Fox Walden — is it ready to take on Disney?

I don’t know how it works in the United States, but here in Canada, boutique labels like Paramount Vantage and Fox Searchlight are generally handled by different publicity firms from the ones that handle parent companies like Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox. Occasionally there is some overlap, but most of the time, films put out by the boutique labels tend to be treated like arthouse or independent films, rather than mainstream wide releases, and they generally do less business at the box office.

So I probably shouldn’t have been too surprised to learn this week that Fox Walden — the label that was set up recently when Walden Media, which specializes in adaptations of children’s books, came into the Fox fold on a permanent basis — is being handled by the same people who handle the other boutique labels. Apparently children’s-lit movies are more of a niche genre than anything else. But it does make me wonder how seriously we can take the claim, reported in this Variety story today, that Fox Walden is poised to challenge Disney’s dominance within the family-movie field.

The ironic thing? Walden Media’s biggest hit to date, by far, is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), which was distributed by … Disney. In fact, Disney released four of Walden’s six top-earning films to date — including one film, Around the World in 80 Days (2004), that was one of the biggest flops by any studio in recent memory, earning only $24 million in North America on a budget of over $100 million. (In fairness, the film earned another $48 million overseas.)

The two basically successful films that were not distributed by Disney are Because of Winn-Dixie (2005), which was distributed by Fox and grossed $33 million worldwide on a budget of nearly half that, and Charlotte’s Web (2006), which was distributed by Paramount and grossed $82.6 million in North America and another $61.8 million overseas on a budget of $85 million.

Interestingly, the Variety story suggests that Walden Media was interested in hooking up with Disney on a long-term basis, but turned to Fox when Disney said it was cutting back on its film slate. However, another Variety story that went up today notes that Disney has been re-focusing all its efforts on family films — and recently scored a success, box-office-wise, with The Game Plan, the first film to be greenlit by the new Disney regime.

The first big test of the Fox Walden approach comes this weekend with the release of The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising. But given that the film is receiving the boutique-label treatment — wide release or not — I am not sure how much I would bet on its box-office prospects. (The fact that it hasn’t gotten very good reviews is also problematic, but its 18% rating at Rotten Tomatoes is not that far behind the 29% rating that The Game Plan currently has.)

Lars and the Real Girl — the trailer

This film just looks curioser and curioser.

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(Hat tip to D. Andrew Kern at Beside the Queue.)

Will the Rings wizards re-unite in Compass?

While New Line Cinema continues the long, torturous process of patching things up with Peter Jackson and thereby giving us a film version of The Hobbit — a recent Entertainment Weekly cover story summarizes everything that has happened on that front over the past four years — the studio is also proceeding with its plans to make Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials the cinematic heir to Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003).

If the Italian website Queste Oscure Materie, as translated by, is to be believed, it looks like the film version of The Golden Compass may feature Ian “Gandalf” McKellen as the voice of the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison, while Christopher “Saruman” Lee may play a member of the Magisterium described as “a grumpy man dressed in dark colours, whom we see sitting at a table with another character, whose daemon is a panther.”

UPDATE: Whoops, it looks like might have been quoting an article from the Italian website that was already in English. links to this page, which adds the news that “the final scenes in the movie have been heavily reworked . . . at the request of the producers, not of the director.” Hmmm.

OCT 9 UPDATE: Ian McKellen’s voice can now be heard in Teaser 2, which just went up at Meanwhile, Film Ick passes on a rumour or two concerning just how extensive the changes to the film’s ending might be. It sounds like scenes that were glimpsed in the teasers might be removed from this first film altogether.

UPPERDATE: An exclusive and more complete version of the new trailer is now up at Yahoo! Movies — and hey, look, here’s Lee:

The Year of Living Biblically — an excerpt

If you’re curious to know what the film version of The Year of Living Biblically might be like, the Globe and Mail has posted an excerpt from the A.J. Jacobs book, which comes out on Tuesday.

Yet another movie not screened for critics.

Lou Lumenick of the New York Post says Feel the Noise is “so good that Sony label Tri-Star didn’t hold advance critics screenings.”

Is the Dark still rising in The Seeker?

For those who may be following the saga of The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising and its ever-morphing title, I saw the film this morning — and the title of the version that I saw contains all six words.

It is not simply The Dark Is Rising — which is the title of the Susan Cooper book that the movie is based on and the title with which the movie went into production almost a year ago.

And, contrary to what at least two of my American colleagues tell me they have been told by their local publicists, it is not simply The Seeker — which was originally imposed onto the beginning of the title a couple of months ago, and was reportedly all that was left when the title was trimmed just a week or two ago.

Granted, the words “The Seeker” appear onscreen by themselves for a few seconds — but then the words “The Dark Is Rising” appear beneath them. So the full title is up there on the screen.

Is this one of those weird cases where the Canadian and American versions of a film have different titles, like what happened with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s / Sorceror’s Stone?

Or is it possible that I saw a not-quite-complete cut of the film — which would be odd, given that it comes out this Friday?

Or is it possible that, in the United States, the film’s publicity campaign is simply divorced from any consideration of what the opening credits actually say the film is called?

One other puzzling detail: I have read numerous reports over the past five months to the effect that the protagonist, Will Stanton, has been changed from an 11-year-old boy, as he is in the book, to a 13-year-old boy. But Will actually celebrates his 14th birthday within the film’s first act — just as, I gather, he celebrates his 11th birthday near the beginning of the book. So wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the movie has made him 14 years old?

Just to be clear, I am not commenting on the film itself in any way here; I am simply puzzled by the way it has been packaged (and re-packaged, and re-re-packaged) and promoted, etc.

OCT 4 UPDATE: For what it’s worth, the Variety review calls the film “The Seeker”, but then notes at the end: “Title was presented as ‘The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising’ on print caught.” Hmmm.