Monday, December 13, 2010

Sinking Early

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was the number one film at the box office this weekend.  You would think that this is great news for Narnia fans.  Unfortunately, it opened with an anemic $24 million, less than half of what Prince Caspian took in on its opening weekend in 2008, despite the fact that Dawn Treader had the benefit of higher 3D ticket prices.  When Fox took over for Disney as Walden Media's partner for the Narnia series, they hoped that they could resuscitate the Narnia franchise by returning to the formula that seemed to work for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: a holiday release date, a family-friendly marketing campaign to erase the dark and battle-heavy memory of Prince Caspian, and aggressive outreach to church audiences (not to mention a budget significantly reduced from the pricey Prince Caspian).  Sadly, the box office trajectory for these films is in a steady downward direction, and Disney's decision to get out of the Narnia business is looking pretty smart.

In 2005, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe shocked everyone when it grossed $291 million, outperforming big holiday competitors like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Peter Jackson's King Kong.  Disney thought it had itself a new fantasy-lit franchise on par with Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.  Unfortunately, Caspian underperformed for a number of reasons and grossed only $141 million.  Disney decided the Narnia was less of a franchise and more of a one hit wonder.  But Walden persuaded Fox to pick up the franchise and try again.  So if Fox "fixed" the perceived problems with the franchise, what happened?  Well, the soft opening of Dawn Treader signals that the ongoing appeal of Narnia is simply limited.  The series is really only widely known for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  And each of the subsequent books in the series stand alone as a self-contained stories.  This leaves only the die-hard Narnia fans to keep coming back.

There is a little bit of silver (chair) lining to this cloud: the film had a strong $80 million opening in foreign territories.  If it can continue to draw audiences during the holidays and does solid business overseas, Fox could still see enough of a return on its investment that goes forward with more films.  Unfortunately, Dawn Treader looks like it is following the path of other failed fantasy-lit films such as The Golden Compass and Eragon.  In the end, it will be up to Walden Media to decide what to do with the franchise if Fox walks away.  Instead of sharing costs with a big studio, Walden could choose to bankroll the next film (likely The Silver Chair) all on its own without a big studio splitting the cost.  Walden could then shop it to the major studios purely for a distribution deal.  This would be similar to the deal that Marvel made with Paramount before Marvel was acquired by Disney.  Under that old deal, Marvel financed Iron Man and Iron Man 2 all on its own, but paid Paramount a fee for marketing and distribution.  It's a long shot, but it may be the best hope for those longing to hear Aslan roar on the big screen again.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wake Up Call

Sometime on Thursday, Tangled will cross the $100 million mark at the box office, an important milestone that indicates that the movie is well on its way to being Disney Animation's first big hit in several years.  Perhaps in the future we will look back on Tangled as the start of a new renaissance for Walt Disney Animation Studios after a string of  disappointments.  Of course, this isn't the first time that the animation studio has pulled itself out of a long slumber.  Released this week on DVD, Waking Sleeping Beauty tells the story of how the studio ushered in a new era of animated classics in the 1980s and 1990s, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.  I had the opportunity to watch the documentary at a special screening at the Smithsonian earlier this year, and I was mesmerized.  Seldom does Disney pull back the curtain on itself in such an open and honest way, but the filmmakers (Disney animation vet Don Hahn and former Disney animation executive Peter Schneider) received an astonishing level of cooperation from the company and from the key figures involved in the behind-the-scenes drama:  Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy Disney.  In many ways, the film covers much of the same ground as the excellent book DisneyWar, but with a particular focus on the animation studio and the people that worked there.  If you are a Disney fan, an animation fan, or simply interested in the business of show business, I highly recommend you give Waking Sleeping Beauty a look.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey & Crow

Well, it turns out that turkey isn't the only thing I'm eating this Thanksgiving season.  And I couldn't be happier about it.  I've been pretty strong in expressing my frustration with Disney's marketing campaign for Rapunzel Tangled, going so far as to predict that the film would be yet another disappointment for the "new and improved" Walt Disney Animation Studios, regardless of the movie's actual quality (to be fair, even Disney seemed to be hedging its bets about how the movie would perform ahead of its release).  Man, was I ever wrong.  Tangled opened this past Thanksgiving weekend to a very robust $68.7 million for the 5-day holiday weekend and $48.8 million for the three-day weekend.  That three-day total was just barely behind box office behemoth Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, resulting in an unexpectedly close box-office raceJust as importantly, Tangled received an extremely rare CinemaScore from audiences of "A+."  Clearly, people really like this movie and positive word of mouth should sustain the movie in the weeks ahead.  If Tangled continues to perform well through Christmas, Walt Disney Animation will finally have the one thing that has stubbornly eluded them since the Pixar team of John Lasseter and Ed Catmull took over in 2006 -- a Pixar-sized hit.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Focused on the Family?

Avatar (Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition + BD-Live) [Blu-ray]Last week, Fox announced the details of the new super deluxe 3-disc DVD release of Avatar.  It has all the usual bells and whistles and more.  But what really caught my attention was the inclusion of a "Family Audio Track" that purportedly removes all objectionable language.  To my knowledge, this is the first time that the home video release of a major blockbuster has offered this kind of option and it reminded me of the controversy from a few years ago concerning ClearPlay and CleanFlicks.  

At the time, the movie studios and a group of notable directors objected to the idea that someone else could tamper with their creative work without the approval of the studio or the filmmaker.  ClearPlay, which offers a DVD player that allows parents to filter out offensive content without actually altering the film itself, was eventually protected by federal legislation in 2005.  CleanFlicks, which edited films and then produced and sold the edited copies, was effectively shut down by a lawsuit for violating copyright law in 2006.  In this instance, however, it is the studio itself that is offering a cleaned up version of the movie; and given director James Cameron's meticulous attention to every detail of his films, it can be reasonably assumed that he approved the new audio track as well.  Studios and filmmakers do this sort of thing regularly, of course, producing edited versions of films for airlines and for broadcast television.  But this is the first time that I've seen such an edit made commercially available (the general practice actually works the opposite direction, with DVDs regularly providing unrated versions of films that promise even more profanity, nudity, gore, etc.)

What makes this feature all the more refreshing is the fact that it is so unnecessary from a business standpoint.  Let's face it, Avatar is already the highest grossing film of all time.  There's not much room for significantly expanding the audience and the DVD will sell millions of copies regardless of the audio track.  But it's a nice tip of the hat to discerning parents who were maybe on the fence about letting their 9 or 10-year-old see the movie.  You may find other aspects of Avatar objectionable, such as the political subtext or the violence, and an alternate audio track won't fix that for you.  But if you consider it to simply be a really cool sci-fi epic with a little too much rough language for younger ears, the family audio track just might give you a nice option for sharing the movie with your kids. And just as every big movie has jumped on the 3D bandwagon in light of Avatar's success, perhaps more films will follow this example and give families more home viewing choices.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Disney's record-setting year

Yesterday, as Disney announced that Toy Story 3 had become the first animated film to cross the $1 billion mark in global box office, it also trumpeted another significant milestone, becoming the first movie studio to have two films released in the same year gross over $1 billion worldwide.  It's a remarkable achievement, as both Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3 have easily surpassed whatever high expectations anyone might have set for them.  When you add in the success of Iron Man 2, which was distributed by Paramount but produced by Disney-owned Marvel Studios, it's been an unprecedented year of success at the box office for Disney.

Well, almost.  After all, there were those two high-profile releases from Disney's resident hit-maker, Jerry Bruckheimer.  First it was Prince of Persia, which kicked off the summer with designs to be the next big Disney franchise in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean.  Next came The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which reunited the director, producer and star of the National Treasure films for another attempt at a new franchise.  Both have been pretty big busts.  With combined budgets of over $350 million, plus marketing and release costs that likely exceed $200 million, the two films together have brought in about $480 million worldwide.  In other words, they've lost a lot of money.  In hindsight, it seems pretty clear that Disney would have been better off continuing the Narnia series instead of trying to build a new fantasy franchise from scratch.  And it seems equally clear that Bruckheimer, Nicolas Cage, and Jon Turteltaub should focus their energies on National Treasure 3.  Then again, what's a loss of a few hundred million dollars when you are raking in over $2 billion?

Looking at the rest of the year, Disney still has two big releases yet to come.  The first is Rapunzel Tangled, the latest animated princess film for the holidays.  The marketers at Disney have no idea what to do with this film and American audiences.  They are so paralyzed by the relatively disappointing performance of The Princess and the Frog that they are completely scared of selling this film for what it is, which is a slightly new twist on a classic fairy tale told in the Disney style.  As a result, audiences are going to have no idea what this movie is and they aren't going to go see it.  Just compare one of the international posters, which still uses the original title, with the domestic poster.  Which one makes more sense and is more appealing?  I'm afraid Disney animation may have another disappointment on their hands.

Finally, there's Tron: Legacy.  In contrast to Tangled, Disney has been marketing this film brilliantly.  if the film is anywhere close to as good as what we've been shown so far, it should be a solid hit for the studio.  Hopefully, when 2010 comes to a close, Disney will still have plenty to cheer about.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Disney Shows Off For The Fans

Today was the first day of Comic-Con in San Diego, the annual geekfest that has become a mandatory destination for studios trying to generate buzz for their big tent-pole movies.  Disney made a splash two years ago when it surprised attendees with test footage for a new TRON film that was early in development.  Flash-forward to today, as Disney hosted a full panel on TRON: Legacy, it's big holiday release film for 2010.  The new full trailer is a stunner.

Not too shabby, eh?  Pay close attention to the "young" Jeff Bridges.  Does he pass muster?  Or does he take you to the uncanny valley?  I think it works for me, so long as they don't linger on the eyes for too long.  And unlike recent so-called 3D movies that were only converted to the 3D format as an afterthought to sell more ridiculously high-priced tickets  (I'm looking at you Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender), TRON: Legacy was actually filmed in 3D, which means you'll be getting a much more authentic experience should you choose to fork over the extra money.

But Disney, which has been surprising adept at putting on a good show for the Comic-Con crowd, had a couple of additional surprises.  First there was a taped greeting from Johnny Depp, in character as Jack Sparrow, and in 3D (natch), teasing the audience about the zombies and mermaids that will be featured in next summer's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

But wait, there's more!  Disney had one last surprise up it's sleeve.  Are you ready for another attempt at making a movie out of The Haunted Mansion attraction?  What if I told you that this version was being created by director Guillermo Del Toro and that Eddie Murphy would be nowhere in sight?  Del Toro promises it will be "scary and fun at the same time" and that if you take your kids they will scream.  Sounds good to me!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

First Look: Tangled

Disney has unveiled the first full trailer for it's big holiday release, Rapunzel Tangled.  I imagine it will show before Toy Stoy 3 next weekend.  Watch the trailer and then read my first impressions below.

Consistent with the concept art we've seen, the animation is pretty amazing.  There's something about the depth and texture that I don't think I've seen before in computer animation.  It really does seem like they took the Disney hand-drawn style of animation and translated it into computer animation.

Regarding the movie itself, I guess I'm lukewarm.  Based on the few scenes we're shown, it looks like they're trying a little too hard to convey the message that this is not a "princess film."  The trailer gives the majority of screen time to the hero, emphasizes a jokey tone, and the name "Rapunzel" is never even mentioned.  I'm not sure if that's the right way to go.  I'm also disappointed by the continuing trend of using the clunky "Disney" brand title (instead of "Walt Disney Pictures Presents" or "Disney's").  It just looks awkward.  All in all, I'm still interested in seeing more, so I suppose that's a good thing.  But what about everyone else?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Looking for Prince Charming

After the billion-dollar performance of Alice in Wonderland earlier this spring, Disney executives must have been thinking that 2010 would be a record setting year for the studio at the box office. With Toy Story 3 and Tron: Legacy still to come, that may yet be the case. But with Memorial Day weekend now behind us, it’s clear that Disney’s path to box-office glory has hit a speed bump.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was supposed to be the next big Disney franchise. Based on a popular video game, Prince of Persia was an opportunity to launch a new adventure series in the mold of Pirates of the Caribbean that would appeal to audiences of all ages, spawn multiple sequels, sell shelves of merchandise, and maybe even inspire new attractions in the parks. The film had a promising pedigree, with hit-maker Jerry Bruckheimer producing and Harry Potter veteran Mike Newell directing. Leading up to its opening weekend, the marketing was so ubiquitous that clearly no expense was spared. Alas, the film opened in second place for an anemic $37.8 million for the four-day Memorial Day weekend (only $30 million for the Friday to Sunday period). Prince of Persia, which cost an estimated $200 million to make and heaven only knows how much to market, will be lucky to gross even $100 million at the domestic box office, and so this new franchise is already over before it got started.

Ironically, Prince of Persia was conceived, at least in part, as sort of a replacement for another adventure franchise that Disney had chosen to abandon for its perceived poor performance. 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ended up as one of Disney’s biggest all-time hits, with a domestic gross of nearly $300 million and a global gross of over $700 million. With Narnia, Disney had seemingly found its own family-friendly, fantasy-literary series on par with Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings.

But unlike the Harry Potter franchise, which has released nearly all of its films on a compressed 12 or 18-month schedule, there was a gap of two and a half years between Lion and its sequel, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.*  In addition, Prince Caspian was pushed from the holiday release date that had served its predecessor so well and was released in May 2005, the start of the summer movie season, right between the much buzzed-about Iron Man and the intensely anticipated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. To make matters even worse, the film was marketed badly . Instead of building on the goodwill held toward the first film and the returning characters, Disney pushed Prince Caspian as a dark and intense action movie and tried to position the new title character as a teen heartthrob.

With the long gap between films, the unfavorable competition and an ill-suited marketing effort, Prince Caspian unsurprisingly debuted to a soft $55 million on its way to a total domestic box office take of $141 million and a total global box office haul of $419 million.**  Given that this was far below the performance of the first Narnia film, Disney re-considered its commitment to the franchise. The decision was complicated by the fact that Disney shared the costs and profits for the Narnia films with Walden Media, which actually controls the rights to the books. Walden Media had already begun pre-production on the third Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which was originally slated to be released in May 2010. After haggling with Walden over budget costs, release dates and other issues, Disney walked away from the partnership and Walden will now release Dawn Treader in December with 20th Century Fox.  Prince of Persia was then fast-tracked by Disney to fill the May 2010 slot and here we are.

In hindsight, Disney would have been much better off sticking with the Narnia franchise instead of trying to build a new franchise from scratch. While both Prince of Persia and Prince Caspian cost north of $200 million to produce, Walden had agreed to scale back the budget for Dawn Treader to something in the range of $140 million. Furthermore, Disney would have only been on the hook for half of that because it shared the financial risk (and reward) for Narnia with Walden Media, limiting its exposure in the event of failure. With Prince of Persia, Disney shoulders all of the loss on its own but would have probably been obligated to make significant payouts to Bruckheimer had the film been a success.  With regard to marketing costs, it’s always easier to sell an existing brand then to introduce something new and unknown to the masses.

Finally, the fact the Narnia is already an established brand with at least one well-regarded and popular film to serve as an anchor makes it easier to profit from subsequent films, regardless of how successful they are at the box office.***  The release of a new franchise film inevitably reinvigorates interest in the older films resulting in new sales of DVDs and other merchandise. Simply the ability to bundle the films together as a new box set of the "Narnia Trilogy" could provide new revenue. And because of Narnia’s literary roots, it has a much higher likelihood of enduring as an “evergreen” property that can sustain ventures long after the movies are done, such as theme park attractions.****

In this tale of two princes, Disney simply chose the wrong prince.  Had Dawn Treader been released by Disney in place of Prince of Persia, it is very plausible that it would have out-performed Prince Caspian or at the least done no worse than Prince of Persia.  But Disney would have spent less money overall and had more opportunity for ancillary revenue.  Nonetheless, I have a feeling that a certain cowboy and space ranger will still provide a fairy tale ending for Disney’s summer.

* The tight release schedule serves three purposes: 1) it maintains public interest in the franchise, particularly among fickle younger movie goers; 2) it achieves some efficiency in production costs; and 3) it ensures that the young actors don’t age beyond their characters in between films.
** Although Prince of Persia has debuted to a decent start in international markets and could still prove to be a success in that regard, its opening weekend abroad was 17% lower than the foreign debut of Prince Caspian.
*** It's worth noting that among fans of Narnia, Dawn Treader is widely considered to be the most popular book in the series, while Prince Caspian is generally one of the least popular. 
 **** Disney created a temporary walk-through attraction the Narnia films at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando.  Rumors of a permanent Narnia-themed attraction have percolated on Disney fan message boards for years.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

See You In Another Life, Brother

Let’s get something out of the way right at the start. Playing the “dog card” at the end of a long, emotional story is dirty pool. You all know what I’m talking about. I’m already barely holding it together and then Vincent shows up and lies down next to Jack to keep him company during his final moments. That was it, game over for me. Hand me the Kleenex! (Warning: sad picture included below!) And thus concluded an extremely satisfying and emotionally heart-wrenching finale to Lost. Let’s dig in and look at what happened, what it means, and what it means to me.

Desmond was wrong

Ever since Desmond returned to the Island and had his breakthrough with the sideways world, I thought that both versions of Desmond were working toward the same goal. But we learned that this was not the case and that the two Desmonds were doing two very different things. When Desmond was put in Widmore’s electromagnetic frying pan, he saw a glimpse of the sideways world. He thought it was an alternate reality and timeline, the by-product of “The Incident,” and he thought he could somehow usher his friends there as an escape plan. He was basically operating under the premise that Jack’s original plan to reset the timeline with a hydrogen bomb had worked and he just needed to help everyone get there. But he was wrong. He had not experienced a flash of consciousness through time and space as he has had in the past. What actually occurred was more of a near-death experience and what he had seen was the after-life (or whatever you want to call it, we’ll get to that later). This led to that great exchange with Jack where Desmond tried to persuade him that they could escape to this other reality. No, Jack told him. There are no cheats, no shortcuts, and everything they do matters. I loved this scene because it was the show telling us, the viewers, that this is for real. For so much of the show, fans have wondered whether the Island was real. Maybe it was hell, or purgatory, or a figment of Hurley’s imagination. The show has played with these theories with a wink in past episodes, but I feel like this entire season, and the entire existence of the sideways storyline, was intended to tell us once and for all that the Island is real and what happened to them there mattered. Jack definitively repeated Faraday’s axiom, “what happened, happened,” and he was right.

The Incident

I’m now personally convinced that detonating the bomb didn’t change the timeline at all. It is, in fact, what always happened. It was always a part of the Incident that led to the building of the Swan Station and the hatch and the button. But the Incident was still successful in that it returned our castaways to the Island present. It’s also still possible that the Incident served as the catalyst that led to the creation of the sideways world. Christian Shepherd told Jack that this was the place that he and his friends had created so that they could all be together again. Instead of a reboot of history, the sideways world was more of a metaphysical place of collective consciousness and memory where they could gather when their lives were over. I’m not sure if that’s what really happened, but I think it’s an interesting theory that is at least consistent with what we know.

Desmond was right

The sideways Desmond, in contrast to his Island counterpart, was operating under a completely different reality. Once he actually met and made contact with Penny in the stadium, he recalled full consciousness of his previous life and realized where he was. It then became his mission to reunite all of his friends from the Island and help them achieve the same total recall of their old lives so that they could experience the joy of being together again.

Jack and Smokey were both right

Smokey thought that Desmond would destroy the Island. Jack thought that Desmond would enable him to kill Smokey. They were both right. When Desmond pulled the stopper (the cork!), the life-giving water of the Island was drained. (Sidenote: I loved the shot of Jack and Smokey looking over the edge of the waterfall and the way it closely mirrored the shot of Jack and Locke looking down the hatch) This had the effect of literally draining the power from the Island. It started to fall apart. Richard had a grey hair! And Smokey was now physically vulnerable in the corporeal form of Locke’s body. After an exciting duel on the cliff and an assist from Kate, Smokey was defeated, but the Island was still crumbling. Fortunately, as we’ve been told a couple of times this season, nothing is irreversible. Jack believed that he could go back into the magic cave and put the cork back in and replenish the water of the Island.

Partings and Meetings

The last act of the episode was punctuated by a series of farewells and reunions. Jack and Kate said goodbye to each other, with each finally and sincerely professing their love for each other. When Kate lamented, “Tell me I’m going to see you again,” it was almost tragic. For anyone that cared about the whole Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle, it felt that we were given closure that the relationship between Jack and Kate was ultimately the real deal. Then Hurley and Jack said their good-byes, and that was also a heartbreaking. I really liked the symmetry of each telling the other “I believe in you.” I also think Hurley is a fantastic choice to protect the Island. In hindsight, his arc this season clearly prepared him for the role. Ben’s encouragement to Hurley was a very sweet encapsulation of why we love Hurley: “you can start by doing what you do best – taking care of people.”

In the sideways world, Desmond’s project was gaining traction and we were treated to multiple reunions of friends long-parted. The grin on Hurley’s face when he first saw Charlie melted my heart, but the reunion between Claire and Charlie and between Sawyer and Juliet really cranked up the waterworks for me. I was deeply moved in a different way by Ben’s contrite confession to Locke and Locke’s offer of forgiveness. By the time we reached the church with Jack, I knew we were close to resolution. Jack’s reconciliation with his father was brief, but still touching and cathartic.

Turned Sideways

I’ll be honest, I didn’t completely grasp that everyone in the sideways world was dead until the same moment that Jack did. I don’t know whether to properly designate this place as heaven, or the after-life, or purgatory. I think I like Christian Shepherd’s description the best: it’s a place where they can all be together again. Beyond my half-baked theory above, I don’t want to worry too much about what the sideways world actually is. I’m more interested in what it means.

The thing I loved the most about the finale is that the show found a way to bring back all the characters that we’ve loved and lost without negating or diminishing all of the tragedies and sacrifices we’ve experienced over the last six seasons. The ending wasn’t a cheat; it was an earned reward for both the characters and the audience. I think that’s why we spent a whole season exploring the sideways world with the characters before we knew what it really was. They didn’t want the ending to feel cheap and tacked on. They wanted this to be an authentic part of the journey. It was also just another fun mystery to explore during the final season. Here’s a new question to explore: why did Jack have a son in the sideways world? My theory is that he was a projection of the kind of relationship Jack wanted to have with his own father. I think you could go through each character’s experience in the sideways world and explore what it tells us about him or her.

Where they left things

For people keeping score, we know that Sawyer, Kate, Claire, Miles, Richard, and Lapidus made it off the Island. We know that Hurley, Ben, Desmond, Rose, Bernard, and Vincent are still on the Island. It’s possible there are a few other survivors still on the Island too who scattered after Smokey’s purge of the temple and Widmore’s mortar attack on the beach. I’d like to think that Hurley found a way to get Desmond home to Penny and Charlie. I’d also like to think that Claire had a happy life with Aaron and that maybe Sawyer even established a relationship with his child. I imagine that Hurley and Ben had a long and successful reign on the Island full of great adventures with new Island visitors (Do I want to see any of those adventures? Okay, sure!).

The End

When Jack emerged from the other end of the cave and started wandering through the bamboo forest, I realized where we were headed. I knew that they were recreating the opening scene of the show. I even guessed that Vincent would probably show up, just as he did in the beginning. It did not matter that I knew, I was still a mess. It was a beautiful scene, and I loved that he got a glimpse of the plane flying overhead so that he had the comfort of knowing he really had saved his friends. Jack had fulfilled his purpose, and he was at peace.

What did you expect?

If you are someone who was frustrated by the finale, I neither share your disappointment nor understand it.  I acknowledge that the show didn’t answer every single mystery. Why was Walt so special? What was up with Jacob’s cabin? Why do women die during childbirth on the Island? Why was there a Dharma supply air drop in 2004? What makes Eloise Hawking so creepy?

This is what I say to that -- So what? Yes, I was hoping for a few more answers to some of those questions too. But having those answers now would not change the way I feel about the finale or the way I feel about the series as a whole. I was more invested in the characters than I was in the questions. Life is full of mystery, and sometimes we don’t get all of the answers. I think the audience has taken for granted just how many questions the show did answer. Furthermore, part of the fun of Lost was debating and theorizing about the unanswered questions. Think of the unresolved questions as a parting gift that allows the discussion to continue. Fittingly, the finale focused firmly on the characters. Isn’t that they way it should have been? Didn’t you want a happy ending? One reason I was so delighted by the episode is that I didn’t actually think we would get a happy ending! Now that the story has been told, do any of those unanswered questions still matter?

Why it matters

To me, Lost has been the best television show of the past decade, and deserves a place as one of the great television shows of all time. The trippy narrative structure, the great cast, the mind-bending mysteries and the cool sci-fi elements all contribute to its greatness. But I think its real greatness lies in the themes and issues it explored. Destiny, free will, faith, redemption, renewal, forgiveness, sacrifice – has any other show explored all of these themes so deeply and intimately? I’m glad that the finale embraced the spirituality of the show.

I’ve been a fan of Lost from the very beginning. Although I still consider the first season to be the very best of the series, the last two seasons of Lost have been particularly resonant for me. We’ve watched as Jack has evolved into a Man of Faith. As he began his quest to return to the Island, he never understood exactly what he was doing or why he was doing it, but he took a leap of faith and believed that there was a purpose behind it and that he was fulfilling a calling that was entrusted only to him. In the last 18 months, I’ve experienced circumstances in my own life that have led me to grapple with the same questions that Jack faced. Do things happen for a reason? Do we have a purpose? Will these present trials be woven together like one of Jacob’s tapestries into a greater whole? I’ve always believed that the answer to these questions is “yes,” but watching Jack’s journey has been a great source of comfort and encouragement. I’ve seen online multiple stories of others who have faced their own life struggles and have found the same kind of consolation.

I will miss many things about Lost. I will miss Sawyer’s nicknames. I will miss Michael Emerson’s alternately creepy and hilarious portrayal of Ben Linus. I will miss the love story of Desmond and Penny. I will miss the amazing music by Michael Giacchino. But most of all, I will miss the current of hope that consistently ran through the show. Whether it was the hope of rescue, the hope of redemption, or the hope of chasing destiny, the show was at its best when the characters looked beyond their present tribulations to the promise of something beyond. Perhaps nothing embodies this sense of hope better than the launching of the raft in the first season, one of my all-time favorite scenes from Lost. As the survivors celebrate the raft’s departure and the music swells, the emotion is palpable. They believed in each other and in their collective ability to overcome. In a small church somewhere in the beyond, their hope was realized.  They were no longer lost, because they had found each other.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The End is Nigh

At the end of 2008’s The Dark Knight, Commissioner Gordon states that “sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” And after this week’s penultimate episode, “What They Died For,” I believe that my faith has been rewarded! This was another great, eventful episode that has me giddy with anticipation about what the finale will bring.

Although he’s been so passive on the sidelines for much of this season, I was ecstatic to see Ben step back into the fray. The painful reminder of Alex’s death, followed so closely by his encounter with Widmore, the man Ben holds responsible for that death, clearly set him off. I have no idea what his true motivations are, but I want to believe that ultimately Ben will find some sort of redemption. How fantastic was his story in the sideways world? The new suburban, single-mom Rousseau was a delight and a genuine surprise for me. I’m also completely hooked on Desmond’s quest to draw everyone together. Of all the things I’m looking forward to in the finale, I’m perhaps the most excited to see what happens to the sideways world. Also, who do you think Jack’s ex-wife and David’s mother will be (assuming that we will get to find out)? A lot of people think it will be Juliet, but I’m personally hoping that we’ll get to see Sarah (Julie Bowen) again.

Back on the Island, the remaining candidates dealt with the aftermath of the submarine. Josh Holloway has played grief really well this season, and Sawyer’s conversation with Jack about his culpability for the deaths of their friends was heartbreaking. I was very satisfied by the candidates’ confrontation with Jacob. I spoke with a fellow fan who was disappointed that they didn’t ask more questions about, well, everything. But I found their conversation to be very natural and believable. At this point in the story, I don’t think they’d be very interested in bombarding Jacob with a laundry list of questions. I did enjoy part of Jacob’s answer to Kate as to why her name was crossed off. “It's just chalk on a wall, you can have the job if you want it.” It was a nice reminder to the audience that not every mystery on the Island has earth-shattering significance. And then came the moment that so many of us have anticipated, when Jack embraced the mantle of Island protector. Again, I liked the understated way they handled this scene. A lingering question: How did Desmond get out of the well? Was it Jack and the gang or someone else (Miles? Rose and Bernard?)?

Now it’s time to predict what happens next. What are your grand predictions for how it all ends? Here is my half-brained prediction: Fake Locke will pursue his mission to destroy the Island…and succeed. But the castaways will turn the tables on him so that he is trapped and destroyed too. Meanwhile, Desmond will “rescue” everyone by bringing them over to the sideways world, with one significant exception. Because of Jack’s status as Island protector, he will be unable to cross over and will have to sacrifice himself to defeat Fake Locke. I also have a high level of confidence that I am probably wrong.

What else do I want to see on Sunday? I want to see Vincent again! I’d also love for them to solve a few more mysteries, such as why women die during childbirth on the Island and why Desmond’s vision of Claire and Aaron getting rescued off of the Island (recall that this is why Charlie chose to embrace his death) never happened. But I’m pretty much okay with whatever they choose to answer or not answer.

I do know one thing: I’m going to be sad. It’s hard to put into words just how emotional the end of Lost will be for me. Check back on Monday (hopefully) for some final, concluding thoughts about the finale, what I think it all means, and what this show had meant to me for the last six years. In the meantime, what are your predictions for the finale? What questions do you still want to see answered?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keeping the Faith

When a show has been on the air for six seasons like Lost has, it’s inevitable that there will be a few episodes that just flat-out disappoint you. I don’t know about the rest of you, but last week’s episode, “Across the Sea,” was exactly that kind of episode for me. I even tweeted that I considered it “The Midichlorian Episode.”

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have regularly compared the audience’s demand for answers to all the various mysteries of Lost to the midichlorians of Star Wars. For those who still have no idea what I’m talking about, in the 1999 Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace, George Lucas came up with a extraordinarily lame explanation for what “The Force” is and how it works. Their point was that they could give you answers to all of the Lost mysteries, but you probably wouldn’t like them and the questions are more fun than the answers anyway.

So with last week’s episode, depicting the origins of Jacob and the Man in Black, I felt that the show crossed over into the territory of trying too hard to come up with answers that weren’t really necessary. Some of it was cool, but a lot if just didn’t work for me (the faux-mythic melodrama, the occasionally cheesy effects). It almost felt like a bonus episode that you would find later on the DVD. I was perfectly content with the information that we got from “Ab Eterno,” where Jacob explained to Richard that the Island was a cork. I also didn’t like the placement of the episode. We’re really at the end of the show now. Smokey/Fake Locke is waging war on the candidates and has killed half of them and so now we’re going to take a time out for an Island history lesson? It really disrupted the momentum of the show. We’ve been told all along that the focus of the show is the characters, not the mythology, and this episode, coming so close to the end, contradicted that.

But I’m not writing to just dump on the show I love. And I genuinely do love this show, even if this final season has occasionally left me frustrated. I knew going into this season that I had to let go of my expectations and let the producers tell the story they want to tell. I’ve listened to a couple of podcasts this week where the Lindelof and Cuse have discussed the polarizing response to “Across the Sea.” They’re general response is that they were pleased with the episode and that “this is what answers look like on Lost.” So I’m choosing to trust these guys and trust that there is a reason why they wanted to tell this part of the story at this point in time. There are only three and a half hours left in this story, and I want to enjoy them to the fullest. I’m still invested in Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Hurley and everyone else who’s left, and I want to know what happens! I still have faith that these last few hours will be thrilling, satisfying, and yes, probably a little perplexing too.  I can’t wait.  What are your thoughts on this season as we reach the end?  What questions do you still want answered?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Accidental Wisdom?

On this week's episode of Glee, there's a fascinating scene where Sue Sylvester confronts Kurt about his sexuality.  In short, she tells him that he's only sixteen and that liking show tunes doesn't mean you're gay.  Since Sue followed this with her typical ugliness, and since Kurt responded to this confrontation by unsuccessfully trying to act straight, I guess the show wants us to see Sue's behavior as some kind of intolerance.  But does she kind of have a point?  Are kids who are still struggling to get through puberty and adolescence capable of fully understanding their sexuality?  Does modern society and popular culture force kids into adopting sexual labels and identities unnecessarily?  And can a guy still be effeminate and straight?  Watch the clip below:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lost recap: KABOOM!

Oh, fellow Losties.  Only an incredibly frustrating episode like last night's "The Candidate" could push me out of blogging hibernation.  So let's get right to it.

Sayid, Jin, Sun.  Dead.  (And apparently Lapidus too!)  Sayid's death felt appropriate and earned.  He has spent the last two seasons wrestling with light and darkness, and with his final act he decided once and for all that he wanted to be one of the good guys.  I had no problem with that.  I would still like to know what the "infection" was that Dogen referred to, but I guess that mystery will remain unresolved.

Sun and Jin's deaths?  I had three major problems.  First, (and this applies to Sayid as well) the show has spent the entire season trying to get us to believe in this sideways world that was apparently created when Juliet detonated the bomb.  It finally clicked for me during the Desmond-focused episode from a few weeks ago.  I'm invested in it, I believe it's real, and I believe it's relevant and even critical to how the grand saga of Lost will end.  So now that they've won me over on the sideways world, they have created a real dilemma.  How am I supposed to take these deaths seriously?  They're not entirely dead!  In fact, moments after Sun and Jin's watery demise, I saw Jin alive and well in the hospital on his way to visit Sun!  I think I'm of the mind that unless you die in both realities, I'm just not going to accept that you're really dead.  Second, their deaths were not in any way emotionally satisfying.  This poor couple has been separated from each other since season four.  They were finally reunited as almost an afterthought at the end of the last episode.  And now they've been killed off.  If the show doesn't even care about the Kwons anymore, how am I supposed to care?  Third, did they suddenly forget that they were parents?  "I'm going to die with my wife" is a noble sentiment, but it simply doesn't ring true when there's a child back in South Korea.  Did you notice that neither of them mentioned Ji Yeon in their final moments?  I think it's because the writers knew it wouldn't be believable if they talked about her!  As tragic as Sun's death would be, they would BOTH want Jin to escape to take care of their daughter.  I just don't buy it any other way.

The only other thing I can say about it is this: over the last six seasons, this show has reduced me to tears and puddles of emotion on numerous occasions -- Charlie's death, Desmond's phone call with Penny on the freighter, Sawyer losing Juliet, Jin telling Sun why he has to go on the raft to save her way back in season one -- but last night's deaths did not move me.

Unfortunately, I have one other significant frustration with last night's episode.  The episode finally confirmed that Fake Locke/Smokey is a real bad guy.  But I always thought he was a bad guy, so why did they spend so much narrative energy trying to trick us into thinking that he might be morally ambiguous?  It just seems like they wasted alot of time.  At least now Flocke's agenda is out in the open for the last few hours of Lost that we'll ever see.  Here are a few lingering questions to ponder going forward: what have Richard, Ben and Miles been up to?  What role will Desmond and those pockets of energy play in the endgame?  Will Sawyer now feel the weight of responsibility for the deaths of Sun, Jin and Sayid the way that Jack does for Juliet?  Sideways Jack and now Sideways Locke keep flirting with an awareness of the Island reality but they haven't quite broken through -- what happens when they do?  For my sake, can we please get a Sideways reunion of Claire and Charlie?

I really like what's going on with Jack.  In Sideways World, he is confessing to Locke that he has to work on letting go, and in the previous episode we saw how he was reaching out to Claire and how his relationship with his son is already blossoming.  On the Island, he admitted to Hurley that he is learning to trust other people and that he doesn't have to try and fix everything.  I think that while other characters will choose to "cross over" to their sideways life, Jack is going to have to make the tough choice to forsake this alternate life where everything is pretty good to take his place as Island protector.  Remember Sayid's last words, "Because it's going to be you, Jack."  There are just 4.5 hours left of Lost.  Despite last night's hiccup, I'm still looking forward to a satisfying conclusion.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Destined to be Apart?

Have you ever had a great idea or prediction in your head, but you never told anyone about it? And then a few weeks later your prediction comes true, but now nobody will believe that you thought of it first? That’s me! The moment I saw Sawyer walk past that locked door on Widmore’s submarine during the episode “Recon” I thought to myself, “I bet Desmond is locked in that room. I bet Widmore had to use him to get back to the Island.” But I haven’t blogged in a while so I didn’t get to share my awesomeness with all of you and now, well, whatever. But I totally called that.

So as I was saying, I’ve been absent for a bit. I didn’t get a chance to talk about the fantastic buddy cop show with Sawyer and Miles that debuted in “Recon” (can we please make that into a spin-off?) or the mind-blowing mythology download we were given in “Ab Aeterno” (note: to all the people still complaining that they aren’t giving us any answers, they ARE giving us answers, lots of them, just maybe not the way you pictured it in your head). But I’m here now, so we can talk about “The Package,” the episode where Sun and Jin were finally reunited. Oh wait, that’s right, they weren’t reunited. In fact, they were moved further apart. BLURG! Seriously, what’s up with this? They’ve been doing everything possible to keep these two apart since season four; can we give it a rest already? I’m ready to wrap this thread up. Alas, I have a feeling the show is committed to dragging it out until the end or very nearly the end. And like their Island storyline, the Kwons’ storyline in the sideways world left us hanging too. What else happened in this episode? We got some nice “walk down memory lane” moments with Mikhail, Sun’s garden and Room 23. FLocke confronted Widmore face-to-face (as a diversion for Sayid’s covert op), we learned that Claire still kinda wants to kill Kate (and FLocke kinda really wants her to), and Jin finally got to see his daughter. This was the real emotional gut punch moment of the episode for me (you can’t help but think that Widmore was just using the pictures to manipulate Jin).

So where do we go from here? For all his personal growth, Jack is still over-promising. He promised Sun he would reunite her with Jin AND get them both off the Island, no matter what. Are you sure, dude? Maybe he should have said something like, “I’ll do whatever it takes to find Jin, but I can’t guarantee you what will happen after that.” Something along those lines. Oh well. The stakes for Jin and Desmond are extremely high. They are both separated from the one they love and they both have a child waiting for them back in the real world. If the show screws either one of them out of a happy ending, I think there will be rioting in the streets. As anxious as I am to see Sun and Jin reunited, I am equally anxious to see Ben and Widmore together again. The last time they confronted each other, they were equals of sorts contending with one another for control of the Island. Widmore is still driven and powerful. Ben is now pretty much neutered, a shell of the man he was before. And why is Widmore interested in identifying all of the pockets of electromagnetic energy on the Island? I do think this season is moving slower than I would like, but that’s been true of previous seasons too. We are now running downhill in the second half of this final season, and I think we’ll start to see the pace pick up a little faster from here on out. Did I miss anything big? What did you think?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Catching Up

After a regrettable delay, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about the past two episodes of Lost before tonight's new episode.

I was very saddened, but not surprised, to see Sayid's fall into darkness in "Sundown".  More surprising to me was my sadness at the abrupt departure of Dogen.  I was just starting to really enjoy that character.  The most chilling moment of the episode was the exhange of looks between Ben and Sayid at the very end.  Ben look positively terrified, while Sayid almost had a smile of glee.

I think it's very interesting to see how Fake Locke/Smokey approaches and tempts his potential recruits.  For Sayid, he promised a reunion with his beloved Nadia.  And for Ben, Flocke offered a chance to once again be the leader/protector of the Island.  In each instance FLocke identifies the thing that cuts to the core of what the person desires most. 

I absolutely adored the episode "Dr. Linus".  I am intrigued by the idea that there may yet be redemption for Ben, who for so long has taken the role of "villain" on this show.  I particularly enjoyed his storyline in the parallel world.  We got our first hint of the new Island history, as we were told that the Dharma Initiative existed in this timeline and that Ben was a part of it.  Why did he and his father leave?  And did it have anything to do with the Incident?  It was nice to see Alex again (and Dr. Arzt).  And I was delighted to see that Jack has once again embraced a sense of destiny.  That guy definitely goes all-or-nothing, and he has once again declared that he is all-in and firmly on Team Jacob.

Last thought, I love the beach reunions on this show.  We've had a few of them over the years.  You know what I'm talking about -- after a long separation, our castaways reunite at the beach camp in slow motion, exchanging hugs and handshakes while happy/sad music plays over the scene.  For some reason, the one at the end of "Dr. Linus" felt particularly cathartic.  When Hurley gave Sun a big bear hug, I think a little dust got in my eye.  I bet that Ben, standing off by himself, was secretly wishing for a big Hurley bear hug too.

Lots of other stuff happened -- Smokey cleans out the temple, Widmore is back -- but I'll hold everything else until tonight's new episode.  Back with more soon!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mission 2 Mars

No, I'm not referring to this Disney dud from 2000.  Last week, Disney announced a release date for Mars Needs Moms, based on the children's book by Berkeley Breathed, creator of the classic 80s comic strip Bloom County.  The movie will open on March 11, 2011, occupying the slot successfully used this year by Alice in Wonderland.  To be honest, I had completely lost track of this project.  I remember reading a long time ago that Disney was developing it, which delighted me given that I'm a huge fan of Breathed.  The movie will be another film produced by Robert Zemeckis using his 3-D motion capture technique (The Polar Express and Disney's A Christmas Carol) and will star Seth Green and Joan Cusack.  I'm hoping that instead of creating "dead eye" replicas of the actors involved, the motion capture technology will be used to bring Breathed's distinct illustrations to life intact.

Ironically, Disney also announced last week that it was shutting down Zemeckis' motion capture studio facility, effective January 2011.  The new ImageMovers Digital studio was originally supposed to be the start of a long and fruitful partnership with the Academy Award-winning director that put Disney on the cutting edge of mo-cap special effects.  But given the high costs and disappointing returns associated with A Christmas Carol, Disney has apparently decided to cut its losses.  I assume that waiting to close the facility next January will give Zemeckis time to complete both Mars Needs Moms and Yellow Submarine.

Meanwhile, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland opened to a record breaking $116 million last weekend which, I'm sad to point out, already surpasses the lifetime box office of The Princess and the Frog.  By the end of this weekend, it will likely cross the $200 million mark, and could potentially be on its way to becoming one of Disney's all-time highest grossing live-action films (not taking into account the inflated ticket prices for 3-D and IMAX shows).

Also last weekend, Pixar's Up took home two Oscars, one for Best Animated Feature and another for Best Original Score.  The second Oscar was a nice little surprise and a much deserved recognition for composer Michael Giacchino.  Giacchino is a Disney regular, having also composed the music for The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and tv's Lost.  He will next perform scoring duties for Disney on John Carter of Mars, currently in production.

Finally, if you haven't seen this yet, do yourself a favor.  It just about blew my socks off.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Very Old School

Now that was more like it.  Last night's episode of Lost, "The Lighthouse" was everything I had been waiting for this season.  As Hurley said to Jack, it was "very old school."  About the only thing missing was Julie Bowen, but c'est la vie.  Before we get into the details of last night's episode, a brief addendum about last week.  In my recap, I complained that Sawyer seemed way too gullible.  But Doc Jensen at has set me straight.  In his analysis of that episode, he posits that Sawyer is just going along with FLocke's plan so that he can ultimately protect his friends.  He's in fact hatching a long con of his own.  I like this theory, and its very consistent with the new "hero" Sawyer that we saw last season.  Sawyer may be in a really dark place right now, but I just don't see him selling out his fellow castaways, even Jack and Sayid, but especially Kate and Hurley.

But forget Sawyer, this episode was about JACK.  Finally, Jack was front and center again, the way he was throughout the first season.  I'm convinced that he, not Locke or anyone else, is the central character of the show.  In fact, I'll go out on a limb and predict that Jack is not only a "candidate," he is the candidate, whatever that turns out to actually mean.  The man who has spent the whole series fighting against the Island will ultimately find redemption when he fully embraces the Island and accepts the role that Jacob has for him.  And last night we saw that Jack has come along way, but he also has a long way yet to go.

I liked the way that Jack has come to terms with his flaws and failures.  He confesses to Hurley that he's "broken" and accepts that he wrecked his relationship with Kate.  He can openly admit that he chased his father's ghost to the cave (in the past, he wouldn't even admit to himself that he had seen visions of Christian Shepherd).  On the other hand, while he was drawn back to the Island in pursuit of his destiny, he is once again doubting the Island's significance.  But he is clearly searching for answers, as evidenced by his eagerness to follow Hurley once Hurley passed along Jacob's message.  And Jacob has Jack's number.  He definitely knows what buttons to push to get under Jack's skin, and he seems to have a limitless faith that Jack will eventually end up where Jacob wants him.  So what is the Lighthouse?  Is it really a signal to outsiders, or simply Jacob's spyglass to the world?  Or could it be something that reflects the person using it?  Maybe it only exists to provoke Jack.  Are there really people coming to the Island or was that part of Jacob's ruse?  I was reminded that Jacob whispered to FLocke when he died that "They are coming."  I assumed he was referring to our time travelers, but maybe not.  Regardless, I thought the Lighthouse was far more impressive and fascinating than the cave that FLocke took Sawyer to last week.

In the parallel world, Jack was dealing with the same father issues that have haunted him on the Island, but with a twist.  Jack's a Dad!  That's crazy!  (Who's the mom -- Sarah, or someone else?).  Jack was determined to escape the shadow of his father and forge a new path.  He told his son that he didn't want to pass on the same lofty expectations and fear of failure that Jack felt burdened with from Christian.  In that moment, Jack seemed to make peace with his father in a way that he has never been able to in the other timeline.   For the second straight week, I loved the parallel storyline.  I loved that Jack seems so discombobulated, as if his Island memories are lurking in his subconscious somewhere.  He couldn't remember when his appendix was removed.  Was it when he was a 8 or 9 years old, as his mother reminded him, or was it on the Island when Juliet removed it in the tent?

So many other great things to touch on in this episode.  Hurley is quickly becoming the MVP of the season.  He makes every scene better.  I love the dry comedy of his conversations with Jacob, and I love that he worked in both an Indiana Jones reference and an Obi-Wan Kenobi reference.  I chuckled when Hurley echoed fan hypotheses regarding the Adam and Eve skeletons in the cave.  And then there's Claire.  She's just all kinds of crazy.  What does her association with FLocke signify?  Did FLocke/MIB/Smokey lure her into the jungle that night so that she would be "infected"?  Did he prevent her from time travelling with the other castaways?  Does this confirm that the Christian that we've seen on the Island is just another manifestation of FLocke?  Do we need to be nervous for Jin?  My hunch is that FLocke will use Claire and Jin to infiltrate the Temple.

All in all, I thought this was a packed episode that really moved things forward.  The roller coaster has begun, and I'm definitely ready for the rest of the ride.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cracked Windows

Last month, I criticized Warner Bros. for its wrong-headed move to delay the distribution of new releases to Netflix.  Last week, they reached a similar deal with discount rental company Redbox.  Again, the studio wants an exclusive 28-day window to sell their new releases on DVD before they are made available more cheaply for consumers to rent.  But in reality, this move will do very little to boost up DVD sales and will only encourage piracy by making it more difficult for consumers to conveniently and affordably access the content that they want.  According to Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, they need the separate home viewing windows to maximize "the best economics for the studio."

It is at least a little ironic, then, that while one studio defends its prerogative to space out home viewing windows, another studio strikes a new blow against the theatrical window for motion pictures.  In 2009, blockbusters like Avatar, The Blind Side, Up, and The Hangover demonstrated that long, successful runs at the local theater are still both possible and profitable.  And when a film establishes itself as a huge hit in theaters, it generally carries that success over into the home video market.  The Hangover has already become the best selling comedy DVD of all time.  But Disney has decided to go the other direction and actually shrink the theatrical window for the upcoming U.K. release of Alice in Wonderland. 

This is counterintuitive for at least a couple of reasons.  First, Disney has hinged a huge component of the marketing for Alice on the fact that it is 3D, creating the impression that the film is the kind of event that has to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.  This perception is undermined when the company is rushing to get the DVD out into stores.  Second, Alice in Wonderland is an "evergreen" property for Disney.  For most people, Disney's 1951 animated classic is the definitive reference point for this story, and Disney has been able to leverage that association over the years into its consumer products and theme park divisions.  Tim Burton's new take is a way for Disney to keep the property fresh so that it has new opportunities to profit from it in the future.  Thus, it is in their best interest for the 2010 film to be a big event that establishes a new touchstone for today's audiences.  That result won't happen if the film is pushed out of theaters too soon, leaving only a fleeting impression on popular culture.

If studios want to fully reap the benefits of their movies, they have to take the long view, which necessitates an understanding that the theatrical exhibition of movies is not only irreplaceable, it is the foundation upon which future success is built.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lost: Recruiting Class

Last night's episode of Lost, "The Substitute," was a definite improvement over the previous week, but I'm still concerned about the glacial pace that continues in the plot unfolding within the Island timeline.  On that front, the entire episode can basically be reduced to "Fake Locke/MIB/Smokey recruits Sawyer."  That's really the only thing that happened.  Oh sure, there were some interesting scenes with Richard Alpert, and that weird little boy that FLocke kept seeing (Jacob's ghost?), and they teased a few of the big Island mysteries (Jacob's Lists!  The numbers!) without really providing any real answers, and more people are headed to the Temple (that place is going to get old real quick), but it was really all about FLocke seducing Sawyer.  Which was pretty easy for him to do.  I'm actually pretty surprised that Sawyer, the consumate con man, was so easily won over.  I did, however, dig Sawyer's complete nonchalance with the idea that some thing was inhabitating Locke's form.  Didn't phase him a bit.  I guess the Dharma whiskey helped (and his excellent observation that the real Locke was always afraid, even when he pretended not to be). 

So what do you think is the ultimate endgame for FLocke?  When he tells Sawyer that they have to leave the Island together, does he mean all the 815ers have to leave together, much like the criteria for the Oceanic Six to return to the Island, or does he just need one recruit to assist him?  And why were only the men's names written in Jacob's cave?  We know that Kate and Ilyana were also touched by Jacob in the season 5 finale, so where were their names (I'm therefore also concluding that "Kwon" referred only to Jin and not to Sun)?  And is there a greater significance to FLocke acting as a substitute for Locke beyond getting access to Jacob?

Speaking of substitutes, for the first time this season I can say that I was genuinely more engaged by the storyline in the alternate timeline, because we finally got spend some time with the REAL John Locke again.  Honestly, I didn't realize how much I missed him, but his absence is definitely felt.  In the new off-Island timeline, John is actually very much the same man we've always known.  Although some of the details of his life are better -- he and Helen are engaged, and apparently his relationship with his father is different this time around -- he is still secretly raging against his limitations.  "Don't tell me what I can't do!" is still his refrain, and he once again unsuccessfully tried to embark on his Walkabout in Austrailia.  But then, something changed.  An encounter with the ever-pragmatic Rose convinced him to accept his reality and move on with his life.  He seemingly affects his fate and is content to become a substitute teacher (I guess it beats working for Randy at Hurley's box company). 

And so Lost's resident Believer, its Man of Faith, was actually buried twice last night.  Will he ever return?  I continue to believe that the real Locke has some important role to play in the resolution of the show.   Ultimately, I think there is no adequate substitute for this essential character.  But I also continue to be distracted by the winks at the audience that laden the new timeline.  Ben Linus the European history teacher was hilarious, raging about the coffee maker in the teacher's lounge, but isn't a little much to think that Locke would encounter Hurley, Rose, and Ben all in rapid succession like that?  All in all, it was a much more satisfying episode, but I'm still looking forward to a little more plot progression.