Hollywood Uplink – June 2006: In Search of the Perfect Movie

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June 2006

        Issue: 15:06

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In Search of the Perfect Movie
by Dick Rolfe, chairman, The Dove Foundation

“Everything old is new again,” “There’s nothing new under the sun,” “Been there, done that,” “Déjà vue all over again.” All of these popular phrases are different ways of saying, “Haven’t I seen this movie somewhere before?”

Since the beginning of time (on celluloid at least), Hollywood has been on a pilgrimage for the Holy Grail. No, I’m not referring to the Last Supper chalice of Jesus Christ; nor the womb of Mary Magdalene as author, Dan Brown would have us believe. In tinsel town, the search is for the secret formula to create the perfect movie. The perfect picture is not so much about the story that moves you spiritually or emotionally. It’s more about the story that moves you physically to the local theater box office or the neighborhood video store. Most filmmakers are more interested in tugging at your purse strings than at your heartstrings.

I read recently where medical researchers have discovered a cure for Shingles, an excruciatingly painful skin rash that plagues some adults who had Chicken Pox when they were children. As soon as researchers discovered this revolutionary cure, they reduced their findings to a formula. They had to mix just the right combination of ingredients, so they could repeat the exact dosage over and over again in the form of a vaccine.

The entertainment industry is not too different from the field of medicine. Once a certain type of film proves successful, the motion picture “researchers” attempt to boil down the “secret” ingredients into a formula, which hopefully can be repeated over and over again with the same degree of success. As in medical research, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

One of the most vivid recent examples of how a formula picture didn’t work is “Basic Instinct 2.” Unlike its predecessor, the sequel barely made enough money at the box office to cover Sharon Stone’s salary.

An equally striking example of how formulas can work is Marvel Comic’s hugely successful, “X-Men” trilogy. The third installment opened Memorial Day weekend by setting an all-time record at the box office, debuting with a staggering $122.8 million. It was the biggest opening weekend in history, averaging an amazing $33,296 per theater. That compares with the second highest opening weekend box office, another Marvel comic character, “Spider-Man II,” which averaged $28,244 per theater during a four-day weekend debut in July, 2004. Kudos go to “X-Men” producer, Ralph Winter, a member of Dove’s Advisory Board.

Entertainment executives rely on formulas because sequels and remakes actually do have a better statistical chance of success than movies without a recognizable name or “brand” attached to it.

There are many different types of brands. A brand can be an “A-list” mega movie star, a popular well-known director, or a best-selling book. When you add those three ingredients together, its no wonder movies like, “The Passion of the Christ,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” did as well as they did. Actually, “The Da Vinci Code” which ranked high in all three categories, should have fared better at the box office than it did. In this case, a well-written script would have helped.

Comic books are equal to most best-selling novels, since they have such a huge following. That’s why Spider-man, Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four and X-Men did so well.

Some adaptations from television programs have done well on the big screen. Franchises like “Mission Impossible I, II and III” are the front-runners with the highest box office receipts for any television series made into a movie. Among those titles that didn’t make it big on the big screen were, “Bewitched” and “Dukes of Hazzard” with less than stellar numbers.

One of the most uniquely successful brands in filmmaking history was not created in some formula lab, but rather in the imagination of a young special effects producer, George Lucas when he wrote, produced and directed the extremely successful six episode major motion picture series “Star Wars“. To Lucas’ credit, he thrilled audiences of all ages without cheapening his brand with graphic language, gratuitous violence, or explicit sex. All six Star Wars episodes received the Dove Family-Approved Seal.

Some sequels managed to maintain their innocence without losing their appeal. “Herbie: Fully-Loaded” is an example of a kind, gentle, and thoroughly enjoyable remake of the famous Disney original, “The Love Bug,” starring Dean Jones. (Jones is a member of the Dove Foundation Advisory Board.)

Another family favorite was the 1959 Disney classic “The Shaggy Dog,” starring Fred MacMurray, and later reprised in 1976 as the “Shaggy DA” with Dean Jones. In 2006, the Walt Disney Company wisely decided to take advantage of comic Tim Allen’s brand as a family-friendly actor with such successes as the TV series, “Home Improvement;” “Toy Story,” “Christmas with the Kranks,” “The Santa Clause” I and II (and soon to be III). With Allen’s comic skill and wholesome reputation, they resurrected “The Shaggy Dog” for the 21st Century.

Another safe TV remake was “Fat Albert” created under the watchful eye of comic legend, Bill Cosby, creator of the original Saturday morning cartoon series.

Other examples of successful franchise brands, whether sequels or remakes, are Steve Martin hits, “The Pink Panther,” “Father of the Bride,” and “Cheaper by the Dozen: 1 and 2.” And, don’t forget, “The Legend of Zorro,” and “Yours, Mine and Ours.”

Every once in a while a real stinker comes along. Movies like, “Poseidon,” an unimaginative remake of the Poseidon Adventure, and “Guess Who,” a tasteless rip-off of the original classic, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” are lessons learned the hard way.

Movie tickets and DVD’s are not cheap. Finding the perfect movie is not easy, but looking for a Dove-approved title with a 4 or 5 Dove quality rating is a good place to start. Happy hunting!

Note: Some of the movies in this story are not Dove approved. Click on the links to read the reviews before making your selection.

The Dove Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  Our mission is to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment.  We are supported primarily by donations from families such as yours who want to move Hollywood in a more family-friendly direction.  All donations are tax deductible.
Copyright © 2006 The Dove Foundation. All rights reserved.