The Golden Compass — box-office update

It opened three weeks ago at #1. Then it slipped to #3, and then to #9. And now, in its fourth weekend, The Golden Compass has fallen off the weekly top-ten chart altogether, landing at #12 with a “domestic” cume of $58.9 million — and thus it continues to trail behind last year’s considerably cheaper fantasy flick Eragon. And don’t even bother trying to compare this film’s grosses to those of the recent fantasy blockbusters whose ranks this film so desperately wanted to join.

But wait. Variety reports that The Golden Compass is still #2 overseas — surpassed only by the unexpectedly huge hit I Am Legend — and out there, the film has grossed $187 million, more than triple what it has made in North America (and more than Eragon made overseas in its entire theatrical run).

So the film isn’t a complete bust. Then again, as noted here three weeks ago, New Line Cinema sold off the foreign distribution rights to cover some of its production costs before the film had even come out, so there is only so much comfort the studio can glean from the overseas receipts.

One of the stranger Star Trek XI rumours. is reporting that Tyler Perry, the critically reviled but wildly successful African-American playwright-turned-filmmaker, has a part in the new Star Trek movie. If true, this would be Perry’s first performance in a project written by someone else. Click the link for some mild spoilers. (At least, they seem mild, to me.)

JAN 2 UPDATE: The Hollywood Reporter has now confirmed the rumour, and adds this bit of information: has learned that Paramount was hoping to keep the Perry cameo a secret longer. The film makers have consistently stated that they want to make Star Trek appeal beyond the core Trek base and apparently Perry’s loyal fans are seen as helping in that cause.

So what’s next, Jim Caviezel as a Vulcan mystic or Klingon warrior — he can handle the extensive make-up and the unconventional dialogue! — to bring in the so-called “Passion dollars” crowd?

David Letterman strikes a deal with the writers

Variety and the New York Times report that David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, has struck a deal with the Writers Guild, so that he and his protege Craig Ferguson can go back on the air next week with their full complement of comedy writers. Meanwhile, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and all the others will have to make do without scripts or cue cards of any substance.

It’s funny. My wife and I don’t get cable, and we almost never watch TV, but for six months this year we were living between apartments in my uncle’s basement suite, and he gets cable, so my wife watched a lot of prime-time TV while I watched the talk shows to get a sense of what the hot topics of the day were, how certain films were being promoted, and so on.

And then we moved to our new apartment … at almost the exact same time that the writersstrike began. So all the talk shows have been in re-runs while we’ve been settling into our new home, and it doesn’t feel like I’ve “missed” anything in all this time.

But I guess that will change, now. Ah well, back to life as it was.

Three Little Pigs, take one, take two …

Jerry Beck at Cartoon Brew raises an interesting question: Now that the Library of Congress’s National Film Preservation Board has added Disney’s Three Little Pigs (1933) to the National Film Registry, which version will they preserve for all time? The original, politically incorrect version? Or the slightly censored version that was released in the 1950s, which is the version that most of us have grown up with? Both versions, perhaps?

The intriquing matter of last-minute tweaks.

I haven’t seen The Great Debaters yet, but I am intrigued by this note that Jeffrey Wells posted at Hollywood Elsewhere:

I’ve noticed an interesting difference between a late work-print version of Denzel Washington‘s The Great Debaters that I saw a few weeks ago and the release- print version that I saw last night at Harvard University. It’s a big change regarding the fate of Nate Parker‘s Henry Lowe character — the most charismatic and gifted Wiley College debater, although one with an occasional weakness for booze and women.

In the work-print version of the epilogue crawl (i.e., the what-happened-to-the- characters info that fact-based dramas often supply), it said that after graduating Lowe simply disappeared — an indication that he may have succumbed to his addictions, etc. It seemed like an interesting call since inspirational films usually pass along uplifting information, blah blah. Lowe is a composite character (i.e., not based on a specific real-life figure) so Washington was free to write any fate he chose. Saying that Lowe didn’t build upon the potential of his early life was, at the very least, against the grain and admirable for that.

But this dark-fate decision, apparently, didn’t go down with research audiences. In the final-release version, it is said that Lowe went into the ministry — an obvious hint that he turned to God and the cloth as a way of controlling his demons. A more upbeat and positive fate, yes, but an indication of a certain artistic flexibility on Washington’s part. This is a small thing I’m mentioning. The Great Debaters is still sharply written, forthright, not sappy, well-shaped. It’s “commercial” and likely to catch on. (Probably.) It’s just that conveying Lowe’s downbeat fate added an interesting counter-shade. . . .

It’s always interesting to speculate about the reasons for minor changes like these. I don’t see many workprints, but I am reminded of a similar tweak that was made to the opening quote from Isaiah in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004).

In the workprint that I saw at one of those church-based screenings several weeks before the film came out, the quote was dated to 400 B.C. — in other words, it was credited not to the historical Isaiah, who lived in the 700s and early 600s B.C., but to the so-called Deutero-Isaiah who is thought by scholars to have composed the later chapters of that book. This is not a particularly “liberal” idea — theologically conservative evangelicals such as F.F. Bruce have subscribed to this theory — and I was particularly intrigued to see this source-critical date cited in a film by Gibson, who was often derided at the time for his “anti-intellectualism”.

However, in the final version of the film that came out in theatres and then on DVD, the date was changed — to 700 B.C. Did someone tell Gibson his film would do better business if he toed the traditionalist line? Or were there other reasons for the change? And which date does Gibson subscribe to personally? Did his opinion on this matter change between the two versions of the film? It’s a minor point, but intriguing nonetheless.

The Golden Compass — two last items

The Golden Compass isn’t quite out of my system — or, rather, the systems for which I provide commentary — yet.

First, I wrote about the film for my final regular column for ChristianWeek; it appears in the issue dated January 1, but it is up at their website now. I wrote this article after the film came out a few weeks ago, so it is the first of my published comments to take the film’s poor box-office performance into account.

Second, I discussed the film with Lorna Dueck of Listen Up TV; the interview begins about eight minutes into the video file there. It was broadcast just this past weekend, but it was recorded two days before the film came out — right after I attended a press screening of There Will Be Blood, of all things — hence my comments about the film’s box-office performance are purely speculative.