Disney's new movie Mars Needs Moms suffers from a classic mistake: focusing too much on one aspect of a production -- and in this case it's the visuals. The result is an unbalanced mess that looks terrific but doesn't have enough substance to leave the audience with anything more to "ooh" and "ah" at other than all the pretty colors. As we all know from that one really really hot girl/guy in high school who's now overweight and working a dead-end job looks can only go so far.
Adapted from the children's novel by Berkeley Breathed and directed by Simon Wells Mars Needs Moms follows Milo (acted by Seth Green voiced by Seth Robert Dusky) as he chases after his mother who's been stolen by Martians just a few hours after he told her he'd be better off without her. Once he arrives on Mars (by sneaking on the ship) he meets Gribble (Dan Fogler) who informs him of his problem: the Martians are ruled by a ruthless queen-like Supervisor (Mindy Sterling) who's decided that the hatchlings (babies who sprout from the ground like vegetables) must be divided: all males are thrown away into the dump and the females are raised by "nanny-bots" -- robots programmed by the "discipline" energy of good moms like Milo's from Earth. Milo and Gribble buddy-up and with the help of a rebel Martian named Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) the three of them venture to save Milo's mom before it's too late.
And venture on they do. Coming from producer Robert Zemeckis and utilizing the same motion-capture technology as The Polar Express A Christmas Carol and Beowulf Mars Needs Moms rushes forward embracing its visually stunning universe without taking a moment to stop and breathe. The characters never have a chance to do anything significant that would make the audience think they're substantial or important -- especially Gribble whom the filmmakers really really want us to care for. On top of that it relies on a plot line that we've all seen before and instead of diving into the parts that made it interesting (like the question of why men were thrown in the garbage and not women) it skims safely along the surface doing its best to avoid anything deeper than basic themes.
But that may be a little too picky. After all the movie is just supposed to be a fun little child's tale right? In that vein it succeeds. We feel like we're on an amusement park ride thanks to Ki's vibrant '60s flower-power paintings and the adventures on the Red Planet's surface. Even the moments that aren't super fast-paced present environments that are beautiful. Plus Fogler's performance as Gribble (as Jack Black-esque as it was) gives us some fun enjoyable moments and one-liners that kids will no doubt love.
Yet at the same time Mars Needs Moms' visuals aren't all glorious. In fact some hurt the plot because frankly the humans aren't animated very well. There's no life in their eyes. Simple movements like walking look awkward and too often characters facial expressions don't match the urgency found in their voices. Instead the animation just turns all the characters into weird cartoony versions of themselves that look so "almost human" they appear fake. And as always it's difficult to care for fake people.
Children will definitely enjoy Mars Needs Moms but from a filmmaking standpoint Wells really missed an opportunity to deliver something other than neat visuals and one-liners.
Though Disney chairman Michael Eisner prevented Pearl Harbor from having a hefty, oversized, dinosaur-big budget, there's nothing to stop the World War II epic from breaking The Lost World: Jurassic Park's opening weekend box office record.
The Jurassic Park sequel holds the record for an opening weekend, earning $90.2 million upon its 1997 release.
The $135 million Pearl Harbor uses the Japanese raid of the naval base mainly as a backdrop, as most of the film centers on two friends (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) who fall for the same woman (Kate Beckinsale). The three-hour film promises action for the guys and a love story for the girls.
Pearl Harbor opens nationwide on Friday, the only movie to do so this Memorial Day weekend. It will open on more than 3,200 screens--final figures won't be available until Friday--and will probably equal if not exceed the colossal 3,587 screens that Shrek opened on last weekend, estimates Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, the oldest full service film industry statistical research firm in the business.
Shrek opened on the second-most screens ever, just behind the 3,653 screens that Mission: Impossible 2 notched last summer. Shrek pulled in an eye-opening $42.1 million in its debut weekend. That pales in comparison, however, to the standard that the pre-summer release The Mummy Returns set. The Mummy Returns opened with $68.1 million, and has pulled in $149 million since its May 4 release. Its opening weekend ranks as the second best, behind The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
Many experts laud Pearl Harbor's prospect for a $100 million debut.
"If any film has a chance, it's Pearl Harbor," Dergarabedian said. "It's a tall order, but Pearl Harbor will be opening on many screens at many times. If anything can surpass The Lost World, it sounds like it would be Pearl. But it's a very tall order."
"It is a movie for almost all ages, and certainly for boys and girls alike. I can't imagine Pearl Harbor not doing [much better than last year's] Gladiator," said Christopher Wehner, editor of Screenwriters Utopia, who has read a final draft of the screenplay.
Gladiator snared almost $40 million in its first weekend.
Brian Callaghan, spokesman for the General Cinema movie chain, agrees.
"I think it has a realistic chance," Callaghan said. "This isn't just getting a teen audience; you'll have sellout audiences of adults on Friday afternoons. And we're showing the movie in our largest auditoriums."
Callaghan also reports that ticket presales have been brisk.
"Yesterday [Tuesday] alone we picked up double the number that sold over the weekend," he said. "And we expect that pace to pick up as people decide their plans for this weekend."
The Mouse House is playing down expectations of a $100 million opening weekend.
"What is the highest-grossing movie ever to open Memorial Day weekend?," said Peter Schneider, chief of Disney Studios. "The Lost World. It did $90 million. And it was a sequel [released on] a four-day [weekend]. What's the next highest-grossing movie on this particular weekend and second-highest grossing four-day weekend [ever]? Mission: Impossible 2--$71 million. So what is the highest-grossing original movie on Memorial Day weekend? Mission: Impossible--$54 million. So my sights are, if I can get better than $54 million I'm gonna be thrilled, because we've only got three shows a day. [The Mummy Returns] has six shows a day. I'll be thrilled if it does between $45 and $55 million.
"Now, if we do more, I'll be thrilled. Mummy's an exception. Mummy is one of those things that happens. There was no competition in the marketplace; nobody else was doing business. [For us,] Mummy will be playing, Shrek will be playing ..."
Originally set for a $200 million-plus budget, Pearl Harbor still cost more than $135 million to make. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Michael Bay and star Ben Affleck agreed to cut their own fees to keep the costs down.
With a high production cost comes high expectations. Add to that the pressure of opening the summer season. The industry generally tallies 40 percent of the annual ticket-sales gross between Memorial and Labor days, a period of 92 days. This means that Disney, and all of Hollywood, is banking on Pearl Harbor to succeed.
The lack of new competition opening against Pearl Harbor is understandable. The real risk behind making summer movies is the cost of launching them in an overcrowded market. In 2000, the average cost for prints and advertising was $26 million per movie. That figure can easily jump to $60 million for a summer blockbuster.
The fact that high-profile summer movies can make or break a studio regime only adds to the economic angst. When Last Action Hero fizzled in 1993, it was only a matter of time before Columbia's then-chairman Mark Canton was sent packing. In 1998, dead-in-the-water movies (think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) marked the beginning of the end for Universal Pictures chairman Casey Silver. And, recently, New Line Cinema ousted Michael De Luca for a string of flops culminating with last fall's Little Nicky.
So the industry, and Wall Street, will watch with bated breath when Pearl Harbor opens Friday.
Disney's stock price has jumped 5 percent since Friday. A number of venerable brokerages, including Salomon Smith Barney and Morgan Stanley, have upgraded their ratings of Disney on a bullish vision of Pearl Harbor's performance.
Eisner, however, opined on CNBC that Disney's too diversified a company for one film to hold such sway on the stock.
Go to Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.
In the summer of 1977 disgraced former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) sat down with British TV talk show host and interviewer David Frost (Michael Sheen) for a series of interviews that Nixon hoped would resuscitate his Watergate-tarnished image and Frost hoped would lift his own career to another level. While it made for good TV at the time it certainly didn’t seem likely fodder for a hit Broadway play and now a major motion picture. Peter Morgan (The Queen) wrote the play and adapted it for the screen turning it into a riveting cat-and-mouse game between these two made-for-television adversaries. Director Ron Howard emphasizes the behind the scenes machinations and all the negotiations between both camps. The off-camera material is priceless based in large part on speculative research. Whatever the final truth of the story the film gains its real power from it’s the telling. Ron Howard turns to the two original stage stars of Frost/Nixon -- a wise casting decision that almost never happens in Hollywood. It’s true everyone including Warren Beatty reportedly wanted to play Nixon but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Langella in recreating his Tony-winning interpretation of the infamous Tricky Dick. He has all of Nixon’s mannerisms vulnerabilities and caginess down pat. Sheen certainly captures the confident nature of Frost but also his insecurities and the realization that this whole enterprise is one big roll of the dice. And two actors work in perfect concert with one another. Supporting roles are well played including standouts Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s trusted Chief of Staff Jack Brennan and a hilarious Toby Jones aping the inimitable book agent Swifty Lazar. As key Frost aides and researchers Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell do a nice job as kind of the Greek chorus to the situation. On the surface Ron Howard -- better known for his large scale Hollywood productions like The Da Vinci Code and Apollo 13 -- doesn’t seem the right fit for this smaller scale drama but his approach transfers what could have been a flat Broadway screen into a highly cinematic and stimulating two hours. He captures the rhythms of this chess match perfectly and chooses camera angles that catch the sweat behind the cool facades of his two principals. Special mention should go to the beautiful nuanced work of his cinematographer Salvatore Totino. Howard is such a gifted filmmaker he makes it all seem effortless easily coaxing two equally superb performances from Langella and Sheen. Frost/Nixon is a first class achievement.
On the surface Kevin Smith has crafted a clever concept a ragtag group attempts to make a porno film in order to get some quick cash. The underlying story is the platonic relationship between roommates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) whose friendship goes to a whole new level once they find themselves out of cash and decide to cast themselves in their own triple XXX film. After meeting a gay adult film actor at a party Zack comes up with the get-rich quick idea to make a porn movie enlisting Miri’s help and convincing her that it will not affect their friendship. They set about casting the rest of the film with a disparate group of participants including the very self confident sex maniac Lester (Jason Mewes) superstud Barry (Ricky Mabe) gorgeous blonde bombshell Stacey (adult film icon Katie Morgan) and daring kinky Bubbles (legendary Traci Lords). What seemed like a simple proposition turns complicated when Zack and Miri in the heat of simulated lovemaking and in front of the whole crew discover they may be more than just friends. Even considering his great work in Knocked Up Zack is Rogen’s most accomplished character to date a lovable loser who uses last-ditch initiative to turn his life around and in the process discovers more than he ever bargained for. Chemistry is a tricky thing but Rogen certainly has it in spades with co-star Banks who takes what could have been a broadly sketched role and turns Miri into a three-dimensional woman who doesn’t even realize her true soul mate may be right under her nose --literally. You root for these two all the way. The wonderful supporting cast is unique to say the least including adult film star Katie Morgan making her mainstream debut as the ditzy Stacey. After some 200 “real” XXX films she graduates to the big leagues in style and shows she may have a future outside of her niche. Lords who made that leap some time ago niftily sends up her own former image and shows fine comic chops and a willingness to dress deliciously inappropriately. As for the guys Mabe is very funny but Jason Mewes (Jay of Jay and Silent Bob) lets loose with a hilarious and totally uninhibited portrayal of a sex addicted tattooed dude willing and able to do anything on camera. Also nearly stealing the show is The Office’s Craig Robinson a married crew member who is excited to help out buddy Zack because he wants to see “titties.” And in extended cameos Justin Long as a gay porn star and Superman Brandon Routh have a great time sending up their straight movie images playing bickering boyfriends. Kevin Smith has always gone for the jugular challenging the ratings boards and pushing the envelope in his films ever since the classic “dirty movie” Clerks made him famous. But not since his early films such as Chasing Amy has he showed such style and maturity as a filmmaker as he does in Zack and Miri his most outrageously hilarious and accomplished movie to date. Yes he does continue going for shock value (there’s a laugh-out-loud moment involving a certain bodily function natch) but his story is grounded in reality recognizably human and engaging. He milks this genius comic premise for all its worth but gives it an extra dimension that makes it different unexpected and finally memorable. Mostly though it’s just plain fun.