Hollywood Uplink – May 2006: Are there Any Summer Miracles for Hollywood?

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May 2006

        Issue: 15:05

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Are There Any Summer Miracles for Hollywood?
by Dick Rolfe, chairman, The Dove Foundation

Next to Easter and Christmas, summer is the hottest season for the movie box office. Hollywood calls it the “blockbuster” season. That word is more wishful thinking and hype than anything real. Hollywood is the ultimate hype machine. If you hear that a movie is a “blockbuster,” it must be worth spending $8.50 – $10.00 to see.

The summer box office also gives investors a financial barometer for the rest of the year. If a studio is behind the previous record year, they pray for a miracle movie to help them equal or exceed their last best performance. In Hollywood “better than last year” is not good enough. This year must be a “best year,” by their standards. So it’s a small wonder that they have been disappointed with the past 4 years of consistent downturns in theatrical revenue.

So far, the 2006 box office has been a welcome surprise to many entertainment executives who lamented the drastic decline in revenue during 2005. The big numbers are due in part to animals, “Eight Below,” “The Shaggy Dog,” “The Wild,” ”Ice Age: The Meltdown,” and “Hoot.” The high first quarter grosses were also due to a strong carryover from the Christmas release of, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” which brought in over $700 million theatrical box office revenue worldwide. And that was before the DVD was released!

On one hand, everyone in Hollywood hopes for a record box office. To cover their bets, however, the same executives are looking for the next new outlet for their movies beyond the big screen. The pursuit of new ways to leverage the profits of a single movie began in the 1980’s with the advent of video rental. That was quickly followed up by video sales, to DVD’s, to Pay-Per-View, to Network TV, to Cable/Satellite TV. DVD rental by mail was the new hot item just a few short years ago. Now, its video iPods, streaming movies online, and movies transformed into video games (or vice versa).

Technology is moving so rapidly, and producing so many new outlets for movies and television programs, that there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. One thing is clear. The overall revenue of high quality movies will continue to increase. But, the whole buttered popcorn-soft drink combos and Junior Mints experiences of today will soon go the way of the drive-in theater; unless someone comes up with a new mousetrap to entice the audience back into the theaters. A few theater chains are experimenting with entertainment destination complexes combining restaurants, shopping malls, and kiddy playlands under the same roof.

Technological advances are making movies more accessible to everyone, and that is not necessarily a good thing. Exactly what kinds of movies are now more accessible to our kids? Most theater owners have been faithful at preventing unaccompanied minors from getting into R-rated films. However, now some of the most explicit R-rated movies made can be downloaded directly off the Internet without regard for the age of the viewer.
While credit cards are usually required for most online transactions, children are being given debit cards by their parents. These can then be used to make nearly any online purchase; from cigarettes to booze to downloadable hard-core pornographic films.

My dad always reminded me to keep the main thing, the main thing. So we’re back to square one. Content has been, is, and always will be, the main thing. That’s why The Dove Foundation reviewers take their jobs so seriously. To us, the method of delivery is unimportant. It’s the movie itself that we pay attention to.

So, let’s see what Hollywood has in store for the family audience this summer. Due to limited space and time, I’ll restrict my comments to those upcoming films that look like they will probably meet Dove standards; although none of them have been reviewed at the time of this writing.

“Superman Returns.” One can only hope that Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey are up to the task of perpetuating the super hero franchise that was faithfully rendered by Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman in 1978 and 1980. 1983’s “Superman III” was a bit too sappy for my taste.

One of my favorite radio programs, “Prairie Home Companion” is being released as a motion picture. Dove’s assistant editor, Edwin Carpenter, went to an advance screening in, of all places, Minneapolis. He found the movie entertaining, but appropriate for audiences over age 12, which should come as no surprise to those familiar with the show’s creator, Garrison Keillor. According to Edwin, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline and Lindsay Lohan make for a well-knit ensemble cast. A review of the movie and interviews with the cast members will be posted soon at www.dove.org.

Missing for a while from the movie scene, the CG animation geniuses at Pixar are back with “Cars,” a tale about a spoiled race car (voice by Owen Wilson) who meets up with more common vehicles that force him to take an easier road in life. Early buzz for this family movie has been less than praiseworthy. But, as we are reminded by a story in Entertainment Weekly magazine, the last alleged Pixar dud was “Finding Nemo,” which grossed $340 million.

Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly are sure to tear up the screen with a sequal to the “blockbuster” hit, “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The first installment, “Curse of the Black Pearl,” was PG-13 and bumped the ceiling in violence and occultism, to barely squeak through as Dove-approved for ages 12 plus. Only the producers know how “Dead Man’s Chest” will turn out. It will be worth waiting for the review before risking your hard-earned cash.

Animals always do well in animation. So its no small wonder that an independent CG animated film called “Barnyard” is coming to a theater near you this summer. This is a story of a juvenile cow that flirts with the idea of revealing to humans that animals have human abilities. Creator, writer, director, Steve Oedekerk, warns the audience that his film is “full of adult themes like adoption and responsibility.”

“Monster House,” is a wild card; and that’s not all that’s wild. It’s about a spooky suburban house that comes alive to do battle with some neighborhood kids. The producers have announced that they are hoping for a PG rating. I’ve seen the trailer, and this mildly scary CG animated flick could go either way. Suffice to say, you should probably not venture into the dark hole, called a movie theater with the toddlers. We’ll let you know by way of our online review if it’s tolerable for older kids and adults.

This month will be a good one for the perennial family trip. It doesn’t look like a very family friendly time at the movies. Some films may show up later that haven’t announced their release dates yet.

The only family movie candidate for August I see at this time is a hilariously funny gross-out film called, “How to Eat Fried Worms.” (No, I haven’t been mixing anything in my bran flakes.) This boys-will-be-boys summer romp is being produced by Walden Media, the same team that brought you “Holes,” “Because of Winn Dixie,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” “Hoot,” and a delightful Christmas release of E.B. White’s classic tale, “Charlotte’s Webb,” starring adorable Dakota Fanning. I won’t go into detail about how these adolescent boys prepare their little wiggly creatures. But at least it’s more family-friendly than the Samuel L. Jackson summer thriller, “Snakes on a Plane.”

The summer appears to have a few gems for the family. Stay tuned to our reviews at www.dove.org for the latest updates and interviews with celebrities and filmmakers. If you can’t find anything worthwhile at the movies, gather the family together, build a campfire and just visit. It’s amazing how entertaining your husband or wife, dad or mom, son or daughter can be, if you’ll just give them 120 minutes of your undivided attention and a popcorn-soft drink combo. You may end up creating your own summer miracle.

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.