The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Sony Pictures Entertainment set off a dazzling box office fireworks display that made this July Fourth weekend Hollywood's biggest ever.
Sony's three Columbia Pictures releases grossed $119.5 million for the five day holiday period -- about 51 percent of the key films five day total of about $235 million.
Men in Black II opened to a chart topping $54.1 million and a five day cume of $90 million. Mr. Deeds was a rich number two with $18.8 million and $26.3 million for five days. On top of that, it was a milestone weekend for Spider-Man, whose $3.2 million for five days brought its cume to $400.1 million.
20th Century Fox launched its own July Fourth sparkler Like Mike in third place with $13.1 million and $20.1 million for five days. Disney's Lilo & Stitch was a colorful fourth with $12.7 million. Fox and DreamWorks' Minority Report finished fifth with $12.4 million.
The weekend's other wide opening, Warner Bros.' The Powerpuff Girls Movie, fizzled in ninth place with $3.6 million and $6.1 million for five days.
Ticket sales were up over 19 percent from last year's July Fourth weekend. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- took in $151.2 million versus last year's $126.8 million.
THE TOP TEN
Columbia's PG-13 rated blockbuster sequel Men In Black II arrived in first place to an out of this world ESTIMATED $54.1 million at 3,557 theaters ($15,209 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $90.0 million.
MIB II's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, it stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.
The original Men In Black's first weekend in theaters was July 4-6, 1997 with $51.07 million at 3,020 theaters ($16,910 per theater). With July Fourth falling on a Friday that year, the film's opening gave it a six day cume of $84.1 million. It went on to gross $250.1 million in domestic theaters.
"That's the biggest Friday-Saturday-Sunday July Fourth opening ever," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning, "beating MIB I at $51.1 million. And it's the biggest five days ever (for July Fourth) if you back out the Tuesday (preview) shows for ID4, which did $85.0 million July 3-7, 1996. But they had $11 million in Tuesday shows (giving the film $96 million for six days)."
Looking at other records set by MIB II, Blake said, "It's Will Smith's biggest opening ever. He now owns the July Fourth Triple Crown. MIB I was his biggest and Independence Day before that had done $50.2 million for the Friday-Saturday-Sunday (three-day portion of its 1996 July Fourth weekend). So he truly owns July Fourth -- one, two and three.
"Men In Black II is Sony's fifth number one opening of the year, joining Black Hawk Down, Panic Room, Spider-Man and Mr. Deeds. It brings our market share for the year to $965 million (from) Jan. 1 through July 7. We will hit $1 billion before next weekend. That's the fastest anyone has ever hit $1 billion. In our record year of 1997, which is the record that still stands at $1.27 billion, we hit $1 billion on Labor Day weekend. We'll have our $1 billion in our pocket (shortly) and we'll certainly have the balance of Men In Black II and the balance of Mr. Deeds. And we'll have (still ahead) for the year pictures like Stuart Little 2 on July 19, XXX on Aug. 9, I Spy on Nov. 1, Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights at Thanksgiving and Jennifer Lopez's Chambermaid at Christmas. So we feel very excited about what that could add up to. It's hard to tell, but we certainly plan to break our own record and hope to break our own record. We're running a full two months ahead of our pace in '97."
Looking ahead to where MIB II is going in domestic theaters, Blake said, "It's a little too soon to say, but we will go into our second weekend most likely with about $120 million or so of business. So that's a pretty good place to be going into your second weekend."
Sony's next release is Stuart Little 2 on July 19. The first Stuart Little opened to $15 million the weekend of Dec. 17-19, 1999 and went on to gross $140 million in domestic theaters.
Columbia and New Line's PG-13 rated comedy Mr. Deeds fell one peg to second place in its second week with a still rich ESTIMATED $18.8 million (-49%) at 3,231 theaters (theater count unchanged; $5,819 per theater). For the five day holiday period it grossed an ESTIMATED $26.3 million. Its cume is approximately $74.0 million.
Directed by Steven Brill, it stars Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder.
"We have the biggest one-two punch in history with MIB II and Mr. Deeds," Sony's Jeff Blake noted. Together the two films did about $116.3 million over the five day holiday period.
"The previous biggest one-two punch that any studio had was last year (when Warner Bros.') Ocean's Eleven opened to $38.1 million Dec. 7-9 and Harry Potter's fourth week was $14.7 million (giving them a combined total of $52.8 million)."
On top of all that good news, Blake added, "We have a little picture called Spider-Man, which hit $400 million. The Friday-Saturday-Sunday is $2.2 million, down 15 percent. We're in 1,502 screens (with an average of) $1,465. And we're at $400.1 million. The five day (total for) Spider-Man was $3.2 million. There's probably about $5 million or so left (to be grossed), I would imagine, (which should bring it to) $405-410 million. It's only the third film to hit $400 million in its release, joining Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace and Titanic. Star Wars and E.T. got there with multiple releases."
All told, Blake said, "These three pictures add up to $75.1 million for Friday-Saturday-Sunday and $119.5 million for five days. So I think by any calculation that's over 50 percent of the market."
As for the overall July Fourth marketplace, he observed, "It looks like a record to me. It looks like about $150 million Friday-Saturday-Sunday and about $235 million five day period (and) that's a record by a good amount."
Asked where Mr. Deeds is heading in domestic theaters, Blake replied, "We're feeling good at about $125-130 million. That puts Adam Sandler right back where we want him."
20th Century Fox's opening of its PG rated urban appeal basketball comedy Like Mike was celebrating in third place with an ESTIMATED $13.05 million at 2,410 theaters ($5,415 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $20.1 million.
Directed by John Schultz, it stars Lil' Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Robert Forster, Crispin Glover and Eugene Levy.
"Like Mike is a very, very nice launching," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "We were especially strong in African-American theaters. It (played best in) urban and suburban major cities. That's where the real strength was. It played exceptionally well. People loved the movie. I don't have (exit poll) scores yet."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated family appeal feature Lilo & Stitch held up well in its third week, sliding one rung to fourth place with an ESTIMATED $12.7 million (-41%) at 3,222 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,949 per theater). Its cume is approximately $103.1 million.
Written and directed by Chris Sanders, it was produced by Clark Spencer. Its original score is by Alan Silvestri.
20th Century Fox and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy thriller Minority Report slid three notches to fifth place in its third week with a calmer ESTIMATED $12.4 million (-43%) at 2,729 theaters (-272 theaters; $4,544 per theater). Its cume is approximately $96.8 million.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton.
"We should hit $100 million probably by Tuesday," Fox's Bruce Snyder said, adding that Minority should get to "about $135-140 million" in domestic theaters."
In addition, Snyder noted, Fox and Lucasfilm's blockbuster Star Wars: Episode II "now looks like it will get to $300 million. In its eighth weekend the three day at 1,162 theaters (it did) $2.5 million and a five day of $3.6 million. The cume is now $291.2 million. (It should hit $300 million in) probably two weeks."
Universal's PG-13 espionage thriller The Bourne Identity dropped one notch to sixth place in its fourth week, holding nicely with an ESTIMATED $9.11 million (-19%)) at 2,513 theaters (-150 theaters; $3,625 per theater). Its cume is approximately $89.1 million, heading for $100 million.
For the second consecutive weekend, Bourne had the lowest percentage drop of any film in the Top Ten.
Warner Bros.' PG rated family comedy Scooby-Doo fell three slots to seventh place in its fourth week with a sleepy ESTIMATED $7.03 million (-43%) at 3,257 theaters (-190 theaters; $2,157 per theater). Its cume is approximately $137.5 million, heading for $155 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Raja Gosnell, it stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini and Rowan Atkinson.
Paramount's PG-13 rated thriller The Sum Of All Fears slipped one peg to eighth place in its sixth week, holding well with an ESTIMATED $3.75 million (-23%) at 1,592 theaters (-894 theaters; $2,356 per theater). Its cume is approximately $112.0 million, heading for $120-125 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson and produced by Mace Neufeld, it stars Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
Focusing on the strong July Fourth marketplace, Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning, "There's a wide diversity of product out there with broad appeal -- from young to old. I think the strength of The Bourne Identity and Sum Of All Fears shows the adult audience is going, as well (as the under-25s)."
Warner Bros.' PG rated animated feature The Powerpuff Girls Movie opened quietly in ninth place to an ESTIMATED $3.56 million at 2,340 theaters ($1,521 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $6.1 million.
The film is based on the popular Cartoon Network animated series.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Warner Bros. and Gaylord Films' PG-13 rated drama Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, down two notches in its fifth week, holding decently with an ESTIMATED $2.85 million (-30%) at 1,792 theaters (-375 theaters; $1,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $61.0 million, heading for $69-70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Callie Khouri, it stars Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, James Garner, Ashley Judd, Shirley Knight, Angus MacFadyen and Maggie Smith.
LOOKING BACK AT JULY FOURTH WEEKEND
Looking back at July Fourth weekend since 1990, it's clear that the holiday period's boxoffice fireworks have become increasingly dazzling.
In 2001, when July Fourth was on a Wednesday, 17 key films grossed $126.8 million. Warner Bros.' Cats & Dogs opened in first place ($21.7 million and a five day cume of $35.8 million). Right behind it were Dimension's opening of Scary Movie 2 ($20.5 million and a five day cume of $34.0 million), Warners and DreamWorks' A.I. Artificial Intelligence ($14.0 million), 20th Century Fox's Kiss Of The Dragon ($13.3 million) and Universal's The Fast and the Furious ($12.3 million).
July Fourth was on a Tuesday in 2000 when 16 key films grossed $128.6 million. Warner Bros.' The Perfect Storm opening was number one ($42.3 million). It was followed by Columbia's The Patriot ($22.4 million), Fox's Me, Myself & Irene ($13.3 million), DreamWorks' Chicken Run ($13.2 million) and Universal's The Adventures Of Rocky and Bullwinkle ($6.8 million).
In 1999, when July Fourth was on a Sunday, 18 key films grossed $160.4 million for the four day weekend. Warner Bros.' Wild Wild West opening was number one ($36.4 million and a six day cume of $49.7 million). On its heels were Columbia's Big Daddy ($26.8 million), Buena Vista's Tarzan ($19.3 million), Paramount's South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut ($14.8 million) and Paramount's The General's Daughter ($14.2 million).
In 1998, when July Fourth was on a Saturday, 17 key films grossed $103.7 million. Buena Vista's Armageddon opening was number one ($36.1 million and a five day cume of $54.2 million). On its heels were Fox's Dr. Dolittle ($19.7 million), Buena Vista's Mulan ($11.5 million), Universal's Out of Sight ($6.6 million) and Fox's The X-Files ($6.3 million).
In 1997 July Fourth was on a Friday. There were 14 key films with a combined gross of $116.8 million. Sony's Men In Black opening topped the chart with $51.1 million and a six day cume of $84.1 million. It was followed by Paramount's Face/Off ($16.1 million), Buena Vista's Hercules ($12.2 million), Sony's My Best Friend's Wedding ($10.8 million) and Warners' Batman & Robin ($8.0 million).
July Fourth fell on a Thursday in 1996. A dozen key films took in $121.0 million for the three day weekend. Fox's Independence Day opening dominated with $50.2 million and a six day cume of $96.1 million. On its heels were Universal's The Nutty Professor ($17.5 million), Buena Vista's opening of Phenomenon ($16.2 million and a five day cume of $24.5 million), Buena Vista's The Hunchback of Notre Dame ($8.9 million) and Warners' Eraser ($8.8 million).
In 1995 July Fourth was on a Tuesday. There were 14 key films with a combined gross of $102.8 million. Universal's Apollo 13 launch topped the chart with $25.4 million, followed by Buena Vista's Pocahontas ($16 million), Warners' Batman Forever ($15.3 million), Fox's opening of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers ($13.1 million) and Buena Vista's opening of Judge Dredd ($12.3 million).
1994 saw July Fourth fall on a Monday. There were 19 key films with a combined gross of $110.1 million for the four day weekend. Buena Vista's The Lion King placed first with $34.2 million, followed by Universal's opening of The Shadow ($11.7 million), Fox's Speed ($11.2 million), MGM's Blown Away opening ($10.4 million) and Buena Vista's I Love Trouble launch ($7.8 million for four days and a six day cume of $10 million).
In 1993 July Fourth was on a Sunday. Seventeen key films took in a total of $124.3 million for four days. Paramount's opening of The Firm was number one with $32.5 million and a six day cume of $45.6 million. It was followed by Universal's Jurassic Park ($25.3 million), Sony's Sleepless in Seattle ($16.1 million), Warners' Dennis the Menace ($10.1 million) and Buena Vista's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ($9 million).
1992's July Fourth fell on a Saturday. Fourteen key films combined to gross $72.7 million. Warners' Batman Returns topped the chart with $13.8 million, followed by Sony's opening of A League of Their Own ($13.7 million and a five day cume of $19.1 million), Paramount's Boomerang launch ($13.6 million and a five day cume of $19.6 million), Buena Vista's Sister Act ($6.8 million) and Fox's Unlawful Entry ($6.5 million).
July Fourth was on a Thursday in 1991. There were 14 key films whose total gross was $88 million. TriStar's Terminator 2: Judgment Day opened in first place with $31.8 million and a six day cume of $52.3 million. It was followed by Paramount's The Naked Gun 2 ½ ($11.6 million), Warners' Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ($10.3 million), Columbia's City Slickers ($8.2 million) and Universal's Problem Child opening ($5.4 million and a five day cume of $7.6 million).
In 1990 July Fourth fell on a Wednesday. Fourteen key films grossed a total of $66 million with Paramount's Days of Thunder opening in first place ($15.5 million and a five day cume of $21.5 million). Also in the top five were Buena Vista's Dick Tracy ($10.1 million), Orion's Robocop 2 ($6.4 million), TriStar's Total Recall ($6 million) and Paramount's Another 48 Hours ($5.4 million).
This weekend also saw the arrival of Fireworks Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn Films' R rated romantic drama Me Without You to a hopeful ESTIMATED $39,000 at 3 theaters ($12,975 per theater).
Directed by Sandra Goldbacher, it stars Michelle Williams and Anna Friel.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding added more theaters via IFC Films in its 12th week with a still attractive ESTIMATED $2.5 million (+25%) at 499 theaters (+6 theaters; $5,055 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23.6 million.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Miramax's PG rated comedy The Importance Of Being Earnest added theaters in its seventh week with an unexciting ESTIMATED $0.5 million (+7%) at 216 theaters (+8 theaters; $2,315 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.9 million.
Directed by Oliver Parker, it stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson.
United Artists' R rated satiric comedy Pumpkin went wider in its second week via MGM Distribution with a soft ESTIMATED $54,000 at 19 theaters (+11 theaters; $2,832 per theater). Its cume is approximately $109,000.
Directed by Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams, it stars Christina Ricci, Hank Harris and Brenda Blethyn.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $151.2 million, up 19.29 percent from last year when they totaled $126.75 million.
Key films were up about 9.29 percent from the previous weekend of this year when they grossed $138.35 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of Cats & Dogs was first with $21.71 million at 3,040 theaters ($7,141 per theater); and Dimension's opening week of Scary Movie 2 was second with $20.5 million at 3,220 theaters ($6,368 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $42.2 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $72.9 million.