworked than the zombie horror and up until lately I think there was very little to be done with it without being overly repetitive. It has gotten to a point that introducing a small gimmick in a zombie film was deemed perfectly enough for it to be considered fresh, modern, or even visionary. Need I remind you, how the world collectively wet itself after Danny Boyle had introduced the fast, rabid zombie? In terms of genre freshness, “28 days later” was basically that with a healthy amount of Boyle genius, but apart from being just a very good movie, “28 days later” was just a zombie horror with fast zombies. Then, you might recall “Zombieland” – another fine addition to the genre, as regarded by critics, but the only thing it did, was to introduce good comedy. Finally, you have “Warm bodies” that turned the genre into a rom-com, but nothing more… As I said, a good gimmick was enough…

Now, “World War Z” is not your generic zombie film. First of all, it is not a horror. It has some decent jump scares, but it is not its purpose to instil fear or disgust. Probably partly due to its PG-13 rating (15 in the UK), the camera shies away from the gore in favour of the grand scale and epic feel and – hands down – you haven’t seen a zombie film like that before. What you’d usually see in zombie genre are closed sets, claustrophobic interiors, flickering lights and moaning undead.

Secondly, “World War Z” is by far one of the very few (if not the only one) zombie films that is actually self-aware. Normally – and it is quite annoying if you think about it – the characters in zombie horrors have no idea what a zombie is, what it wants, how dangerous it is, or how to fight it. Of course they’d most likely figure it out quite quickly, but they have to do the dance anyway. And no-one ever calls the zombies ‘zombies’ as if it was taboo or something. At times you’d find that the characters come up with colourful euphemisms like ‘biters’ or ‘walkers’ (as exemplified in “The Walking Dead”), but with a few exceptions, the Z-word is seldom used. And to think that the living dead and the concept of a zombie apocalypse are so deeply ingrained in the modern pop-culture that it seems ludicrous to come up with film characters that are oblivious to it all. Come on, even children know what zombies are.

 

“World War Z” calls things as it sees them and the Z-bomb is dropped quite early in the film. ‘Ok, so these are zombies, right?’ And everything is clear!!! With that comes a natural extension of ‘only head-shots do the trick’, and we are good to go without dancing around it…

Finally, the film-makers seem to know very well what they want from their zombies. Contrary to the book, the undead are Danny-Boyle-fast and fearless, they have some sort of a swarm mentality, (Minor spoiler) they don’t attack the people out of hunger, but rather to spread the virus (/Minor spoiler), so the gore and flesh-eating sequences are ultimately unjustified by the film lore, and it only takes seconds for the virus to kill the host and turn him into a zombie. And I think it’s perfectly acceptable. This way, the massive scale is guaranteed and nobody needs to dwell on the gore, because it is not an issue at all.

So, why the hatred, dare I ask? Most critics will point out that “World War Z” starts off with a bang and keeps the pressure pumping for a good while, but it withers down in the final act, and thus the ending is supposedly anticlimactic.  In addition, the original ending (before the overhaul) of the film was supposed to include a massive grand-scale epic battle between the zombies and the remnants of the human race in order to settle the score once and for all, and it seems that a great deal of people are of the opinion it would have been better that way. Wouldn’t that have been dumb? I personally believe that the third act in the final version of “World War Z” turned out to be much better in the long run. Sure, it loses the epic feel, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, does it? It still remains very interesting and makes a bit more sense than a battle against zombies. I wonder whether there is any correlation between the critics, who would have preferred the epic CGI-ridden ending to “World War Z”, and the critics who wrote sonnets about “Iron Man 3”… I’m sure it would make for an interesting Venn diagram.

I’ll ask again: what is it that you all find so repugnant in “World War Z”? Surely, the [air quotation marks] anticlimactic ending cannot be a deal-breaker here. Could it be again the case of group hate that is driving you to dress the film down? Or is it the notorious Damon Lindelof, who helped with the re-writes of the script? After he had rehauled “Prometheus”, everything with his name on will be ridiculed in the internet by the community of hate-spouting trolls with too much time on their hands.

I, for one, actually liked “World War Z”. Brad Pitt’s character fits perfectly into the ‘action hero’ pigeon hole and there’s nothing wrong in it – after all it is an action movie and get over yourselves!  Action hero’s family needs to be special, he needs to be the only one in the world who can save the day and he has to come out alive out of more than one clusterf**k. That’s just how the genre works, and don’t mistake this film for a zombie horror, because it’s not and I think I said that already. It’s a zombie action movie and a quite good one at that. And while I think one can have a problem with many things about it, “World War Z” definitely stands on its own two feet within the genre, especially in terms of the special effects, the sheer scale of events, the pacing and the volume of action. “World War Z” fills in the space left by virtually every zombie film, as it shows the prelude to each and every zombie horror story.