Will Peter Jackson direct The Hobbit after all?

From a Los Angeles Times story on New Line Cinema’s woes:

Eager to move ahead with “The Hobbit,” New Line has quietly been trying to mend fences with “Rings” filmmaker Peter Jackson, who has sued the company over his share of profits from the first “Rings” films. When asked if it was true that company insiders had been in talks with Jackson’s reps, Shaye replied, “Yes, that’s a fair statement. Notwithstanding our personal quarrels, I really respect and admire Peter and would love for him to be creatively involved in some way in ‘The Hobbit.’ “

From a Dominion Post follow-up story:

British actor Sir Ian McKellen, who played the wizard Gandalf in the trilogy, is in Wellington to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

At a news conference on Thursday, he said there was no doubt that a rumoured reprisal of his Gandalf role in a film version of The Hobbit would be discussed with Jackson and Walsh.

Jackson’s spokesman said last night: “Peter and Fran have always wanted to do The Hobbit but whether that happens is yet to be decided.”

Make of all that what you will.

Product placements throughout history.

The ScreenGrab has posted a top ten list of “The Most Notable Product Placements in Movie History”. Most of the examples come from the past quarter-century, though the oldest specimen is the Pan Am logo on the spacecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968; my comments). The list begins with the following statement:

It’s hard to think that there was a time when movies and TV didn’t regularly feature major subplots touting the life-affirming, alien-attracting, desert-island-loneliness-averting, catastrophic-explosion-shielding properties of popular consumer products. But it’s true. Once upon a time, when a character pulled out a can of beer from a fridge, that can was simply marked “Beer.” . . .

This is probably very true. But brand names did pop up in films way back when. I remember being quite startled when I saw Horse Feathers (1932) in a theatre some years ago, and a woman falls out of a rowboat and cries out for a “lifesaver”, prompting Groucho Marx to pull out a roll of you-can-guess-the-brand candy. Did the makers of Life Savers pay to have their candy seen in a Marx Brothers movie? Maybe, maybe not, but either way, I’m sure the appearance of their product in that film didn’t hurt their sales.

Typical Torontocentrism.

It’s always a tad irritating when a supposedly “national” newspaper puts off reviewing a film until it opens in Toronto. The latest example: Today’s National Post devotes the entire first page of the arts section to a graphic which, in turn, points the reader to an inside page featuring a 1.5-star review of Raoul Ruiz’s Klimt, which stars John Malkovich as the famous Austrian painter. Barry Hertz begins by noting that there are two different versions of the film, and then he says his review will be based on “the cut that Canadian audiences will see”. Note the future tense. The thing is, I saw this film in Vancouver when it came to the VanCity Theatre back in April — and while I didn’t care for it myself, it was apparently a big enough hit that the theatre brought it back in July. That would be in the past. And I believe Vancouver is still part of Canada. So while the arrival of this film in Toronto is being treated like major national news, we here in this corner of the country can only shrug our shoulders and say, “Been there, done that — twice.”

Is Russell Crowe being wooed to play the bad guy in the next Star Trek movie?

IGN.com says so, in its latest report on Star Trek XI.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of a font.

Last night I saw Helvetica, a new documentary by Gary Hustwit — here making his first directorial effort, after producing films like the Wilco pic I Am Trying to Break Your Heart — and I saw it with the best possible audience: a crowd of graphic designers.

The fact that I saw the movie was a happy fluke. My wife happened to get home a bit earlier from the picket line than I expected, so I decided to go see a matinee. As I left the theatre, I saw a huge line-up, so I asked what it was for, and I was told that the Society of Graphic Designers had arranged a special screening of Helvetica — a film so obscure that it would almost certainly not come back to Vancouver. I had heard about the film, which was made to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the invention of this font, so I was definitely interested in it — but I was told that the screening had sold out. And then, as I began to walk away, I noticed that an old high-school friend — who, like my wife, works for the public library — happened to be standing in the line-up for this film. And then, as we gabbed about life in general, he mentioned that he happened to have an extra ticket, because his wife had not been able to come to the screening — so would I be interested in seeing the film with him? (And then, after the movie itself, I bumped into someone from church at the reception. Small, small world.)

The film was fun. Some of the typographers and graphic designers who were interviewed for the film get really passionate and animated about their profession, and I find being in the presence of such enthusiasm exhilarating, even when the enthusiasm is directed at something I am only partially familiar with.

One of the more interesting issues explored by the film is the way that Helvetica, a Swiss font created in 1957 and defined by its neutrality and matter-of-factness, was conceived as an expression of post-war “idealism” but has since come to be identified with corporate culture. Is it a “capitalist” font or a “socialist” font? Personally, I think the distinction is a little pointless, inasmuch as modern capitalism and modern socialism are both rooted in a modernist tendency towards massification and conformity.

And oh, did the sequence on the short-lived “grunge design” of the early 1990s bring back memories. I remember arguing with a few people about that when I was an editor at The Ubyssey; to them, it seemed funky and edgy and hip, but to me, it reflected an utter contempt for the text, and thus for both the writer and the reader. So I was not at all surprised to learn from this film that Ray Gun designer David Carson once laid out an entire article in Zapf Dingbat, thus rendering it completely unreadable. (It’s funny when it happens to someone else, but if that ever happened to me…)

The film was followed by a Q&A; with director Gary Hustwit, a local graphic designer named Jim Rimmer, and local author Douglas Coupland — who is apparently a big fan of Helvetica and has insisted that it be used on the covers of his last several books. His first words, if memory serves, were, “I was at the Garamond documentary next door, and there were only two or three people there.” The hundreds of Helvetica viewers chuckled. And you have to love any crowd that would share a little in-joke like that.

Evan Almighty — still sinking, now overseas

Having flopped in North America, it is time for Evan Almighty to flop overseas. I mentioned earlier that the film’s Japanese release had been cancelled altogether. Now it is playing in Great Britain.

The Guardian reports that the distributor went after the religious market in England as aggressively as they did here:

Helping churches to exploit the faith-friendly content is Universal Pictures, which hired a specialist PR firm to target ministers, Christian publications and websites and promote different ways of using the film. Suggested angles are God: The Hollywood Years, charting the history of the deity on the silver screen, and Noah and 9/11, a discussion of religious extremism.

As part of this drive a dozen “priest screenings” were held around Britain so that ministers were well prepared for the film’s general release.

The Rev David Birt, of Hill House parish, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, said: “I’ve encouraged my flock to see the film. It has interesting subjects – like whether we want a God who is judgmental – and I’ve used it in two sermons already. Films about religion, especially Christianity, are generally devoid of humour … This is a feelgood film for Christian audiences.”

Some organisations have created multimedia resources based on the film, including an internet reality gameshow in which Big Brother meets the Bible and SMS polls asking people to vote on what kind of animal God would be.

One publication, Christianity, changed its cover at the last minute after seeing a preview of the film and devoted a further 3,000 words to it inside, exploring discussion triggers and sermon themes such as salvation from impending judgment, stewardship of the Earth and spiritual discernment.

And did all the PR work in England any better than it did in North America? Apparently not, according to Variety:

In its first outing at a major Euro market, Universal’s laffer “Evan Almighty” opened in fourth spot with a modest $2.3 million at 422 screens.

“The opening was below expectations,” said one London-based exhib, adding that “it is the first summer event movie to disappoint.”

But Brit bookers remain generally upbeat about trade. “The industry was not relying on ‘Evan Almighty’ to deliver. The many other successes have more than compensated.”

“Evan Almighty” received poor reviews from the Brit crix and was dealt another blow by the severe recent flooding in England. Bookers speculate that some auds might have not had the stomach for a pic about a flood — “a bit too close to home,” said one.

Incidentally, my British friend Matt Page reviewed Evan Almighty a couple weeks ago at his Bible Films Blog. Check it out.