Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Hollywood.saw sharp declines across the board at the box office over the post-Thanksgiving weekend as moviegoing gave way to holiday shopping.
Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar's G-rated computer-animated blockbuster "Toy Story 2" held on to first place in its third weekend with a 50% drop that reflected how most films in the marketplace performed.
"Toy 2" snapped up a still hefty estimated $28.30 million (-50%) at 3,238 theaters (+2 theaters, $8,734 per theater). Its total is approximately $117.3 million, heading for a domestic theatrical total of $250 million-plus.
"Toy 2's" per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release last weekend. Directed by John Lasseter, it features the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Harris and R. Lee Ermey. Its score and two new songs were composed by Grammy Award winner Randy Newman.
The original "Toy Story" grossed about $190 million in the United States and Canada in 1995. It did about $360 million in worldwide ticket sales and sold more than 22 million videocassettes in the United States alone. If "Toy 2" hits $200 million by Dec. 31, Buena Vista will become the only distributor ever to have two films reaching $200 million in the same calendar year. The studio's blockbuster "The Sixth Sense" crossed the $200 million mark in early September.
"It's down 50% from Thanksgiving weekend, and I do not consider that bad at all," a Buena Vista distribution executive said Sunday morning. "It took us 11 days to reach $100 million (on Saturday). It is the biggest weekend for the first week in December, (beating) the original 'Toy Story' with $20.2 million."
MGM's PG-13-rated "The World Is Not Enough," the 19th James Bond epic, held on to second place in its third weekend with a quieter estimated $10.60 million (-55%) at 3,163 theaters (theater count unchanged, $3,345 per theater). Its total is approximately $90.4 million, heading for $120 million in domestic theaters. Directed by Michael Apted, it stars Pierce Brosnan in his third performance as 007.
Universal and Beacon Pictures' R-rated action-fantasy adventure "End of Days" came in third again with a less lively estimated $9.71 million (-53%) at 2,599 theaters (+6 theaters, $3,735 per theater). Its total is approximately $45.9 million. Directed by Peter Hyams, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"We all knew this was going to be a tough weekend. This is traditionally not a great weekend at the box office, but look at the numbers -- they were again record-breaking," Universal Distribution President Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "People are going to the movies. The economy is good. They're out there doing things. They're doing their Christmas shopping. That's what happens in a good economy. You don't have to choose between entertaining yourself or buying Christmas presents. You do both."
The rise of Internet shopping may be a helpful factor, as well, according to Rocco: "People have more free time for entertainment. You spend an hour in the morning online (shopping on the Web), and you can still go out and go to the movies and relax. There's more time for recreation."
Paramount's R-rated period action adventure "Sleepy Hollow" continued in fourth place in its third weekend with a sleepier estimated $9 million (-51%) at 3,069 theaters (+2 theaters, $2,933 per theater). Its total is approximately $74.3 million, on its way to $100 million in domestic theaters. Directed by Tim Burton, it stars Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci and is based on Washington Irving's classic "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
"It's not unexpected," Paramount Distribution President Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning, focusing on the post-Thanksgiving marketplace. "Obviously, you'd like for it to hold up better than it is. But it still gets us to a little over $100 million with the picture."
Universal's R-rated suspense thriller "The Bone Collector" rose one notch to return to the top five in its fifth weekend with a strong estimated $3.15 million (-43%) at 2,518 theaters (+18 theaters, $1,250 per theater). Its total is approximately $58.1 million. "Bone's" 43% drop was the lowest for any film in the top five. Directed by Phillip Noyce, it stars Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Sony's Columbia Pictures unit is partnered 50-50 with Universal on "Bone's" worldwide film rentals. Sony is releasing the picture internationally.
"We've been very fortunate. Where 'Bone Collector' is playing, it's just lingering in the multiplexes," Rocco said Sunday morning. "It's back in the top five, and it's hanging on. The goal was always $65 million (in domestic theaters) with this picture. It's certainly getting to $65 million, and it probably will get to $70 million."
Rocco noted that "Bone's" success is even greater given its relatively low production cost of about $40 million.
Warner Bros.' G-rated Japanese animated feature "Pokemon: The First Movie" slipped one peg to sixth place in its fourth weekend with a soft estimated $2.21 million (-69%) at 3,043 theaters (theater count unchanged, $726 per theater). Its total is approximately $80.6 million, heading for a domestic theatrical gross in the low $90 millions.
Lions Gate's release of "Dogma," the controversial R-rated irreverent comedy it took over from Miramax, held on to seventh place in its third weekend with an OK estimated $2.15 million (-37%) at 1,292 theaters (theater count unchanged, $1,664 per theater). Its total is approximately $24.5 million. Directed by Kevin Smith, it stars Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Alan Rickman and Chris Rock.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's critically acclaimed R-rated drama "The Insider" rose one rung in its fifth weekend to eighth place with a quiet estimated $1.40 million (-45%) at 1,483 theaters (-189 theaters, $912 per theater). Its total is approximately $23.9 million. Directed by Michael Mann, it stars Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.
USA Films' R-rated comedy "Being John Malkovich" added theaters and jumped one slot to ninth place in its sixth weekend with an encouraging estimated $1.39 million (-33%) at 624 theaters (+35 theaters, $2,224 per theater). Its total is approximately $13.9 million. Directed by Spike Jonze, it stars John Malkovich, playing himself, John Cusack, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener.
"It's amazing," USA Films distribution head Jack Foley said Sunday morning. "We probably had the smallest drop among all the films out there from last weekend. At this level (of theaters), it puts you out there so you're going to feel the effects of the marketplace on you. We've held well. I think last weekend more people discovered the picture. And even in these shopping days, we're beginning to benefit (from word of mouth). This is a delight.
"Now as the (year-end critics) lists come in, hopefully, it will keep it buoyed up in everybody's mind. It is defying gravity. You know it's a great film, but to say (such an unusual) picture could have penetrated the markets of America this way and get this response is amazing."
Rounding out the Top 10 was 20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated mother-daughter drama "Anywhere But Here," down two notches in its fourth weekend with a calm estimated $1.30 million (-54%) at 1,628 theaters (-58 theaters, $799 per theater). Its total is approximately $16.4 million. The film is directed by Wayne Wang and stars Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman.
OTHER OPENINGS Weekend 49 also saw the arrival of 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilms Ltd.'s reissue of "Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace" for a one-week charity run, placing 11th with a down-to-earth estimated $1.18 million at 832 theaters ($1,412 per theater). Its total s approximately $429 million.
Columbia's R-rated romantic drama "The End of the Affair" kicked off at 7 theaters, placing 23rd with an engaging estimated $0.20 million ($29,000 per theater). Directed by Neil Jordan, it stars Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore and Stephen Rea.
Sony Classics' PG-13 dark comedy "Sweet and Lowdown" opened exclusively in New York at 3 theaters, placing 24th with a strong estimated $0.10 million ($33,333 per theater). Sony Classics does not have its grosses tracked and released to the industry, but distribution insiders said they were hearing that the film did about $100,000. Directed by Woody Allen, it stars Sean Penn and Uma Thurman. Allen's films typically perform best in New York.
TriStar's R-rated youth appeal "Virtual Sexuality" kicked off at 101 theaters, placing 27th with a soft estimated $0.045 million ($450 per theater). Directed by Nick Hurran, it stars Laura Fraser and Rupert Penry.
Miramax's R-rated dark comedy "Holy Smoke" opened an Oscar qualifying run at 2 theaters, placing 28th with a promising estimated $0.032 million ($16,000 per theater). Directed by Jane Campion, it stars Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel.
"'Holy Smoke!'s' a pretty good start," Miramax's senior vice president, marketing, said Sunday morning. "It's always tricky when you do a one-week qualifying run (for Oscars) because the second week will tell you so much more. But it's pretty good, actually. There were a lot of Academy qualifier (runs this weekend), and we were leading that pack. Jan. 14 we reopen in the top 40 markets on about 100 screens."
Avalanche Releasing's romantic comedy "Spanish Fly" opened in 30th place to a dreary estimated $0.011 million at 7 theaters ($1,570 per theater). Written and directed by Daphna Kastner, it stars Kastner and Toni Canto.
USA Films' R-rated comedy-drama "Agnes Browne," directed by and starring Anjelica Huston, opened an Oscar qualifying run at 2 theaters, placing 31st with an unexciting estimated $0.006 million ($2,929 per theater). The film will open in March, USA Films' Foley said Sunday morning.
Also opening was First Look Entertainment's drama "A Map of the World" in L.A. and New York for a weeklong Academy Awards-qualifying run. No estimates were available since First Look does not have its grosses tracked and released to the industry. Directed by Scott Elliott, it stars Sigourney Weaver and Julianne Moore.
SNEAK PREVIEWS Weekend 49 saw no national sneak previews. EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, Weekend 49 saw Miramax's PG-13-rated comedy "Mansfield Park" widen slightly in its third weekend, placing 22nd with a promising estimated $0.23 million (-33%) at 32 theaters (+2 theaters, $7,031 per theater). Its total is approximately $0.85 million. Directed by Patricia Rozema, it stars Embeth Davidtz, Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola, Frances O'Connor and Harold Pinter. USA Films' R-rated Civil War action-drama "Ride With The Devil" added theaters in its second weekend, placing 26th place with a slow estimated $0.053 million at 15 theaters (+4 theaters, $3,554 per theater). Its total is approximately $0.17 million. Directed by Ang Lee, it stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich and pop singer Jewel. WEEKEND COMPARISONS Weekend 49's key films, those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend, took in approximately $75.31 million, up approximately 10.66% from $68.05 million for the comparable weekend last year. Weekend 49's key film gross was down approximately 50.86% from the $153.26 million that key films took in during the Friday-Sunday portion of this year's five-day Weekend 48. Last year, Buena Vista/Disney's second weekend of "A Bug's Life" was first with $17.17 million at 2,701 theaters ($6,358 per theater), and Universal's opening weekend of "Psycho" was second with $10.03 million at 2,477 theaters ($4,050 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $27.2 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $38.9 million. For the first 49 weekends of 1999, ticket sales were approximately $4.665 billion, up about 4.84% from 1998's gross of $4.450 billion. Of this year's 49 weekends, 28 were up (one marginally and one because of a four-day vs. three-day holiday weekend comparison) and 21 were down (three only marginally and one because of a holiday vs. nonholiday comparison) vs. last year. STUDIO MARKET SHARES Based on business by key films, the top six distributors in Weekend 49 were the following: Buena Vista (Touchstone and Disney) was first with three films ("Toy Story 2," "The Insider" and "The Sixth Sense") grossing an estimated $30.67 million or 40.7% of the market. Universal was second with three films ("End Of Days," "The Bone Collector" and "The Best Man") grossing an estimated $13.45 million or 17.9% of the market. MGM was third with two films ("The World Is Not Enough" and "Flawless") grossing an estimated $11.55 million or 15.3% of the market. Paramount was fourth with two films ("Sleepy Hollow" and "Double Jeopardy") grossing an estimated $9.54 million or 12.7% of the market. Twentieth Century Fox was fifth with two films ("Anywhere But Here" and "Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace") grossing an estimated $2.48 million or 3.3% of the market. Warner Bros. was sixth with one film ("Pokemon: The First Movie") grossing an estimated $2.21 million or 2.9% of the market. ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11) "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"/Fox: (see OTHER OPENINGS above) (reissue)
(12) "The Sixth Sense"/BV: Theaters: 1,034 (+17) Gross: $0.97 million (-37%) Average per theater: $937 Total: $273.6 million
(13) "Flawless"/MGM Theaters: 478 (0) Gross: $0.95 million (-40%) Average per theater: $1,995 Total: $3.4 million
(14) "American Beauty"/DreamWorks: Theaters: 694 (+109) Gross: $0.78 million (-33%) Average per theater: $1,130 Total: $67.6 million
(15) "The Best Man"/Universal: Theaters: 511 (+5) Gross: $0.59 million (-51%) Average per theater: $1,160 Total: $32.1 million
(16) "The Messenger"/Sony: Theaters: 977 (-995) Gross: $0.55 million (-54%) (tie) Average per theater: $563 Total: $13.7 million
(16) "The Bachelor"/New Line: Theaters: 1,044 (-289) Gross: $0.55 million (-52%) (tie) Average per theater: $527 Total: $20.6 million
(18) "Double Jeopardy"/Paramount: Theaters: 708 (-132) Gross: $0.54 million (-47%) Average per theater: $755 Total: $113.0 million
(19) "The House on Haunted Hill"/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 651 (-390) Gross: $0.37 million (-47%)(tie) Average per theater: $575 Total: $39.2 million
(19) "Music of the Heart"/Miramax: Theaters: 858 (+64) Gross: $0.37 million (-52%)(tie) Average per theater: $435 Total: $14.0 million
(21) "The Omega Code"/Providence: Theaters: 405 (+106) Gross: $0.30 million (-40%) Average per theater: $745 Total: $11.9 million
(22) Mansfield Park/Miramax: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(23) "The End of the Affair"/Columbia: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(24) "Sweet and Lowdown"/Sony Pictures Classics: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(25) "Liberty Heights"/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 6 (0) Gross: $0.068 million (-32%) Average per theatre: $11,333 Total: $0.4 million
(26) "Ride With the Devil"/USA Films: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(27) "Virtual Sexuality"/TriStar: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(28) "Holy Smoke!"/Miramax: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(29) "Tumbleweeds"/Fine Line: Theaters: 5 (0) Gross: $0.017 million (-59%) Average per theater: $3,344 Total: $0.077 million
(30) "Spanish Fly"/Lions Gate Films: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(31) "Agnes Browne"/USA Films: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)