SECOND GUESSING - Complications Ensue
Complications Ensue:
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Friday, July 14, 2006

Q. Why do you think SERENITY failed at the box office?
I'm going to say: because it was episodic. There were something like four self-contained episodes in the story. Each resolved almost completely, leaving just enough plot to ignite the next episode. So the movie didn't feel like a coherent story. It felt like a bunch of television episodes rammed together.

Fun, inventive television episodes, of course. Brilliantly written and convincingly acted. But episodes. A movie can't be a four-episode arc, it has to be a single story.

Also, Joss's cast of TV actors didn't exactly light the screen on fire. They just didn't feel larger than life. Possibly that has something to do with the way he shot them.

That's why I think it failed.

Now, a couple of caveats: did SERENITY fail? After all the DVD sales are in? And the foreign sales? I don't know. It cost about $40M. Made about $25M box office and $15M overseas. Those are box office numbers so the studio gets, say, half. But then it probably made another $20M easy on DVD sales and TV, not to mention any merchandising. I doubt anyone on the show was entitled to gross points, so the studio got to keep more of the money than it would have on a $150M Harrison Ford picture. I would bet the studio's internal accounting shows a slight profit.

More importantly: I don't know why the hell it failed. Movies with terrible scripts hit. Why did My Big Fat Greek Wedding make $100M at the box office instead of oh, say, $5M? Was it twenty times better than the next charming indie romance? My memory was it had almost no plot, and was stunningly short on obstacles. I'm sure I could have fixed the script, made it a better movie, and turned it into much less of a hit. Was Blair Witch actually a good picture? Would it have made $100M the summer before? Or the summer after? Or would it have disappeared into the cut-rate DVD bins?

People watch for stories, but they also watch for characters and spectacle, and because other people are watching. And movies with good scripts fail. As a writer you have to believe that a good script is better than a bad script. But there are other factors at work, so don't get too big a head on behalf of us writers...

UPDATE: Discussion continues in this post.

39 Comments:

I don't think you can discount the effect of promotion. The studio did an excellent job of promoting the movie to the people who already knew about it, but didn't do much to get the cast out into the public eye for everyone else. It didn't help.

By Blogger CABridges, at 1:11 PM  

5) …And for the teens, no slap and tickle. Needed some Inara+Mal action...
4) Too politically and morally complex for the masses.
3) Serenity was an extension of Firefly and if new to the ‘verse’ the movie was a lot to grasp in two hours. Ex: ‘who are these people? Battle of where?’
2) No big names were in the movie, therefore giving it less mass appeal.
1) Serenity was very poorly marketed.
...it should have done worse. When are the new comics coming out? :) Keep flyin'!

By Blogger Sgt_Ron, at 1:28 PM  

Joss also filmed the movie differently than most audiences are used to.

It was darker - not too many normal hero type shots. It is a credit to Joss that he wants to challenge the audience instead of give them the "usual". But there are those that want only what they are used to....

By Blogger Susan, at 2:17 PM  

I second cabridges's comment. The promotion was terrible. All the studio had to do for the fans was let them know the movie existed, but for non-fans, the challenge was somewhat more complex.

That being said, it felt like Universal did almost nothing. The pre-screenings were an interesting idea, but they were little more than a drop in the bucket, and most of the people who went were already fans. The US trailers were terrible, and the poster was just as bad. If I hadn't already been a Joss Whedon fan, I would've thought, "Yet another crappy sci-fi kung-fu action flick, and from the creator of Buffy? Um ... no."

It wasn't a perfect screenplay, but one should considering the absurd difficulty of introducing a complex pre-established setting and a large cast of characters to a new audience while simultaneously pleasing die-hard fans. I think Joss Whedon not only got the job done but managed to do it while squeezing in action sequences that were jaw-dropping despite an extremely limited budget. Personally, I felt it was stronger than most action movies I've seen.

Simply enough, most people unfamiliar with Firefly seemed to enjoy Serenity. Its reviews were largely positive. If the marketing had been there, the word of mouth should have put it over the top. It just failed to reach critical mass.

By Blogger Zoinkers Hammyshammy, at 3:38 PM  

This makes no sense.

The film did not fail as it was too episodic. It might have been a little but you wouldn't know this without watching the film.

The film failed at the box-office because cinema goers are lazy. they don't want to try anything new. They want big names and predictable plots.

Genunily good films rarely do well at the box-office (I heard that the Coens and Woody Allen flicks rarely make a profit). Hell, even Fight Club- probably one of the highest regarded films of the last seven (has it been that long) years didn't make much money.

In conclusion- Serenity failed at the b/o because people are idiots.

By Blogger doitdoug, at 4:17 PM  

Okay, so it's alright to call everybody who didn't go see this movie an idiot?

Then I guess it's alright for me to say that even though I had no trouble enjoying the work of Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Fellini, David Lean, John Ford, Buster Keaton, and many other cinema giants, and likewise have found a lot to admire in many a classic genre movie, I found Serenity to be unwatchable--same for Firefly. I loved Buffy, so it's not just a Whedon thing. TBH, I think the original Buffy movie was better than Serenity.

Maybe not everybody on the planet likes the same things you like? Maybe your idea of great is not our idea of great? Maybe it's time to just accept that One fan's meat is another fan's poison?

I hated Serenity--I thought it was dull, derivitive, and pointless. I didn't laugh at a single line--but I had to listen to a handful of morons in the nearly empty theatre I saw it in (during the first week) laugh DURING each line--because they'd already memorized every one. I mean, it's like Rocky Horror without the fun going to see this movie in a theatre.

I am not stupid--and judging by the way they spell, some of the people who love this movie are. And I think one of Serenity's biggest problem was that a lot of people who are, to put it mildly, less than mental giants, were going around scaring people away from it. If a critic posted a POSITIVE review, with a few minor critiques, they'd jump all over him. They made enemies for the franchise, and enemies for Joss Whedon.

By Blogger ksnake, at 4:31 PM  

The primary issue is the fact that it's a sci-fi Western based on a show that very few people had seen. I know I wouldn't have gone if I hadn't seen the show, regardless of the fact that it got good reviews. The reviews were good, but no good enough to make the film a real must see.

One could say that the first Star Trek movie had the same problems, but the original show had a lot more viewers, and that was a different time, when there was a lot less media competition. And, the pre-screening campaign only served to remove buzz from the actual opening weekend, because most of the people who were interested in the film had already seen it.

Plus, the film was good, but it wasn't anywhere near Whedon's best work, if you show people The Body they may not get everything about it, but you have to respect it. Serenity is just a good time, not a masterpiece.

By Blogger Patrick, at 4:40 PM  

I actually never got around to seeing this one, and I see a LOT of movies.

First, let me say that I've never seen the TV show it's based on. I know there was a show, but I don't have any history with it as a fan, so I didn't have a positive or negative opinion of it when the film was announced.

My reasons for not seeing it? I suppose it was a combination of reasons. The title didn't really mean anything to me, and probably worked against the film. I think having a weak title causes people (including me) to simply not notice when it gets talked about. I don't have any evidence to back this up, but I may have subconsciously ignored conversation or news about the film many times since the title didn't imply a subject I might have interest in. I think that's a huge problem for this one, and that makes it a tougher sell. The title seems to be the complete opposite of an action packed sci fi film.

SERENITY just seems kind of sleepy or warm and fuzzy. That feeling I get right before I fall asleep on the couch. Certainly not an entertaining sci fi space adventure.

I can also tell you that no one else I hang with saw it, so there was no buzz about it from my pals. I don't normally catch review shows or read editorial reviews, so I'm not sure how it did with critics. But within my circle of movie fan friends, no one seemed to have seen it, and because of that, it didn't come up in conversation once during the time it was showing in theaters. That's rare.

And from the previews I saw of it, I mostly thought it was going to be an imitation Star Trek story. That assumption is probably completely wrong, and I know that, but that's the impression the preview left me with.

But typically if a film is great and my initial reaction to trailers causes me to skip it opening week, I usually start to hear about it from friends and family. That seems to happen more often than not with quality films, the street buzz takes over and I end up seeing it a week after opening.

But none of that happened with Serenity, and my assumption about the previews were never challenged.

Bad marketing, bad title, and perhaps a complete lack of buzz on the street.

By Blogger Kody Chamberlain, at 4:41 PM  

I never watched an episode of Firefly but wanted to see Serenity. I waited until it came out on DVD like I do for most movies since it's a 20 dollar ordeal to see a movie now (movie theater popcorn is a must).

Fact of the matter is, why would the masses fork over cash to see a movie when they weren't willing to watch the television show, which they got for free?

By Blogger Captain Platypus, at 5:02 PM  

Ksnake, I feel you, man. You should see the looks of universal disgust I get when trying to explain why I enjoy the BUFFY movie to the TV series. Yes, I think the TV series was exceptionally brilliant. Yes, I think the writing was awesome. Yes, it was some of the most innovative TV shown in the 1990s. But the movie showed buffy to be REALLY dumb, and consequently the juxtaposition of her former life with her new, meaningful Slayer life was much more obvious, and therefore more resonant. That, and I love me some Kristy Swanson. And come on, Luke Perry was good in that movie. David Arquette spoofing the most terrifying moment in Salem's Lot? I am sold. I love that movie, and I am not ashamed.

This is what the net is for: for people to express their own idosyncrasies when it comes to likes and dislikes. Sure, you can diss people for their differences in opinion to your own, but if you do, does this not diminish you? Does this not make the disser look like an egomaniac?

"Maybe not everybody on the planet likes the same things you like? Maybe your idea of great is not our idea of great? Maybe it's time to just accept that One fan's meat is another fan's poison?". Wise words, all. And the fact that you didn't enjoy SERENITY as much as I did (loved it, as I love the TV show) just means that although wre disagree, I respect your right to your own opinion, and the fact that you shared it with us all. Can't we all just get along?

Now, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. No complications, no obstacles. No personality, as far I could see in John Corbett. Come on, that film was abysmally written, with the exception of that fantastic grandmother. If you tell enough people that they HAVE to see/read/buy something, with a barrage of advertising, then they will. This explains Dan Brown's entire writing career, the inexplicable rise of post-BIG Tom Hanks, and X-MEN 3 (shudder). These movies may make a gazillion dollars opening weekend, but will we talk about them as classics 50 years from now? Nope, but then the studios don't want classic status movies, they want shit that makes money. They'll stop making them when people stop blankly shuffling along to watch them.

Sorry for the rant. That is all.

By Blogger Spud McSpud, at 6:32 PM  

I had never heard of Serenity before seeing it in the theatre. I got dragged there by some of my comic shop buddies and then became a full fledged Browncoat. I probably would have never seen it if I wasn't already a geek.

My two cents:
-No popular actors to generate buzz while making the talk show circuit. Chiwetel was awesome, but thats the only reason I would have prefered a Laurence Fishburne or a Kevin Spacey as the Operative.
-Marketing was sub-par, but probably because of the above reason
-Released at the very tail end of the summer movie season, Sep 30. I think April, its original date, would have been better.
-Placed against Flightplan, a movie that came out a week earlier that went on to gross $200 million.
-Flightplan starred Jodie Foster, a two time Academy Award winning American institution.
-Serenity, at 2 hours, was way too long. I didn't think so, but I figure movie theatres prefer short movies so they can have more screenings per day.
-The soundtrack to the movie didn't blow anyone away. I don't know how much a soundtrack affects a movie's box office but I would imagine having a John Williams would not have hurt.
-Joss Whedon is still relatively unknown. I like it that way, but its not conducive to money making. (Note: I love everything Joss touches)
-stuff already mentioned: Ho-hum trailer, blah movie poster, and the advertising seemed to target only those that were going to see it (or HAD seen it) anyway.
-And finally, my main reason, the OPENING WEEKEND. I honestly believe if Serenity opened at number one that that may have been the catalyzer that studios always want. It would have been put in all the ads and mentioned on all the local televison stations. Damn you, Jodie Foster! ;)


I don't think anything about the actual story (no sex,too dark, too complex, extension of a cancelled TV series) is valid for a couple reasons. By and large everyone who saw it, enjoyed it, and of those most of them recommended it to others (thats from my own experience, perhaps not the rule). Also I can't imagine anyone saying "Wow, that preview looked cool, but it may have been a continuation of a short lived TV series that I have never heard of, therefore I will ignore the film." It just doesn't make sense. :)

By Blogger Jay, at 8:06 PM  

I liked Serenity as much as Firefly, and contrary to the beliefs of some kind folks posting here, I am not a mindless viewer. I visit movie theatres VERY rarely... mostly because the majority of big-screen sci-fi, among other genres of film these days, is cartoonish and silly with overblown effects that fail to support a underdeveloped script.

Sure, Serenity was derivitive, BUT WHAT ISN'T? Name ONE sci-fi flick in the last twenty years that wasn't derivitive of a celebrated predecessor. For that matter, name one truly different big screen movie of any ilk. One has to journey to the indie film world for new and exciting ideas.

'ksnake' - no offense, friend, but please note your own hypocrisy:

"Okay, so it's alright to call everybody who didn't go see this movie an idiot?"

"I hated Serenity--I thought it was dull, derivitive, and pointless. I didn't laugh at a single line--but I had to listen to a handful of morons... laugh DURING each line...."

You cannot, in one hand, criticize 'doitdoug' for calling people idiots for NOT seeing a movie, and then call people morons for enjoying the very same movie. That door doesn't swing both ways, brother.

I enjoyed Serenity and Firefly because, as an adult, this outer space world is one that feels more real to me. I know that is an odd statement. In the Serenity 'verse, though technology has advanced, humans are still humans, with human problems, and human frailties. There are no cartoon aliens. There is no utopia. There is no majically sword-length laser (no offence intended to Star Wars... at least not the original trilogy). Serenity depicts a human world with rusty steel and shady deals. A world wherein our hero, Mal, gets into fights and gets his butt kicked fairly regularly.

It is for everyone? No. Was it made for everyone? Not really. I believe the movie was made to satisfy fans of the television series, with a hope that it would catch on and build a larger fan base. I think both goals were served, somewhat, but not enough for it to spawn a Firefly/Serenity renaissance (though that continues to be my fervent hope).

'kody chaimberlain' - you ought to check out Serenity. You might like it. If not, that's cool, but if you're into the genre, it's worth the rental.

Final note: The original Buffy movie is one of my favorties. I've loved it since day one. Great flick.

By Blogger Seth Asa, at 8:37 PM  

I think many people overlook one major element in Serenity not being more successful at the box office; Flightplan.

Jodie Foster starred as a deeply gifted, but mentally unstable and emotionally troubled young woman trying to fight off an intelligent, driven, multi-talented killer with the unwilling assistance of a ship’s captain. This fast paced battle of wits occurs while attempting to put her family back together again in this high tech, action adventure, thriller set aboard an ultrafuturistic airliner in flight.

Sound like any River, Mal, Operative or spaceship we know?

There are probably worse weekends Serenity could have opened, but I’m hard pressed to name them. Flightplan itself was an ok film, not one of Ms. Foster’s best, but it opened the same weekend as Serenity and on 1,300+ more movie screens, with far more effective advertising.

I think a lot of people who could have become Serenity / Firefly flans, got suckered into a mildly disappointing movie experience with Jodie; rather than taking a chance on an unknown quantity, like Nathan Fillion or Summer Glau.

Once Serenity didn’t win its opening weekend, what promotion was occurring disappeared, as the studio moved on to the next big thing; and that leaves us standing here, on the raggedy edge.

The problem, of course, comes from studios and distributors equating a butt in a theater seat to a fan. The distribution network is not set up to differentiate the qualitative difference between the two. They typically only register only the quantitative difference.

Perhaps I missed the Flightplan charity screenings last month; or the books, or the comics; or the role playing games, or the conventions, or the. . . you get my point, As Joss himself has said, he would rather make a show that a hundred people need to see, than a thousand people want to see.

Perhaps if I put the matter in a form more easily digested by corporate sensibilities. By failing to account for the quality and depth of fan response to their movie product,
Studios are losing Billions of dollars in potential revenue (Yes, that is Billions with a B).

Dear Network Executives, are we all quite clear on the concept now?

By Blogger Robyn, at 8:37 PM  

1)I didn't think the Buffy movie was GOOD, I just thought it was better than Serenity. The series was vastly superior--at least until it went to UPN.

2)I do, in fact, call some people idiots, on the basis of actually seeing them post on the internet, or chortle mindlessly in a movie theatre, or voting for Bush. I do not make a blanket assumption that the only reason a silly formulaic movie full of hackneyed cliches, uncharismatic actors, and forced attempts at wit failed is that everybody who doesn't like the movie is stupid. Nor would I make such an assumption if I liked the movie in question. Lots of brilliant people are indifferent to stuff I like--or love things I hate. There are also morons who love films/shows/books I do like (even if they don't remotely understand them). Intelligence and taste are not the same thing. I've seen enough people who can't get through a simple sentence in English post rapturously (and incoherently) about Serenity to know a very larger percentage of its audience is deeply and impenetrably stupid. It's not too deep for the masses--it's just too self-referential and full of itself. Which is Joss Whedon's problem in a nutshell, lately.

By Blogger ksnake, at 10:42 PM  

'very larger'--damn, I wish this forum had an edit button. ::sigh::

By Blogger ksnake, at 10:45 PM  

I have a different take.

I think the movie didn't click with a larger audience because the villain was split between two many different threats. You had the Operative, the Federation-thingy behind him, the Reavers, and the magic potion that created them. Made it hard to assign the proper sense of dread to the right movie threat. Personally I thought the cast would have been able to transcend its TV roots if the stakes had done so first.

Joss needed to focus those threats more, probably combine them into one, which would have elevated the entire movie in almost every way I can think it needed to be elevated.

By Blogger cvcobb01, at 1:45 AM  

Honestly, who in their rights minds thought it would be a hit?

No stars--not even TELEVISION stars. Well, except for Ron Glass, and they killed him.

The movie shares its name with a line of adult hygiene products.

The two least popular genres in the movies right now--space opera and horse opera--and Whedon thought it would be a good idea to COMBINE them?

The whole concept behind the Serenity-verse makes no sense at all. He wants to avoid ships that can go faster than light, because he thinks that's implausible. He doesn't want to be limited by a set number of worlds for his heroes to visit. So he just decides (without even explaining it properly) that the story is set in a 'mega-system', and he won't even tell us how many planets and habitable moons there are on it--or how the hell they all got terraformed, or why the worlds at the edge of the system are hotter and drier than the ones closer to the sun. "Don't Fence Me In", you can almost hear him saying. Well, he could get away with this slipshod approach in a universe based on magic--not one based on science.

Real science fiction writers, like Harlan Ellison, turned their noses up at this tripe. Isaac Asimov used to say that writers who didn't understand science fiction would just write a western in space. He could hardly have imagined anybody would take him that literally.

It wasn't particularly well written, acted, produced, or directed.

I appreciate that a lot of people loved it, and love is irrational, and there's no arguing with it.

There's also no arguing with indifference, which is the emotion with which the vast majority of TV watchers and filmgoers viewed Firefly/Serenity.

Whedon himself has pronounced it dead.

Now his primary concern isn't reviving Firefly--he's got to revive his career.

By Blogger ksnake, at 8:51 AM  

"Whedon himself has pronounced it dead." WHAT?! When?

ksnake - I followed your logic until your last two sentences. I agree that people have an irrational love of the 'verse(me included). I agree the public was indifferent to it. I agree that the whole concept is fairly implausible (although I have a hard time believing that's why ANYONE didn't go and see it). I agree that the acting, producing and directing wasn't award winning(although I felt they were all solid). And the writing was necessarily bogged down with exposition.

But when did Joss pronounce the Firefly universe dead? The movie basically broke even at the box office and all accounts say the DVDs are selling solidly. Is a sequel that out of the question? Perhaps made for television? All the actors are willing to do it as well as Joss. And if that doesn't happen there will be more comic books coming out in the near future.

And as for Joss's career. He is working on two movies (Goners and Wonder Woman). He is writing the best selling Astonishing X-Men comic book and will soon be launching a Buffy series.

And if those movies fall through he can always go back to being a very successfull (Academy Award nominated) script writer (Toy Story, Speed, Titan A.E. are to his credit).

By Blogger Jay, at 12:57 PM  

I think at least part of My Big Fat Greek Wedding's success was the fact that it was known for being Tom Hank's pet project. Who needs good writing when Hanks' name gives it buzz?

By Blogger Crystal, at 1:52 PM  

Joss-holes...

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 6:12 PM  

Whedon has said in a number of recent interviews that a sequel is pretty much never going to happen. This is something many 'Browncoats' have acknowledged, sad though they are to do so. He didn't use the word 'dead', but that was the overall gist--"Serenity: My phone is withdrawn and silent". He's ben more direct lately, and basically said there is no reason to think there'll be any more Serenity. Comics? Novelizations? Sure, possibly, if he gets the time--there's a large enough audience for that, if he wants to waste his time. TV? Movies? Nuh-uh.

The movie did not break even at the box office--not even close. The DVD hardly broke any sales records (and its rentals were downright putrid). Universal will break even, or even make a slight profit eventually, as they would with almost any movie in that budget range. But in the movie biz, breaking even, or making a slight profit, is failure, and does not lead to sequels. The entire worldwide gross was less than the production budget (which is maybe half what a studio spends on a worldwide release, including promotion, distribution, and prints)--and the studio gets about 55% of the entire worldwide gross. Do the math.

Goners is not in any sense an active project--Whedon never talks about it at all at this point. He sold Universal the script back around the time Serenity came out--Universal didn't commit to making the movie, and Whedon's principal backers there are no longer in a position to greenlight it. You might imagine that his stock at Universal has fallen just a wee mite since Serenity's release. I don't think that movie will ever happen, but there's definitely nothing happening now. Probably just as well. Nope, Goners is precisely what its title indicates.

Wonder Woman is just a very iffy prospect right now. Whedon finished a first draft, turned it into the producers--and they sent it right back to him, without even showing it to the studio. Not a good sign. He's admitted to struggling with it. He has not turned in a second draft at this time, I don't believe. I wouldn't call that project dead, but the disappointing performance of Superman Returns has not done it any favors. There may be no movie at all for the next few years, or they could simply take it away from him. That might be preferable to his getting to make it, and proving, yet again, that movies are just not a suitable outlet for his talents. Another flop--a big budget one this time--would really finish him off.

The guy has talent, and nobody can seriously deny that. But he's in serious serious trouble now. Yes, he can probably always find work, and that's fine, but he wants to be doing big movies, and to be able to create TV shows with no network oversight or interference. He wants power, and in Hollywood, power is a matter of perception. A few years ago, he was perceived as the creator of one of the hottest cult TV hits ever (though only a CULT hit--Buffy got lousy ratings by regular network standards). Now he's in danger of being perceived as the creator of a flop TV series that he refused to let go of, and ended up turning into a flop movie.

I'm not insulting the guy--I genuinely admire his best work. I can't honestly say I've seen him produce any of it in the last few years, though. Hope he bounces back. But I like what I like--and I liked Serenity so much, I walked out halfway through. I walked out of King Kong as well. It was a bad year for genre wunderkinds.

By Blogger ksnake, at 8:54 PM  

Oh, I forgot to mention last night--there is no Buffy Animated Series. That one's really dead. He's also said that the Spike movie he was hoping for make (actually Tim Minear would have been making it) is not going to happen.

Other than comics, the ONLY thing Joss Whedon is working on now is the script for Wonder Woman, which is taking him an awfully long time to finish. And that movie isn't greenlit yet. No script, no star, no shooting date, no release date, no nothing. It most certainly will not be in theatres by 2007. 2008 will be out of the question if they don't make significant progress soon.

And again, the box office disappointment of Superman Returns is a serious blow to Wonder Woman, a far less popular character. Bryan Singer, remember, has made several successful films--which is more than Whedon can say. If somebody with such a good track record could fail, so could Whedon, whose favorite movie excuse ("they rewrote what I wrote and I wasn't directing!") doesn't hold water now that people have seen Serenity--which is PRECISELY the movie Whedon intended to make.

As the old saying goes, be careful what you ask for......

By Blogger ksnake, at 7:34 AM  

Whoa, ksnake--HARSH.

Seriously, while I agree with some of your assertions, there are others that don't really ring true to me.

On this we agree: Wonder Woman ain't gonna happen (at least any time soon). And that doesn't have anything to do with Joss. Why?? Because superhero movies may have run their course--they're expensive to make and audiences eventually get comic book fatigue; unconsciously, most people really don't want to see female super heroes; Wonder Woman in particular doesn't have a well known back story or legions of fans like X-Men or Spiderman; and studios are freaked out at the changing business model--there's a lot of fear as to where the industry's headed.

The smart people DO know what's happening, though. Increasing interest in niche products and incrementalization of the entertainment marketplace. The new business model simply can't support tying up huge amounts of money in potential "blockbusters" that may or may not eventually give a return on the initial investment.

Just this week, I've read stories about Disney laying off people and reducing the number of films they produce each year (from 18 to 8!) and studios balking at paying the ridiculous paydays some big movie stars still think they can command.

Ok, back to Joss. Where does that leave him? In a better position than you seem to think. Hollywood is nowhere without writers and as even you had to admit, the guy has talent in spades. Buffy, Angel and Firefly continue to make lots of money for their studios through very good dvd sales. Serenity, while a box office disappointment (and , no, I'll never admit it was a bomb) continues to sell extremely well on dvd. I don't put too much stock in those dvd charts you can get for free online. They don't include stores like Walmart and Target, that are the real dvd powerhouse sellers. According to the books on new media that I've read lately, Amazon is actually a pretty good indicator of an item's relative popularity, as it is unfettered by middle men (i.e., it is direct-to- consumer sales).

Lastly, just how is it that you know what Joss wants? I highly doubt he's talking to you about his professional aspirations. While I won't give direct quotes, what I'm hearing from the guy is that he's rather do work that a few people LOVE than lots of people like, that genre is where his heart is and that working on comic books, while not a big money making gig, gives him a lot of personal satisfaction. Somehow, I doubt that the Whedons are having trouble feeding their kids or making the mortgage.

There's a whiff of jealousy about your posts here, ksnake. You might want to look to that.

By Blogger Kathy, at 11:54 AM  

The viewpoint of someone who had never heard of Serenity before seeing the film:

Honestly, I think poor marketing sums it up. I'm not a Buffy fan, don't follow Whedon at all, and don't watch TV. But I am a rabid movie wacher -- a regular renter who watches a movie a night and who tries to hit the big openings on the weekends. And I had never even heard of Serenity until the title of an article in one of my online newsfeeds caught my eye -- something like "the best sci-fi movie you've never seen", likely mentioned by Slate or Wired. So I sought it out at the local video store (which owns a single copy) and looked at the box (which I would never have touched otherwise -- too vague, combined with a title that is too new-age or, as ksnake pointed out, too adult hygiene). Standing there with the box in my hand, taking in the artwork and summary, I still likely wouldn't have rented it If Chiwetel Ejiofor hadn't been involved.

But I took it home, watched it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a nice surprise. Knowing absolutely nothing about the backstory or series didn't matter -- it was self-contained. It had Ejiofor and a nice roster of C-listers who were already on my radar (Krumholtz, Paulson, Tudyk), and the commitment to the culture within the film was something you rarely see (I learned later this was because of the TV show -- these actors already know this world, etc.). I don't think the episodic factor, the complexity, or the darker tone worked against it at all -- in fact, I appreciated all those things. It wasn't an awful movie, by any means -- I was entertained, intrigued (though not enough to watch the series) and it was overall a good rental.

But the bottom line is that I had to actively seek it out and take it home with low expectations to experience it (more than the average moviegoe/renter is willing to do). Had it been marketed more successfully (and that includes the one-sheet/artwork), it might have done better.

By Blogger kate, at 3:47 PM  

Why would a space/western fail? Probably because westerns and space movies are to genres that get overlooked by mainstream media. Just because "Silverado" wasn't a blockbuster doesn't mean it wasn't a fine film. But today's Sci Fi films usually feature hammy comedy and big names (Men In Black) or a giant built in fan base and awful films (Trek, Star Wars). FF is still building it's fan base, and it probably won't be appreciated like it should for many years. That said, even as a fan I still can't get past seeing bonnets and wagons in a futuristic space movie. In terms of blending there were too many anachronisms that constantly pushed me out of my story. I just couldn't buy that hundred of years into the future people would talk, act and dress as they did at a very specific moment in Earth's past; the old west. George Lucas did a better job of blending cowboy and sci fi, as did Trek, which itself coined the term Space Cowboy. And Cowboy Bebop borrow heavily from Western motifs without letting it overpower the common sense of the story.

FF uses western themes and southern props that really don't make any right kind of sense, and therefore distract, even if they're powerful funny, like Mal's bonnet. But if the show had lasted long enough to jump the shark, it would still be cool to see Mal riding a horse across open space, even if it didn't make a lick of sense.

By Blogger StonyG, at 7:27 PM  

I just want to make it clear that I'm not reading Whedon's mind--he's made it very clear in recent interviews that while he'd love to do more Firefly/Serenity, there's just no reason to think it'll ever happen, because the movie simply didn't perform nearly as well as it needed to--and blaming the marketing isn't going to fly with the people he needs to convince--he made a movie that was damned near impossible to market effectively.

I'm really surprised any fan of his wouldn't know this--it's no secret. He's actually been refreshingly honest about it in recent months. No more Serenity, no more Buffy, and he hasn't mentioned Goners at all. Wonder Woman is the ONLY future project he's been talking about, and since we agree that one's in major trouble, I'm having a hard time seeing the silver lining, unless he really wants to devote the rest of his life to writing X-Men comic books and the occasional graphic novel. It doesn't take a mindreader to know that's not how he wants his career to end up.

Hollywood needs writers, but writers have little power--and Whedon wants power. He wants to be so successful than nobody in the biz can say no to him--at this point in time, almost anybody can.

Whedon is still basically perceived, correctly, as a television writer--he's had some success in that arena, though hardly huge success. He's very respected, even revered, in certain circles, but is developing the reputation of only appealing to those circles, which is bad.

He's had no success to speak of in terms of movies--nobody in the biz gives him credit for Toy Story, which he just did minor polishing work on. Every film he's had primary writing credit for has flopped, and even many of the critics who praised his writing for Serenity (for reasons I just don't get) mainly thought the direction was unexceptional.

Script doctors are important(and very well paid), but hardly count as movers and shakers in Hollywood. Again, nobody is saying he's going to be on the breadline. But he needs a big success, and soon. And it's looking like there may not be any movie or show with his name on it appearing in the next two years--or more.

I know you'd like to think I'm making this up, but there are many serious Whedon devotees who know better.

By Blogger ksnake, at 7:56 PM  

ksnake makes some interesting points and ultimately sense, regardless of his dislike of Serenity.
I had not heard of FF or Wheldon and had only ever watched Buffy a few times. Some early episodes I liked but the plots were getting a bit lame rather quickly and staying up late to watch them was not attractive. FF was never released to TV here. There were no preconceptions for me apart from the advertising.

I saw the Serenity trailer / advert when the movie was released, and from that, determined the movie would in all likelihood be crap, beneath dignity. Like many other sci-fi fans, I liked Star Wars and the empire strikes back and thought the rest to be targeted at 10 year olds and beneath contempt (the empire should have shot the stupid teddy bears). The Serenity advert appeared to me to be promoting a B-grade Starwars clone that didn’t even have Tim Allen in it. So I ignored it. It was definitely not going to be a Blade Runner, Alien or Matrix.

It has been a while since I have gone to a Theatre to see a sci-fi film. That was the Matrix (the original) and similarly it’s advert inclined me not to see it. My theatre going friends talked me into going (thankfully), as they went back to see the Matrix a second time. It was outstanding and still one of the greatest films I have seen (a topic for another blog).

I finally saw Serenity on DVD at the insistence of a 15yr old. To my surprise the film was a breath of fresh air when compared to the garbage available in the theatres lately. It is no Citizen Kane, but Serenity does not need to be. Like most sci-fi, you need to suspend reality and accept the writer’s universe and enjoy the ride. All up, I liked what I saw and enjoyed a film with a lighthearted / non-pretentious script. However, I needed the background dialogue to be able to understand the plot, and was bemused by the American Western parallel mixed up with an evil empire, but I was able to sit back and enjoy the film (without devotees giggling as each one liner was delivered). I wound up buying a copy of the film.

So why did the film not gross $100M+? Probably due to a combination of a lack of promotion and that the film will only ever appeal to a restricted demographic. Its not a chick flick, does not have any big bad SFX aliens to scare the kiddies, is not an over the top drama, does not have any occult / mystic crap, is a post civil war western set in space and doesn’t really come up with any new angles or mind twists. To break even and deliver a modest profit is in all likelihood a good result.

So why bother with a sequel? The plot reached a reasonable conclusion so let it be and enjoy what was. We don’t need more crap sci-fi sequels (think matrix, highlander, most star wars episodes, pick any Star trek sequel, predator, etc.). Lets hope that Joss W can generate some more good story lines and maybe generate that classic sci-fi film. Its been a long while since we have seen a great sci-fi installment, so one is due. If he’s banking on wonder woman, that will be a big ask

Lets wait and see.

By Blogger Nick, at 11:47 PM  

ksnake, with all due respect, I think you're making an awful lot of assumptions. Do you have mysterious industry connections at the very top? If so, I'm gonna need some sources--names, please--to back up your claims. Otherwise, most of your posts are simply conjecture.

You state: "Whedon wants power". Does he writhe his hands and laugh maniacally in his underground lair while plotting to take over the world? (aside: doesn't Dick Cheney has that angle all wrapped up?) I'm gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that Whedon wants what most of us want--to do the best job he can with the gifts given to him.

"Whedon is perceived as a television writer." For quite some time now, the writing in the best television has been considered by many to be SUPERIOR in quality to that of most feature films. It puzzles me that the "television" moniker is supposed to be an insult. Is this the equivalent of saying he writes like a girl?

"Whedon's had no success in movies." He did more than a polish of Toy Story, much more. And there was this little movie called SPEED that he wrote almost every single line of dialogue for, even though the credit went to another screen writer. What else besides Serenity are you basing this on? Titan AE? Saw it recently with the kids and kind of liked it. They sure did.

I get it. You didn't like Serenity. Okay. But lots of other people did. It didn't make a ton of money but most of us agree that in the end, it will turn at least a small profit. OTOH, no one really seems to like Little Man, but it will make a handsome profit for its studio. Box office gross is no indicator of quality. *shudder*

As far as Whedon's future projects, I'll wait and see what news comes from reputable sources. It's hardly a matter of life and death. But I hope its something really kick ass.

Paraphrasing the man himself: recognizing the power(talent)of someone else does not diminish your own. Good Luck to you in your own writing endeavors.

By Blogger Kathy, at 1:54 AM  

Why Serenity failed at the box office!!! This one's easy!!! NBC/Universal failed to book the movie's cast members and director/writer Joss Whedon for promotional interviews on its tentpole broadcast audience programs, from Jay Leno to Conan O'Brien, and of course, The Today Show, Carson Daly, Extra, Access Hollywood and Dateline NBC. Those shows represent millions of dollars in promotional exposure and could have added tens of millions of dollars to the box office of Serenity. The cast was denied the chance to tell America about their amazing story, in respect to making a movie based on a canceled tv show that has a rabid fan base...Or about their amazing DVD sales (of the program Firefly which spawned the phenomenon...and led to the film
Serenity being made in the first place!!!) This great under dog makes good story...and the triumph of a show creator, a cast, crew and fan base, that wouldn't give up
on it...was never given an opportunity to be shared with the masses!!! Or how things like these
kinds of Cinderella stories are not supposed to happen in Hollywood these days in terms of resurrecting a dead show...especially one that was killed by a network (Fox)
that just didn't give a damn about it!!! By not availing talk show audiences of the origins of Serenity's background...NBC/Universal failed to make the public aware of the grassroots ground swell building in anticipation for the film's
release among its fans!!! And to not employ NBC's own crown jewel shows like the Tonight Show, The Today Show and Dateline NBC, etc.,
to assist in this effort, is down right suspect!!! A major oversight in regard to the company's executes failing to use the powerfully awesome cross promotional tools at their hands!!! But alas...as I mentioned before, no cast members from Serenity were booked on these NBC/Universal interview shows and news magazines, or even their network rivals' programs!!! another amazing and suspect blunder. And with the ousted female executive that championed this movie leaving Universal,
on the eve of its release...well, this is starting to look like the promotional mistakes were intentionally done by Universal to deprive her out of a hit as she was exiting the company...an old industry tactic!!! Now, add to that, the fact that Universal released the film at an odd time...
the fall, rather than during the summer (vacation period)
, the winter holiday season (vacation period), or during the
spring break (vacation period)
...and well, you've got the perfect storm of bad planning. Typically, audiences for big science fiction, fantasy and other high concept films, will only come out to support them during these vacation periods (as detailed above in this text)...because kids, teenagers and adults are too busy with school, work and home projects, etc., in relation to non vacation periods. It is just an economic fact...a reality that has only occasionally been breached. And finally...the name of the movie...Serenity, was underwhelming and told you nothing about the film. When you hear the name Spiderman...you know that you are going to see a Spiderman. With Serenity used as a title...most audiences simply didn't understand what to expect from the movie based on what little
advertisements and promotions they were exposed to!!!

By Blogger MetalWater, at 10:24 AM  

I think it has to do with bad marketing... Not only with the studio, but with the obsessive brown coat fans who put a lot of people off seeing it with their real brown coat style of abusing anyone who didn't agree with their opinion.

They fixed the BBC Film of the Year award so Serenity would win it. They went on vitriolic attacks against anyone who didn't like the movie, why would the populous want to be associated with people like that?

It also didn't help that I looked at every single actor in it and they came across like they belonged in "The Young and the Restless" especially Nathan Fillion. He just oozes soap-opera out of every pore.

By Blogger Paul, at 4:41 AM  

I'd also like to argue with the idea that Superman has flopped.
The movie might have only just broke even world wide, but that discounts the fact that its still opening in most markets (its only been out in the UK a week) and most countries school's haven't broken up yet. Its a critical success, its budget is high because of 11 years of messing around with Kevin Smith, Nic Cage, McG, Brett Ratner, Brendan Fraser etc. etc. A sequel wouldn't cost anywhere near as much.

Superman is here for a long haul I think. Its certainly not a flop yet, its only been three weeks since first release.

By Blogger Paul, at 4:54 AM  

Back from vacation--not sure anybody's still reading this, but what the hell--

nickaway, with all due respect, I think you're the one making an awful lot of assumptions. I never said I had any mysterious industry connections--over and over, I keep trying to explain that everything I'm saying is common knowledge, and ead obvious to anybody paying attention. Whedon has publically ruled out another Serenity movie--he'd like to do it, but it's not an option. He's also made it clear that there will be no Buffyverse-related projects in the forseeable future. And he's not talking about Goners at all.

Now if you want a mess of links, I'll try to dig that up. But seriously--just read his latest interviews. Not one positive comment in the past several months.

Are you seriously saying you don't think Whedon--or any other Hollywood writer/producer--doesn't want the power to just do whatever he wants? I remember a very specific comment from Whedon--he said he wouldn't go back to television until he'd gotten so big in movies that he could come back and essentially write his own ticket--he's still rankling over Firefly being canceled. But honestly--how can people still say FOX was wrong to cancel Firefly? How can they say it was the promotion that was screwed up, when it failed TWICE--once at FOX, once at Universal.

And no, that doesn't make him Dick Cheney. Thankfully. (g)

Yes, some television writers are better than some movie writers. And for that matter, a lot of television writers are better than Joss Whedon (David Fury, to name one). But it's about perceptions--you talk about how Whedon is PERCEIVED to be a brilliant writer by many, which is unquestionably true--that he is perceived as a great writer--he's really just a clever one, IMO. But no arguing that amongst some fans and critics, he's perceived as a genius.

So can you understand that in the business he works in, the PERCEPTION that he's a TV guy, not a movie guy, is significant? Even a lot of the critics who raved about Serenity found ways to say in their reviews that he should go back to television.

He's a good script doctor, but that doesn't make him a great screenwriter. Rewriting other people's dialogue, around other people's stories, just doesn't count for very much. I've never seen any mainstream article not devoted specifically to Whedon that credits him as the secret of Toy Story's success--or Speed's. He was a factor, sure--but how does he do when the script is fully conceived and executed by him? So far, not so good.

You really don't get it. I didn't like Serenity. I also didn't like a lot of movies that were huge hits. I'm not talking about what I like or dislike. I'm talking about what the general moviegoing public likes and dislikes, and how the industry perceives Whedon--as a guy who appeals very strong to a small niche audience, but who has yet to break out of that ghetto.

I really do get it--you liked Serenity--but most people didn't. Otherwise, positive word of mouth would have kept the box office afloat after opening week, regardless of how badly it was promoted. You keep talking to people with the same tastes as yourself--this is how a bunch of people hypnotized themselves into thinking Howard Dean was going to be the next President of the United States. Including me, sad to say. This is what comes of living inside a bubble--instead of reality.

Will Serenity make a profit? Nobody really knows. Most movies eventually do, you know--even the failures--but they're still failures. A small profit is a failure, because it's such an expensive business. If every Universal picture was exactly as successful as Serenity, Universal would have to declare bankruptcy in two years.

And I really don't know why you bring "Little Man" into this. Yes, it looks awful, but it's already a success, and that's because those guys understand their audience. You do understand that as far as what's good or bad, it's all subjective, right? People can enjoy a bad movie--hey, I'm a nut for Ed Wood films. People aren't interested in whether this makes them look cool in the eyes of a handful of cranks who want to watch people in hokey western outfits piloting spaceships. It's their money, not yours. They don't exist to promote the careers of your personal idols. Most of the movies coming out these days suck. So did Serenity, IMO. I've also seen movies I really loved do badly--but I had no problem understanding why they did badly. Nor did I whine about it afterwards.

As far as "reputable sources" are concerned, wouldn't you say Whedon was a reputable source? No Serenity 2. No Spike telemovie. No Buffy animated series. And he's just not talking about Goners at all.

He's working like hell on Wonder Woman, and he better, because his first draft got sent back without even going to the studio. Want a reputable source? How about Joel Silver, who hired Whedon, and can fire him anytime he wants to.

http://www.ifmagazine.com/feature.asp?article=1583

Understand that these guys ALWAYS try to make things sound like they're going better than they really are. So if this is what Silver is saying in public.....well, let's see what happens next year. If anything. We know nothing's happening this year.

So for an effects-heavy movie like this, we're talking about Summer 2008--at the earliest. And never at the latest, because the flop (yes, I said FLOP) of Superman Returns puts a serious question mark on all of this. And casting an unknown is not going to be terribly popular with the studio, I'd guess.

Face it, other than his comic book gigs, there's going to be nothing from Joss Whedon in the next two years--minimum.

And who said I had any writing endeavors? Why can't somebody have an informed opinion without being accused of wanting to get into the biz? I'm a fan--a fan of Whedon's, at one time. Then came Firefly, and I had to ask--did he just get lucky? Did some spirit of collective inspiration make him look like more than he was? Or did he make the fatal mistake of believing his own hype?

We'll see.

But not anytime soon.



Paraphrasing the man himself: recognizing the power(talent)of someone else does not diminish your own. Good Luck to you in your own writing endeavors.

By Blogger ksnake, at 8:28 AM  

Whoops--sorry, double negative--but again, seriously, do you not believe Joss Whedon would like the power to greenlight any project he wants? That's kind of a no-brainer, man.

And if he ever gets that power, his fans are suddenly going to find him to be a lot less accessible.

Wish you could edit these posts. Weird format.

By Blogger ksnake, at 8:30 AM  

Ksnake,

When someone builds a castle from a deck of cards, are you the one who blows it down?

By Blogger Sam, at 11:03 PM  

Like any show thats going to be proposed for s eries they made a pilot. In this case an extended pilot. And like all pilots it was tested in front of an audience. It didn't pass. That simple.

If you want to know why you'd have to check out the comments on all the viewing surveys.

But i'd dare to say that most of what people are commenting on here as to what they didn't like about it would be a good representation.

ie. no big names, story/plot was too dark, acting wasn't so great, there was nothing likeable about all or most of the characters to endear them to the audience, etc.

not that these are my personal opinions, but thats irrelevant. when a studio gets negative feedback that exceeds a certain threshold criteria they pull the plug.

basically, Serenity while it had some good points just didn't make the grade to deserve a half hour or more on t.v.

but at least they were smart about it. it WAS good enough to at least make a movie about. they made their money and they were successful.

i'd say thats a lot better than doing a failed run on television.

By Blogger Vektor, at 10:02 AM  

It took me a while to like the TV show (particularly since it was shown out of order). Once I saw the series on DVD, I loved it.

I was worried by the really awful trailer for Serenity. The female characters were basically non-existant. Now, this wasn't true in the movie, but people watching the Serenity trailer might have assumed that the women were just window dressing.

I generally liked the movie Serenity, thought I HATED the ending. But it was much more thoughtful than most SF movies. It could have benefitted from one name actor somewhere (I do love the idea of Kevin Spacey as the Operator), a trailer that focused on quickly introducing each character and then showed one of those amazing space battle scenes, maybe ending up with a pithy saying from Mr. Universe.

But it's too late now...


Laurie Mann
www.novelexperiment.com

By Blogger Laurie, at 3:31 PM  

What to say, a lot has already been covered. In fact, just going to say I did not see the series, except for one or two episodes I pretty much slept through during late night tv. I thought the movie was great. Good enough to convince me to buy the series and watch it on DVD. I feel the death of the series and failure of the movie at the box office is more the fault of promotion than anything else. As for the rest, it's all good. We will eventually see something new and exciting from this guy or he will fade into memory as everyone eventually does...

By Blogger tijir, at 4:02 PM  

Oh, give me a break. It's simple math. It wasn't released to enough theaters because the studio didn't have enough faith. The first weekend Serenity was released, it came in 2nd against Flightplan (1st) which was in its second week. What no one fails to mention was that Flightplan was in 3,424 theaters and Serenity was only in 2,188 theaters--33% less theaters than Flightplan and later Doom. Doom which was touted as a number one hit was released to 3,044. Flightplan's boxoffice weekend gross that week was $14,805,739 while Serenity was $10,086,680 and everyone mourns Serenity's failure. If Serenity had been in 3,424 and it's average per theater had been the same, it would have grossed $15,784,640 beating Flight plan by a million but not Wallace and Grommet, the next week's #1. Around the world, the stories the same, the studios did not release it to as many theaters as, say, Doom or they simply did not release Serenity at all. Many European countries releases were cancelled and all the Asian countries and yet Serenity hit #1 in the UK although it was only in 355 theaters. (for comparison purposes, Flightplan was released in 418 theaters and Harry Potter in 536). I am not saying that Serenity is necessarily a great movie but it could have done a lot better in receipts if it had been released in America and internationally in as many theaters as say Doom or Aeonflux. I also think it didn't help Serenity that it didn't hit the theaters until September instead of midsummer a originally planned because a Christmas DVD version was already announced and most theaters push movies out the door when a DVD is on the horizon. In it's first weekend Serenity averaged $4,610 which is not great but it was held to lower number of theaters. It was not until Flightplan averaged $1,880 that it was in only 2,513 theaters. By that same average, Serenity was down to 1,709 theaters. Barring fantasy with a strong child demographic like Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia, Serenity held up well against that year's audience with other science fiction and fantasy offerings.

However, where Josh failed was that the strength of Firefly was in the group and he choose to make Serenity like most movies, focusing on the Captain as the main protagonist and River as backup with a strong villain. So basically it was a typical triad: hero, woman and villain. Difference was that the woman could kick the villain's ass if she had had a chance. Firefly's strength was the team bonding and the laughter. Many movies do this-focus on A hero rather than The team like killing off the team in Mission Impossible in the first 10 minutes to leave the hero Tom Cruise. But Serenity should have kept to the team paradigm like the Star Trek films so that a person who didn't watch Firefly would care when Wash and Shepherd died. As it was, they were more disposable than Mr. Universe. And yeah, the Captain and Inarra should have gotten more hot and heavy. Josh treated their romance as if the series was going to restart. But the movie did better in filling seats than most people gave it credit for -- it just wasn't released in enough theaters. And where people weren't so hung up on the fact that it came from a TV show -- it did 30% better at filling seats than in the UK in America where many reviewers were stuck on the fact that it's precedent was in a recent tv series (rather than one from the 60's or 70's). anyways. that's may take. So the average was about 30% better in the European countries that it was realeased in. It hit #2 in Russia (CIS) which surprised me. For some reason it was just released in Egypt May 31, 2006 at #16 but this is a year after the DVD has been released. The theater down the street which played it last year is announcing it's bringing it back for a second run in September so Serenity must have had a bigger audience than people think. Definitely not a box office failure. More of a studio failure to release it to enough theaters making a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By Blogger lafren, at 7:20 AM  

oops, did I forget to say Serenity hit #1 in the UK?

By Blogger lafren, at 7:28 AM  

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