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Alan Scherstuhl (#110 of 4)

Box Office Rap The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

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Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex
Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

Confession: I don’t like The Lord of the Rings films. All of them. Well, at least the first three, as I skipped The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey because of my disdain for its predecessors, and needless to say, I’ll be skipping The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as well. Of course, millions of others will not be skipping the film this weekend, as it tries to land somewhere in the $80-90 million range, matching the previous film’s performance. For me, director Peter Jackson’s initial trilogy operates on bloated runtimes meant to appease fanboy OCD, including Jackson’s own. The apex of contemporary pop-cultural obsession-as-sickness is no better embodied than by these films, which edify young moviegoers to view film culture as narrative/character/imaginary playtime rather than a mindful and serious medium for artistic expression.

However, rather than further lambast The Hobbit, Jackson, and Warner Bros. for their transparent, masturbatory decisions to turn one novel into three films for means of tripling profits, of more importance this week is examining how critics are responding to The Desolation of Smaug, and the sorts of qualities being sought after in their evaluations of Jackson’s latest. The film currently boasts a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 75%—a full 10% higher than the first installment, though the middling reviews did not negatively affect its box office, as The Unexpected Journey had the highest-grossing opening weekend of any films in the entire franchise. Critic proof, like most franchises, but it nevertheless remains the critic’s role to instruct attentive filmgoers to the qualities worthy of contemplation.

Box Office Rap Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma

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Box Office Rap: Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma
Box Office Rap: Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma

On May 22, 1996, Mission: Impossible opened in 3,012 North American movie theaters. That weekend, it made $45.4 million and marked the highest opening weekend ever for a Tom Cruise starrer, a record that would stand until Mission: Impossible II opened in May 2000. Cruise has since used that franchise as a staple for his box-office résumé, allowing him collaborations with the likes of J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird, with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol marking the highest-grossing film of Cruise’s career with a whopping $694 million in global receipts.

But back to 1996. Then, that $45.4 million also marked the highest opening-weekend gross for director Brian De Palma; in fact, with the exclusion of The Untouchables, no prior De Palma film had made as much in its entire run as Mission: Impossible managed in just its first three days. The film was considered a critical success as well, receiving “two thumbs up” from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, though they, like several other critics, reserved most of their praise for Cruise’s performance and were skeptical of the film’s [sic] convoluted going’s on. Even in commercial success, De Palma’s fervid formal artistry has few boosters—an unfortunate trait that has inexplicably followed the great filmmaker’s entire career.