Having had a conversation about Men in Black's and Lionsgate's franchise futures in the first half of our monthly conversation, IMDb Managing Editor Keith Simanton is back with us, this time to look at some of the challenges facing the box office this summer and what hope we have for a bounce-back in June after what was (Avengers aside) a pretty slow May.
Russ Burlingame: We've talked a bit about merchandising, and it's interesting--that's something that I don't really ever remember Lionsgate doing very well. The Hunger Games notwithstanding, the only time I can ever remember seeing a Lionsgate movie represented on a t-shirt or a hat was when Kevin Smith or Michael Moore went out of pocket.
Keith Simanton: [Laughs] You can't do a whole lot with the Saw torture line--the head-cage line. Yeah, I think it's an area that--once companies get good at, it's then a pipeline because they've got the suppliers and they've got the outlets and they use things like Hot Topic and I think as you get better at that, you see the additional revenue that you can get but obviously you've got to have a property where people want to snatch it up.
RB: And even though Hot Topic doesn't have the same kind of cache anymore that it used to--I think it's much less significant than it was even five years ago...
KS: Oh, absolutely.
RB: But it's still a great venue because if you can sell there, it helps you get placement in someplace like Target or Kohls, where the customer base is just exponentially bigger and so it's not as "cool," but you make a lot more money. The kind of mainstream retail community still sees them as a tastemaker because these things are so slow to change.
KS: Yeah, I saw Prometheus last night.
RB: The think that worries me about that is that in the early days, they were saying, "It's not technically a prequel but it's set in the same universe and we'll be kind of playing with the tropes." And I thought that had the potential to be a kind of clever, artsy way of dealing with a prequel and reinventing the franchise. Now as you get closer, we're seeing all these familiar images and creatures and things and I just wonder if it's going to be another mediocre Alien sequel, but one without the cache of having "Alien" in the title.
KS: Them being coy about it, I think, got to the point of being disingenuous--but those guys are in a tough situation. You don't want to give everything away, and you don't want to spoil the fun of it. As much as we clamor for this information, we don't really want it spoiled for us, either.
RB: That's one of the things that's always tough when you're dealing with a prequel or an adaptation, too--where you're dealing with a chunk of the audience who just assume that they know how it's all going to end.
KS: Right, then what do you have left? Once all that stuff is out, what are your twists? Where are you allowed to surprise people? That just gets harder.
Actually, I've defended her for long enough: I blame Kristen Stewart. There's no moment where you find some levity with her, where you can join with her in this predicament she's in. Her two expressions are either that she can't decide what to wear tonight and doesn't like the clothes in her closet, or she just got homework over spring break. That's it--just one of the two emotions she seems to register.
It's unfortunate--she's got scenes in here where she slides into this open area of the wall in the castle and it drops her in the sewer. And instead of going, "Aww!" and having some "Oh my God, I'm in a sewer!" reaction, she looks like she just got homework over the spring break. "Oh, I must struggle on because my struggle is great." There's just no invitation from her to the audience to join in with her in this situation and so it's very difficult to really care about what happens to whom.
And Charlize Theron has one particular scene where she is so outrageously over-the-top that people started to laugh in the screening I was in.
RB: That's really too bad. But you know, on Stewart, I've done the same thing. I saw her in Matchstick Men about a hundred years ago and thought she was good in it and so I've defended her kind of in spite of myself.
KS: Actually, that was Alison Lohman in Matchstick Men, so you can stop defending her now.
RB: That was, wasn't it? Wow.
KS: I'm pretty sure. I'll double check on IMDb here, but...yeah, that was Alison Lohman and I really liked her in that.
RB: No, you're definitely right. As soon as you said it out loud, I knew...it must have been Panic Room that I saw Kristen Stewart in ten years ago and thought she wasn't bad.
KS: I wish Alison Lohman had a better career, darn it!
RB: Me too! I get this thing with actresses--because of the way movies are cast, when there's a female actor who's a better actor than she is sexy--and that's not to say that someone like Lohman isn't attractive, but just that she's an actor first--and I'll follow that kind of person if I remember who they are. There's a million decent leading ladies out there who are more sexy than they are good and that's fine as long as they don't torpedo the movie outright--but whenever there's someone who's more of a great actor than they are a physically attractive person, I feel like I should support them in some way that the market won't. I feel that way about Kim Dickens, the female lead in Zero Effect with Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller. She's been in a bunch of things in small roles and I'll rent it on Amazon or I'll buy the DVD just on the general principle of supporting her.
KS: Well, I've got to jump but I did want to say that next week I'll be seeing The Amazing Spider-Man.
RB: That will be a fascinating conversation next month--I think with the first two movies there was a general public perception that they were good, but some of us comic book people had our doubts. With the third one, everyone kind of came together in agreement that it was pretty awful, and so it'll be interesting to see who falls where with this next picture. I'll let you go, though--any last words? We covered a lot more ground this month, whereas last time we basically talked about The Avengers for two hours.
KS: Yeah, but it was worth talking about for two hours!