In an era when big-budget filmmaking is dominated by corporate interests, when the on-screen product invariably reflects a series of artistic compromises, when even “successful” studio franchises, such as the Spider-Man, Batman, and James Bond series, have suffered drops in quality so severe as to require re-boots, the Harry Potter saga is truly an outlier. While some translations of J.K. Rowling’s beloved boy wizard books are undoubtedly better than others, there has never been a bad Harry Potter film. And every single one of them has enjoyed staggering success at the box office.
Such success is bound to inspire its share of imitators. Since 2001, when the first chapter of the Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, became a four-quadrant blockbuster, studios have sunk millions into various ill-fated attempts to distill its essence into a straightforward and repeatable formula. It goes something like this: A fantasy epic, preferably based on an already successful children’s book, in which an ordinary child (or children) is plucked from a sad or mundane existence and thrust into an immense conflict in which he or she plays a decisive role, the true nature of which will be revealed in subsequent, highly profitable sequels. Not surprisingly, these cloning experiments uniformly failed to yield viable offspring.
The first half of Harry Potter’s two-part swan song, Harry Potter and the Ghostly Hallows, Part 1, arrives in theaters this week. In commemoration of the Boy Who Lived, consider these Franchises That Died:
Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
Budget: $65 million Domestic Box Office: $29.3 million
It's Like Harry Potter But ... with aliens! And Dax Shepard!
Why It Failed: For whatever reason, the film's tagline, "From the author of Jumanji," failed to trigger the frenzy of excitement its producers had anticipated. And star Kristen Stewart had yet to perfect the patented grimace and lip-quiver that would later prove irresistable to Twilight audiences.
Budget: $100 million Domestic Box Office: $75 million
It's Like Harry Potter But ... with dragons!
Why It Failed: It was adapted from book by a teenager, Christopher Paolini, who watched way too much Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, and directed by a filmmaking novice, Stefen Fangmeier, who had apparently heard of neither.
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007)
Budget: $45 million Domestic Box Office: $8.8 million
It's Like Harry Potter But ... with a fraction of the budget!
Why It Failed: It was monumentally dreadful, for one thing. Every facet of this shoddy film reeked of poorly financed Potter envy. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, failing in the attempt, as The Seeker does spectacularly, must amount to idolatry.
The Golden Compass (2007)
Budget: At least $180 million Domestic Box Office: $70.1 million
It's Like Harry Potter But ... with talking polar bears! And James Bond! And zero coherence!
Why It Failed: Perhaps those dastardly Papists had something to do with it. More likely, the film fell victim to the chaos, bloat, and questionable decision-making that marked the waning days of its studio, New Line.
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
Budget: $90 million Domestic Box Office: $71.2 million
It's Like Harry Potter But ... with twins!
Why It Failed: Nothing stood out. From its storyline to its cast to its production design, the film radiated a "good, but not great" quality that won modest kudos from critics but failed to register with audiences.
Budget: $60 million Domestic Box Office: $17.3 million
It's Like Harry Potter But ... with reading!
Why It Failed: It seemed inevitable that Americans would eventually wake up to Brendan Fraser's vaguely creepy persona and recoil from it. Apparently the Germans -- namely, Inkheart author Cornelia Funke, who wrote the character with Fraser in mind -- were a bit behind the curve.
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009)
Budget: $40 million Domestic Box Office: $13.9 million
It's Like Harry Potter But ... with vampires!
Why It Failed: The filmmakers decided to shoehorn three of Darren Shan's source novels into one film, resulting in perilously disjointed narrative that no amount of Salma Hayek cleavage could redeem.
Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
Budget: $95 million Domestic Box Office: $88.8 million
It's Like Harry Potter But ... with Greek gods!
Why It Failed: Original Potter director Chris Columbus' second attempt at kick-starting a blockbuster franchise featured much of the wonder but little of the depth of his previous effort.
Based on the widely popular novel by Christopher Paolini we meet Eragon (Ed Speleers) a simple farm boy living in a land overrun by evil King Galbatorix (John Malkovich) and his murderous army of Urgals. Eragon finds a large blue stone sent to him by a princess named Arya (Sienna Guillory) who has been captured by an evil sorcerer Durza (Robert Carlyle). He needs to get the stone back to the king because well it's not really a stone. As Eragon quickly finds out it’s an egg that hatches into a dragon and as cute as it is it eats meat—lots of it. Eragon seeks advice from a grizzled outspoken villager Brom (Jeremy Irons) who explains to the boy he is a dragon rider part of a legendary group killed off by the king long ago. Brom helps the boy and his voracious pet get to the Varden a group of rebels lead by the tough Aijhad (Djimon Hounsou) who have been waiting for just this moment. Meanwhile Eragon learns how to communicate with his dragon Saphira (the voice of Rachel Weisz) through his thoughts and they learn about their extraordinary powers the more they connect. Of course Durza and the Urgals won't stop before they kill the boy and his dragon. Newcomer Speleers makes the perfect dragon rider imagined by Paolini. The young actor has depth showing believable emotion throughout his journey of turning from a farm boy into a hero a lad into a man. He's destined to be a superstar coming across like a young Brad Pitt. Guillory (Resident Evil: Apocalypse) also looks the part of a princess and has great chemistry with the young master Speleers. And together they hold their own with a superstar cast of Oscar winners (Weisz and Irons) and nominees (Hounsou and Malkovich). Despite such talent however this A-list cast doesn’t really have much to do—except Irons and Malkovich who manage to chew up the scenery regardless. But it's Carlyle (The Full Monty) who seems to have the greatest fun as the wild-haired heartless wizard with bad teeth who kills at a whim. Director Stefen Fangmeier is a neophyte to filmmaking much like the film’s young star Speleers and the story’s young author Paolini who was only a teenager when he first wrote Eragon the first in a trilogy called Inheritance Trilogy. It’s an impressive directorial debut but not too surprising since Fangmeier has been mostly working in the CGI and special effects field for companies such as Mental Images and ILM and has worked on movies such as Jurassic Park Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. He gets it trust us. The computer graphics of the dragon are superb from the big blue-eyed baby--looking like a cuddly dachshund with wings--to the large clumsy winged beast who is still learning to fly and breathe fire. Fangmeier brings to life frightening moments to make us grab our seats but still be enjoyable and not too violent for the PG crowd. Sure it’s a story we’ve seen before i.e. Star Wars Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings but Fangmeier has created a unique world raw and innocent. The result is a perfect adventure film; this should be the beginning of a successful franchise.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences announced Friday the seven films vying for an Oscar nomination in the Achievement in Visual Effects for the 76th Academy Awards. The list includes favorite The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but The Matrix sequels were conspicuously left off the list.
The seven films, their visual effects supervisor and the lead effects shops behind each production are:
The Hulk (Dennis Muren; ILM)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke; Weta)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Stefen Fangmeier, Nathan McGuinness; ILM, Asylum Effects)
Peter Pan (Scott Farrar; Digital Domain, Sony Pictures Imageworks, ILM)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (John Knoll; ILM)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Pablo Helman; ILM)
X2: X-Men United (Mike Fink; Cinesite)
According to Variety, the lead effects houses on each flick will compile a 15-minute reel of scenes from the films and organize a presentation to be delivered at what the effects industry affectionately calls a "bakeoff" on Jan. 21. The 200 members of the visual effects award nominating committee will vote after presentations are made. The final nominees will be named Jan. 27, when the 76th Academy Award nominations are announced live in Los Angeles at 5:30 a.m. PST/8:30 a.m. EST.
As in previous years, Industrial Light & Magic dominated as the lead effects facility, Variety reports. London-based Cinesite was recognized for X2, while Weta Digital and Weta Workshop in New Zealand garnered a nod for The Return of the King.
"It's really good for morale," Jim Morris, prexy of Lucas Digital, which oversees ILM told Variety. "Because the selection committee is made up of the top guys in the industry, it makes people feel validated for all the work they did. It's a nice acknowledgement of our work from a highly respected group of people."
Although Big Fish, The Haunted Mansion and The Cat in the Hat didn't make the cut, the exclusion of a Matrix sequel surprised those in the industry, as well as the film's distributor, Warner Bros., as the list made the rounds Friday, Variety reports. Warner Bros. had only submitted The Matrix Revolutions for consideration, rather than risk submitting both and having one cancel the other out. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions had a combined effects budget of over $100 million.
The first Matrix won the Oscar for visual effects in 1999, breaking new ground with its "bullet time" sequences, but a potential showdown between one of its sequels and the third Lord of the Rings installment was expected this year. The Rings trilogy's first two installments won the visual effects Oscar in 2002 and 2003.
While committee members would not reveal how they made their selections, Variety reports they are asked to base their decisions on technique, execution, creative use of existing technology, the extent of innovation and whether it pushed the boundaries of visual effects. The seven films that made the list represent all areas of the effects biz--from physical shots created on-set, such as stunts and miniatures, to CGI visuals, including digital characters, digital stunt doubles and matte paintings.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) recognized some of the year’s best films on Sunday. "Gladiator" was chosen best film, and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" took away best foreign-language film honors. Each of these Oscar contenders received four BAFTA awards in total.
Producers Douglas Wick, David Franzoni and Branko Lustig accepted the best film award for "Gladiator," praising director Ridley Scott during their acceptance speech, who lost out on the best director prize to Ang Lee for "Tiger."
Besides best foreign film and best director, "Crouching Tiger" also won for music (Tan Dun) and costume design (Tim Yip). Of BAFTA and the United Kingdom, Lee said: "You've always been great to me. This is like a second home to me now."
“Gladiator” also won the Orange Audience Award for most popular film of 2000. Scott thanked DreamWorks and Universal for their courage in backing a $100 million film in a genre that hadn't been touched for 30 years. "It is especially good to win this on my home turf as I spend so much time in the United States," Scott said during his acceptance speech. "I am absolutely thrilled."
Besides the BAFTA honor for best film, "Gladiator" also picked up awards for cinematography (John Mathieson), production design (Arthur Max) and editing (Pietro Scalia).
British effort "Billy Elliot" won three awards, including best British film, best actor (Jamie Bell) and best supporting actress for Julie Walters.
Julia Roberts was named best actress for her performance in the title role of "Erin Brockovich." Presenter Hugh Grant, and co-star in "Notting Hill," picked up the award for the absentee actress.
Best original screenplay and best sound awards went to Cameron Crowe’s "Almost Famous." Crowe's wife, Nancy Wilson, accepted his award, saying that Crowe was unable to attend the event as a double ear infection prevented him from flying. "He meant this movie as a love letter from his heart to music," Wilson said.
Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" also won two awards, for adapted screenplay (Stephen Gaghan) and supporting actor (Benicio Del Toro).
Veteran casting director Mary Selway was given the Michael Balcon Award for her outstanding contribution to cinema. Actor Albert Finney was presented with a British Film Academy Fellowship for lifetime achievement, receiving a standing ovation.
The complete list of winners:
THE ACADEMY FELLOWSHIP: Albert Finney
THE MICHAEL BALCON AWARD for outstanding British Contribution to Cinema: Mary Selway
THE ALEXANDER KORDA AWARD for outstanding British Film of the Year: "Billy Elliot"
BEST FILM: "Gladiator"
THE DAVID LEAN AWARD for Achievement in Direction: Ang Lee, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
SCREENPLAY (Original): Cameron Crowe, "Almost Famous"
SCREENPLAY (Adapted): Stephen Gaghan, "Traffic"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS in a leading role: Julia Roberts, "Erin Brockovich"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR in a leading role: Jamie Bell, "Billy Elliot"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS in a supporting role: Julie Walters, "Billy Elliot"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR in a supporting role: Benicio Del Toro, "Traffic"
FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (Bill Hong/Hsu Li Kong/Ang Lee )
THE ANTHONY ASQUITH AWARD for achievement in Film Music: Tan Dun, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
THE CARL FOREMAN AWARD for Most Promising Newcomer to British Film: Pawel Pawlikowski
CINEMATOGRAPHY: John Mathieson, "Gladiator"
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Arthur Max, "Gladiator"
COSTUME DESIGN: Tim Yip, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
EDITING: Pietro Scalia, "Gladiator"
SOUND: Jeff Wexler/D.M. Hemphill/Rick Kline/Paul Massey/Mike Wilhoit, "Almost Famous"
ACHIEVEMENT IN SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS: Stefen Fangmeier/John Frazier/Walt Conti/Habib Zargarpour/Tim Alexander, "The Perfect Storm"
MAKE UP/HAIR: Rick Baker/Kazuhirop Tsuji/Tony G./Gal Ryan/Sylvia Nava, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"
SHORT FILM Gary Holding/Justine Leahy/Tinge Krishnan, "Shadowscan"
SHORT ANIMATION: Claire Jennings/Willem Thijssen/Michael Dudok de Wit, "Father and Daughter"
ORANGE AUDIENCE AWARD: "Gladiator"