Working Our Mojo With IMDb's Keith Simanton

For the second month in a row, Keith Simanton--IMDb's Managing Editor--joined to [...]

For the second month in a row, Keith Simanton--IMDb's Managing Editor--joined to talk about the summer tentpole movies at the box office. While last month was almost entirely about The Avengers, this month was somewhat more balanced; while the movie industry is still coming off the hangover of The Avengers and Men in Black 3 was a disappointment, the presence of Snow White & The Huntsman (which beat expectations at the box office this past weekend) and an upcoming crop of potential blockbusters kept us pretty busy topic-hopping this month. It's a lively conversation, and one that's likely to be even more interesting next month, when Ted (which took the spot vacated by G.I. Joe: Retaliation) is leading into Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man. Russ Burlingame: Last week, we talked for almost two hours about The Avengers--after a thing like that you kind of think there's nothing left to say, but then the last month has been all about The Avengers, to the point where it's even the dominant story when it's no longer the #1. Keith Simanton: Right. [The story] was its unseating. It's one of those funny things--I don't know if anyone is going to remember who unseated Titanic (which was, by the way, Lost in Space). Did you see Men in Black 3? You must have, right? RB: No, I haven't! I had a family medical emergency and have been largely off the grid for a week. How was it? KS: It's certainly not the PEZ dispenser of fun that Men in Black--very much like a PEZ dispenser with the first one, it ran out just in time. If you'd have had any more of it, you'd have probably gotten sick of it. This one actually starts out rather poorly; it's grotesque, the principal villain is really off-putting, so it's not really family-friendly--and it's not particularly a funny film! What is rather interesting is by the end of it you've watched a nifty--and this is the most praise I can give it--a nifty little science-fiction/time-travel movie, which is okay.

RB: It's funny, becuase when I was watching trailers I remember thinking that they looked to be building a much more coherent narrative than they did in the second movie-- KS: Oh, absolutely! RB: --But almost by the nature of the Men in Black movies, building that coherent narrative makes it harder to maintain the tone. If you spend a lot of time on story, you're missing what made the first one work. KS: Well, one of the things that is a real turning point is when Michael Stuhlbarg shows up as Griffin, who's this character who can see all eventualities. It's a really winning and sweet character where you've just been dealing with all of these depressed, grotesque or completely confused individuals, here's one that actually has confidence and has an optimistic outlook, and he's very, very welcome in the center of the film. It kind of pivots off him to a conclusion that I think is better than Men in Black II, which was a mess. Not, again, the fun that the first one was. RB: What do you think in terms of the box office on a film like this? It made $70 and it was projected for $80 and everyone got very upset; are we really operating in a market where $10 million on a $150 million film or whatever this was is the tipping point? KS: I think what you had with Men in Black 3 particularly is that it's always a question of how much it cost to make and how much it cost for prints and advertising--advertising particularly--because they're going to recoup a lot of this if you think about it just in ancillary TV rights because if people don't see it in the theater they're probably still kind of curious about it. You know--"Oh, those stupid critics," and "I didn't have time in the summer, but I'll catch it on cable." So would they have liked to have rebooted this franchise? Yeah, and I'm curious if that was really the impetus behind having Josh Brolin in it, which was--you know, with Tommy Lee Jones you've got a very known opinionated actor, in a bunch of opinionated actors, so let's try to put in the mix somebody who's kind of easygoing and let's move this franchise in another direction. I don't know if they achieved that and I don't think by the numbers that they're hankering to do another one of these. I think that's the story more than anything else. Is there an MIB 4? Is there an MIB spinoff? That's what they'd have to do: they'd have to do a reboot, which is entirely possible but that's just my conjecture.

RB: It's interesting to me because we're talking about how Men in Black might be dead in the water after this kind of marginally-disappointing opening weekend, and meanwhile you've got Lionsgate with this announcement that they're looking to launch a bunch of their tentpole franchises into television, including some that are still in active film development. KS: Well, TV can make you a lot of money. [Laughs] If you hit with TV and get past the 100 episodes and get into syndication, you don't have to retire on it but you can get house number two or three with that kind of money. Bryan Singer flies around the world on House money, not on directing fees. RB: I find it interesting that they went with these movies that came from the Summit acquisition, but there was no mention of potentially developing Twilight for TV. Do you think that's something that can happen, or do you think that maybe the reason it didn't come up yet is that you run the risk of alienating your audience if your last film isn't even your last film by the time it's released? KS: That could well be. I'm not sure of the rights between Stephenie Meyer and Summit. I'm not sure what they can do with the title--you know, like "Twilight: The Next Generation"--or whether she holds proprietary rights to Bella and that sort of thing. That's one of the reasons that J.K. Rowling did the "19 years later" thing with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II--so that they couldn't come up with some eventuality where certain things that she really wanted to happen, had not happened. You know--Ron gets killed in a Death Eater thing because somebody's decided to reboot the franchise. She wanted to put those bookends out there. So I'm not sure what the rights are with Meyer, but I think one of the things that if I were Summit and Lionsgate, I would not make my lead be, "Hey, we've got this big movie coming out," because the response back is, "Well, yeah, that could fail, and that's the last trick you've got in that hat." Then you've got to come back and reveal a little bit more, that you've also got these plans out as well. So it may well be what you're describing, and it could be a combination of both--that they're brewing up ancillary TV or other productions. I think it's just a better strategy when announcing your results, which is that you don't necessarily count your future chickens. Come back tomorrow night for more from our conversation, including some thoughts on the challenges faced by the Prometheus filmmakers in deciding how much to tell the audience and some thoughts on this weekend's box office champ Snow White and the Huntsman.