Monday, May 23, 2011

I Wish We Could Go Back

On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the finale of Lost, here is what I wrote last year about what the show means to me:

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.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gnomeo is Bleeding

Disney has a solid hit on its hands heading into spring.  Gnomeo & Juliet debuted to a solid $25.3 million and has held up well, even against new animated competition from Rango.  Going into its fifth weekend, Gnomeo had grossed $85 million and looks to have enough momentum to eventually become a $100 million success.  But it does have more competition coming this weekend...from Disney.

Disney is releasing one of it's major 2011 tentpoles this weekend, Mars Needs Moms.  The impact on Gnomeo is significant, beyond the obvious increase in the number of pictures vying for the family audience.  Gnomeo & Juliet is also losing nearly 400 screens to make room for the new wide release.  And perhaps most importantly, Gnomeo has lost marketing support.  Almost as soon as Gnomeo opened, Disney had to shift all of its marketing and media attention to Mars Needs Moms.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that Disney has stepped on its own toes and in the process limited the full potential of an unexpected success.  Back in February of 2006, Disney released Eight Below.  The movie was a kind of throwback to the live-action animal adventure films that Disney used to specialize in, was quite well received by audiences, and became an unlikely sleeper hit.  But just three weeks later, Disney released The Shaggy Dog, a high-profile release starring Tim Allen that benefited from a major marketing push.  Eight Below ultimately grossed $81.6 million to Shaggy Dog's disappointing $61.1 million.  Had Disney given Eight Below a little more breathing room and support, it's very possible that it could have become an even bigger hit.  The weekend that Shaggy Dog debuted, Eight Below's box office dropped 45% after holding well the previous two weekends.

A similar scenario played out a few years earlier in 2003.  In early November 2003, Disney released Brother Bear, one of its last announced traditionally animated films at that time.  Disney clearly didn't have high expectations for the film because just four weeks later came The Haunted Mansion, a major holiday release timed for the Thanksgiving weekend and starring Eddie Murphy.  But once again, the big release underperformed against the sleeper that was overlooked by the studio.  Brother Bear ended up grossing $85.3 million versus only $75.8 million for the costly Haunted Mansion.

You want me to keep going?  In 2008, Disney released Beverly Hills Chihuahua and High School Musical 3 just three weeks apart, likely cannibalizing itself in the process as both films stalled at the box office before reaching the symbolic $100 million mark.

It's an interesting case study in the importance of properly managing release schedules.  Disney didn't have any faith in films like Eight Below and Brother Bear and didn't expect them to have any legs at the box office.  But audiences found these movies and liked them even more than the big alternative movie that Disney was pushing just a few weeks later.  In the case of Gnomeo, Disney didn't even want to call it a Disney movie.  The poor thing bounced around in development for years and was ultimately released under the Touchstone banner.  What will audiences choose this time around?  Unfortunately, it looks like Mars Needs Moms is on its way to becoming one of Disney's costliest bombs.  Wherefore art thou, Gnomeo?