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.
Insiders thought they knew "Witch" movie would top the Halloween weekend chart, but it turned out to be "Meet the Parents" and not the "Blair Witch" sequel.
Universal's PG-13-rated blockbuster comedy "Meet the Parents" was still meeting and greeting moviegoers in first place in its fourth week with a hefty estimated $15.06 million (-6%) at 2,647 theaters (+28 theaters; $5,690 per theater). Its cume is approximately $100.0 million, heading for a domestic theatrical gross $130-150 million.
"Parents'" international release is through DreamWorks Pictures, which co-financed the film and will share equally in its success.
"Parents" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
"'Meet the Parents' has surprised everybody in the press," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "All of the estimators swore that 'Blair Witch' was going to be the number one film this weekend -- including myself. I didn't think that we could hold this well. So the truth is a pleasant surprise this weekend!"
Focusing on "Parents'" great legs, Rocco commented, "I don't think anybody thought that we could hold to this number. We were only down 4% last night (Saturday) on the head to head (theaters). That's an incredible accomplishment."
This marks the fourth consecutive weekend that "Parents" has topped the chart. "That hasn't been done since 'Sixth Sense' last year," Rocco pointed out.
Asked where the film is going domestically, she replied cautiously, "Well, who knows? If this finds its way in the marketplace through the holidays, it could be a $150 million film. It could be. I think that $130 million is a given and it could be $150 million. At this point, you don't know."
Directed by Jay Roach (director of both "Austin Powers" hits), "Parents" stars Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller.
Universal is positioned to do very well this holiday season with two high-profile films arriving in theaters. On Nov. 17 it opens Imagine Entertainment's family comedy fantasy "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," directed by Ron Howard, produced by Brian Grazer and starring Jim Carrey. On Dec. 15 it opens the romantic comedy fantasy "The Family Man" from Beacon Communications, directed by Brett Ratner, produced by Marc Abraham, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche and Howard Rosenman and starring Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni and Don Cheadle.
Focusing on this weekend's business, Rocco also applauded the critically-acclaimed, R-rated drama "Billy Elliot" from the studio's specialized film arm Universal Focus. "Billy," a likely contender for Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, did not add theaters in its third week, but was up sharply nonetheless.
"Billy" placed 16th with an impressive estimated $0.56 million (+14%) at 37 theaters (theater count unchanged; $15,085 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.6 million.
"As much as I'm excited about 'Meet the Parents,' take a look at 'Billy Elliot,'" Rocco said. "Every theater is up except for where there is a multiple run. Unbelievable! We're head to head (compared to last week because) we didn't add anything.
"It means that the word of mouth is getting around now. People are realizing how very spectacular this movie is. It just takes time for films like this to find their way. Little films need nurturing. That's why we've nurtured it. With the television campaign and the newspaper campaign now, people are realizing that this is a very special film and it becomes a must see."
This Friday (Nov. 3), Rocco noted, "we will be expanding in the markets we're already in. The following weekend (Nov. 10-12) we will be taking (it into) probably the top 100 or 120 markets. So we plan to be somewhere around 120 total playdates next weekend and then the following week we hope to be somewhere between 500 and 550.
"I think it's a great plan, and it gave the film time to find its way. So I'm very excited about it."
Directed by Stephen Daldry, "Billy" stars Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Bell, Jamie Draven and Adam Cooper.
Instead of the knock 'em dead $15-20 million first place opening Hollywood handicappers had anticipated, Artisan Entertainment's R-rated "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" finished second with a still enviable estimated $13.1 million at 3,317 theaters ($3,950 per theater).
The original "Blair Witch," made independently for only about $35,000, was picked up by Artisan and grossed about $140.5 million in domestic theaters. The sequel's price tag reportedly was in the $10-15 million range, well below today's major studio average negative cost of about $51.5 million.
Directed by Joe Berlinger, "Blair Witch 2" stars Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristen Skylar and Stephen Barker-Turner.
"We made the film for under $15 million," Artisan distribution head Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning. "How many studios can actually say that they grossed their negative cost for the most part over the opening three days? So, clearly, this film is going to be very profitable. We basically earned our negative (cost back) in the first weekend of release."
Asked if industry expectations that "Blair Witch 2" could open to $15-20 million were wildly out of line, Rothenberg replied, "Clearly, it looks like it was. It seems to me, just looking at the tracking over the past three or four months, a lot of the tracking numbers haven't necessarily correlated with the weekend grosses. I can see how some people (might have anticipated a bigger opening for 'Blair Witch 2')."
Did opening over Halloween weekend and having to compete with Saturday night holiday parties hurt the film? "One of the things we did look at was that last year there was another film in the same genre called 'House on Haunted Hill' (from Warner Bros.) that came out Halloween weekend. Last year, in fact, Halloween was on Sunday. And they still did (nearly) $16 million. So we looked at that and it certainly reassured us that with a properly themed movie you could certainly open on Halloween weekend."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG-rated football drama "Remember the Titans" from producer Jerry Bruckheimer continued in third place in its fifth week, holding well with an estimated $8.0 million (-19%) at 2,803 theaters (+2 theaters; $2,855 per theater). Its cume is approximately $87.7 million.
Directed by Boaz Yakin and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Chad Oman, "Titans" stars Denzel Washington.
20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated comedy "Bedazzled" slid two notches to fourth place in its second week with a less glittering estimated $7.7 million (-41%) at 2,570 theaters (+2 theaters; $2,996 per theater). Its cume is approximately $24.0 million.
Directed by Harold Ramis, "Bedazzled" stars Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley.
Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated drama "Pay It Forward" dropped one peg to fifth place in its second weekend with a still hopeful estimated $6.88 million (-29%) at 2,130 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,228 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.1 million.
Directed by Mimi Leder, "Pay It Forward" stars Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment.
New Line Cinema's PG-rated family film "The Little Vampire" took only a little bite out of the box office, opening in sixth place to an estimated $5.5 million at 2,009 theaters ($2,738 per theater).
Directed by Uli Edel, "Vampire" stars Jonathan Lipnicki.
"We're thrilled with it," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "And we've got three weeks before there's really a kid's film in the market, which is the 'Rugrats' (Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' animated sequel 'Rugrats in Paris -- The Movie,' opening Nov. 17 at 2,800 to 3,000 theaters). So we've got three weeks to run."
"Vampire" should be nicely profi able for New Line. Tuckerman confirmed that the studio picked it up very reasonably, adding, "I can't even tell you (how little) it cost. It's too embarrassing!"
Paramount's opening of its R-rated romantic comedy "Lucky Numbers" was an unlucky seventh with an estimated $4.6 million at 2,497 theaters ($1,842 per theater).
Directed by Nora Ephron, "Numbers" stars John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow.
DreamWorks' R-rated political thriller "The Contender" fell two votes to eighth place in its third week with a quiet estimated $2.5 million (-29%) at 1,639 theaters (+68 theaters; $1,514 per theater). Its cume is approximately $14.0 million.
Written and directed by Rod Lurie, "Contender" stars Gary Oldman, Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges and Christian Slater.
Dimension Films' R-rated action adventure "The Legend of Drunken Master" skidded four rungs to ninth place in its second week with a sobering estimated $2.3 million (-40%) at 1,345 theaters (+3 theaters; $1,710 per theater). Its cume is approximately $7.3 million.
Directed by Lau Ka Leung, it stars Jackie Chan.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated comedy "Best in Show," up one notch in its fifth week with a still happy estimated $1.78 million (-18%) at 497 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,581 per theater). Its cume is approximately $9.1 million.
Directed by Christopher Guest, "Best" stars Jennifer Coolidge, Christopher Guest and John Michael Higgins.
OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw the arrival of Buena Vista's reissue of its 1993 PG-rated animated family film "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas," placing 22nd with an uneventful estimated $0.15 million at 72 theaters ($2,084 per theater).
Directed by Henry Selick, its voice talents include Danny Elfman,Chris Sarandon and Catherine O'Hara.
Universal Focus' R-rated romantic comedy "Loving Jezebel" opened in 24th place to a calm estimated $0.048 million at 74 theaters ($645 per theater).
Written and directed by Kwyn Bader, it stars Hill Harper and Laurel Hollowman.
Lions Gate's R-rated drama "Once in the Life" arrived in 25th place to a dull estimated $0.034 million at 15 theaters ($2,250 per theater).
"Life" was written and directed by Laurence Fishburne, who also stars in the film.
USA Films' R-rated dark comedy "A Room For Romeo Brass" opened in 26th place to a slow estimated $0.007 million at 3 theaters ($2,304 per theater).
Directed by Shane Meadows, "Romeo" stars Andrew Shim and Ben Marshall.
SNEAK PREVIEWS There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, Miramax's R-rated suspense drama "The Yards" went wider in its second week, placing 19th with a dull estimated $0.31 million at 146 theaters (+138 theaters; $2,123 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.4 million.
Directed by James Gray, it stars Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron and James Caan.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $74.44 million, up about 21.79% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $61.11 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 3.29% from this year's previous weekend when key films grossed $76.98 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of "House on Haunted Hill" was first with $15.95 million at 2,710 theaters ($5,884 per theater); and Universal's second week of "The Best Man" was second with $6.28 million at 1,348 theaters ($4,660 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $22.2 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $28.2 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend's top six distributors were:
Universal was first with two films ("Meet the Parents" and "Billy Elliot"), grossing an estimated $15.62 million or 21.0% of the market.
Artisan Entertainment was second with one film ("Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2"), grossing an estimated $13.1 million or 19.2% of the market.
Warner Bros. was third with three films ("The Exorcist," "Pay It Forward" and "Best in Show"), grossing an estimated $10.22 million or 13.7% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney and Touchstone) was fourth with one film ("Remember the Titans"), grossing an estimated $8.0 million or 10.8% of the market.
20th Century Fox was fifth with one film ("Bedazzled"), grossing an estimated $7.7 million or 10.3% of the market.
New Line was sixth with two films ("The Little Vampire" and "Lost Souls"), grossing an estimated $7.0 million or 9.4% of the market.
ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11)The Exorcist/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,401 (-307) Gross: $1.56 million (-46%) Average per theater: $1,113 Cume: $37.2 million
(12)Ladies Man/Paramount: Theaters: 1,823 (-220) Gross: $1.53 million (-46%) Average per theater: $837 Cume: $11.9 million
(13)Lost Souls/New Line: Theaters: 1,708 (-262) Gross: $1.5 million (-54%) Average per theater: $878 Cume: $15.3 million
(14)Dr. T & the Women/Artisan Ent.: Theaters: 1,204 (-285) Gross: $1.2 million (-48%) Average per theater: $997 Cume: $11.0 million
(15)Almost Famous/DreamWorks: Theaters: 707 (-1,000) Gross: $0.68 million (-45%) Average per theater: $967 Cume: $29.8 million
(16)Billy Elliot/Universal Focus: Theaters: 37 (0) Gross: $0.56 million (+14%) Average per theater: $15,085 Cume: $1.6 million
(17)Bring It On/Universal: Theaters: 861 (-890) Gross: $0.37 million (-62%) Average per theater: $430 Cume: $66.6 million
(18)Bamboozled/New Line: Theaters: 243 (-1) Gross: $0.33 million (-43%) Average per theater: $1,337 Cume: $1.5 million
(19)The Yards/Miramax: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(20)Digimon: The Movie/Fox: Theaters: 968 (-681) Gross: $0.32 million (-65%) Average per theater: $330 Cume: $9.0 million
(21)Nutty Professor II: The Klumps/Universal: Theaters: 348 (-97) Gross: $0.18 million (-26%) Average per theater: $505 Cume: $122.4 million
(22)TIM BURTON'S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS/ Buena Vista (reissue): (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(23)The Watcher/Universal: Theaters: 157 (-209) Gross: $0.075 million (-41%) Average per theater: $480 Cume: $29.0 million
(24)LOVING JEZEBEL/Universal Focus: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(25)ONCE IN THE LIFE/Lions Gate: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(26)A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS/USA Films (see OTHER OPENINGS above)