Audio Bijou is WIDR's own movie news, reviews, and music show.
True to 89.1's unique vision of music variety, Audio Bijou brings you music that ordinarily isn't heard anywhere else- that from movie soundtracks.
Music is an integral part of virtually every film, and there are new albums released every week. Audio Bijou brings you the best of them. Our musical selections range from compositions by new and innovative composers, the greats like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and others, and singles either specifically recorded for the movies or those which a film scene has forever altered in perception. There's a new theme every week. Always different. Always unique. Always interesting.
In addition to music, Audio Bijou also brings you the best in film commentary. From our analysis of the weekly box office results, to our weekly preview of the latest new releases and DVD's, to our insightful reviews, the talk is lively, intelligent, and entertaining.
There's also our weekly trivia question to test what you know or find out something new, the latest movie news, and information on upcoming releases.
Audio Bijou airs weekly at 7:00 pm Tuesday nights on 89.1 fm WIDR.
The Future of Animation and the Return of the 80's Action Star
With increased competition and declining revenue, what does the future hold for animation? We discuss it. Plus, John McClane, Indiana Jones, and John Rambo are all coming back. We examine the trend, along with our usual mix of trivia, music, news and reviews.
The Die Hard franchise is virtually inseparable from the rousing orchestration of Ode to Joy from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. It was another composer though, who gave the franchise its true auditory underpinnings. Michael Kamen, at the time a veteran of the Lethal Weapon movies, gave Die Hard a suspenseful series of low key string themes. In the convoluted attempts to get the original past its dismal test screenings his score was almost cut out of the film, but the two sequels allowed him the chance to revisit them and further opportunities to integrate some classical musical cues like Singin' in the Rain and When Johnny Comes Marching Home to Die Hard's repertoire.
Michael Kamen unfortunately died of a heart attack in 2003, so scoring duties for the latest installment go to Marco Beltrami, who has previously taken over the Terminator franchise from Brad Fiedel, and who now incorporates Kamen's style with some of his own original percussion fueled compositions. We'll listen to selections from them both as we take a musical tour through the Die Hard movies.
Marco Beltrami/ Yippie Ki Yay/ Live Free or Die Hard 4:42
Michael Kamen/ The Nakatomi Plaza/ Die Hard 1:49
Michael Kamen/ Ode to Joy/ Die Hard 3:36
Michael Kamen/ Snowmobiles/ Die Hard 2: Die Harder 2:39
Michael Kamen/ General Esperanza/ Die Hard 2: Die Harder 2:13
Michael Kamen/ End Credits/ Die Hard with a Vengeance 1:28
Michael Kamen/ John and Zuess/ Die Hard with a Vengeance 3:19
Marco Beltrami/ Hurry Up/ Live Free or Die Hard 1:22
Michael Kamen/ Col. Stewart/ Die Hard 2: Die Harder 1:28
Marco Beltrami/ Live Free or Die Hard/ Live Free or Die Hard 2:56
The original Die Hard from 1988 was actually based on a novel from 1979 called Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. In the book, the character's name is not Officer John McClane but Detective Joe Leland. Joe Leland actually debuted in another of Thorp's novels called The Detective, which came out in 1966 and Nothing Lasts Forever was its sequel. There was actually a movie version of The Detective as well in 1968 which has nothing to do with the Die Hard franchise. Who played Detective Joe Leland a full 20 years before Bruce Willis played him as the renamed John McClane?
A. Steve McQueen
B. Richard Burton
C. Charles Bronson
D. Frank Sinatra
(Highlight to reveal)
Frank Sinatra starred as Det. Joe Leland, and was critically acclaimed for the serious nature of the role in one of his last three films. His final film was twelve years later where once again he played another hard boiled police detective in The First Deadly Sin, which coincidentally, was Bruce Willis' screen debut.
Voices of Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Janeane Garofolo, and Peter O'Toole
Pixar Animation Studios, written and directed by Brad Bird
Incredibles writer/director Brad Bird is back with Pixar again, this time with the story of a rat named Remy with an impeccable palette and a talent for cooking who teams up with a talentless young man who works in the kitchen of a once great Parisian bistro. Together they become the world's greatest chef, despite the objections of Remy's family, the meddling of the restaurant's hot-headed head chef, and the natural order of things. Featuring the voices of Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Janeane Garofalo, and Peter O'Toole. Rated G.
It may seem incongruent for a studio whose characters have launched a million Happy Meals to craft a storyline around haute cuisine, but fine dining is not only a perfectly charming and interesting environment for Pixar's latest, Ratatouille, it's also a perfect metaphor for the film itself. Like the Parisian dining created by the film's unlikely chef, Ratatouille has been finely crafted with excellent taste and a beautiful presentation. It's a gourmet movie, one that's perfect in nearly every way, even if it may not be perfect for everyone.
The storyline, involving a series of comedic deceptions and reversals around a young man's career and love life as he hides the secret feeding him his successes, wouldn't be out of place in a live action romantic comedy. Few live action films, however, accomplish what Ratatouille does with such pitch perfect comedic timing, frenetic slapstick, and incredible acting.
Yes, incredible acting.
Pixar proves they're still leaps and bounds ahead of their competitors not only with their amazing technical achievements- which, by the way, they seem to have once again topped- but with their amazing performances.
No other animation studio seems to have the same level of performance as Pixar, making each scene a delight to watch for the subtlety with which each character is given their own brilliant personality ticks and emotive expression. Like most Pixar films, the voice casting doesn't have a single A-list celebrity, but none are needed when the true stars are the animators. Some of the most entertaining scenes are those in which the entire interaction is done through gesture.
The film is also beautiful to watch. They've developed new techniques for making hair, paper, clothes, and skin look wet and applied the same technique they used in The Incredibles to make cartoon skin look warm instead of clammy to the way the vegetables glow and move. They've even topped the water effects they used in Finding Nemo. Beyond the technical achievements, they've made an environment of Paris that is as colorful, vibrant, and moody as one of the city's many famous oil paintings. The character designs meanwhile are unique and expressive, cleverly avoiding through stylization the weird uncanny valley creepiness the Shrek characters suffer from.
The storyline alone is testament to the film maker's innovation not only on the technical side of computer animation, but on the story as well. It should surprise no one that none of their competitors has been able to duplicate Pixar's success. With each film they utilize the one element that's impossible to duplicate- originality. Ratatouille's romantic comedy, family drama, and class struggle are a far cry from the fairy tales and buddy movies that have become animation's forte and a far more ambitious choice.
As with his previous work with Pixar, writer/director Brad Bird once again thoroughly proves that animation is not a genre of film but a technique for film making. Animation is a tool rather than the blueprint and a tool which Pixar consistently applies to create great storytelling.
The one caveat that must be given with this praise is that in making such an ambitious and original film, Ratatouille may be the least kid friendly Pixar movie yet. With an obscure subject matter, more mature sense of humor and a lengthy running time of well over two hours, Ratatouille is far from another hour and a half of pablum and poop jokes accompanied by cuddly side kicks. As a result it's probably Pixar's least commercial film, and anyone who's taken a visit to the toy store can readily see there's a lot more product with Lightning McQueen and Buzz Lightyear than Remy the Rat.
Hopefully it won't be Pixar's least successful film though. If adult audiences can learn to look at animation as more than kiddie fare and the kids can try to love the gourmet stuff just as much as their Happy Meal, then both are in for something truly special.
FIVE THUMBS UP
written and directed by Michael Moore
Michael Moore is back with another one of his “documentaries.” This time he's taking aim at the health care industry and has already stirred up some controversy for taking ailing 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba for medical care. This film was already well received at Cannes, where the French agree that the United States sucks and France is awesome. The movie was also leaked on to YouTube this past week so if you really want to see it you can probably find it floating around internet somewhere. Rated PG-13.
People tend to go one way or the other on Michael Moore's films, generally lining up with one's personal politics. What is often overlooked in the arguments he starts though is the quality of the films he makes. Whether one agrees with him or not, and, in the interest of full disclosure, this reviewer must admit that his political views rarely line up with those of Moore, the issue is less the point Michael Moore is trying to make, and more the means he applies to portray it and the degree to which those means are appropriate and successful.
Moore's target this time around is the health insurance industry. For any other documentary film maker, the previous statement would have been “subject” rather than “target,” which is the primary problem Moore has a documentarian. For all his laudable talk about “the people” and his employment of using “we” when addressing the viewer, there is almost a palpable contempt Moore has not only for his subject matter- that goes without saying- but his audience.
Moore's technique, from the condescension in his voice from the opening narration on, to the disingenuous aw-shucks manner he employs while touring foreign health care facilitates, there seems to be the assumption that his audience is stupid. The music is manipulative. The evidence is largely anecdotal and full of emotional people who mostly end up in tears. The opposition is set up with straw man arguments. Complex issues are simplified into us vs. them struggles against villainy with a sing-songy soundtrack to accompany the childish Dudley Doright vs Snidely Whiplash morality.
It's interesting to compare this technique to that of the documentary which won the Academy Award last year and has the phrase “climate change” on virtually everyone's lips. An Inconvenient Truth has its fair share of detractors to be sure, and as much as anyone wishes to argue with the facts and figures it presents, one at least has to grant that it genuinely tries to present some. Al Gore didn't show a series of interviews and personal profiles. He didn't let the orchestra swell or the carefully edited sound clip prove his point. He didn't antagonize or bait his opponents with juvenile stunts. He merely presented his case. Where Al Gore was the college science professor teaching America's freshman class, Michael Moore is the kindergarten teacher who just can't help but talk to everyone like they're five.
He does not trust that the film goer can discern his point without heavy handed pandering. Documentary film makers who approach a subject rather than a target run the risk that the free thinking, capable adult audience member may draw their own conclusions which may differ with the film maker's intent. There is no danger of that with Moore's film, but by that same token there is no one who will walk away from such obvious techniques converted.
The talk from Cannes was how assured Moore was with Sicko- more mature and less antagonistic than in his previous films. It was also said that Moore took a back seat this time and allowed the stories he'd found to speak for themselves. This assessment is only partially true. Moore is less physically present in the film than his previous outings, but his personality still overwhelms his subject matter. Even the scenes devoid of his disheveled everyman act or his clumsy expository narration are teeming with his saccharine coated sentimentality or hammy yet painfully unfunny humor.
The real difference between Sicko and Moore's previous films is its subject matter. Moore preaches to the choir as he usually does, but it's more of a shame this time around because unlike his previous targets such as gun control and Iraq, the basic issue at stake in Sicko- that the overwhelming entanglement of bureaucracy that permeates the health care industry is counterproductive to the goals of health care- is far from divisive. Certainly there are polarized arguments for the problem's solutions, but virtually everyone across the political spectrum at the very least recognizes the problem itself.
The danger Moore runs in using his role as a lightning rod for political controversy for this matter is that in putting himself in the argument he takes a previously universal issue and makes it about personality rather than policy and divisive rather than unifying. There are no doubt pundits on the right who never before thought of defending an HMO before Moore put them in his scope, but who now will argue the bureaucracy's right to exist just because Moore said otherwise. It's clear that Moore revels this role and it makes one wonder whether his generous donation, as depicted in the film, to the webmaster of the largest anti-Michael Moore website so his wife could afford medical care was his attempt to reach out to an opponent or just that Moore couldn't stand that the one guy who micro-analyzed his every move wouldn't be paying attention anymore.
Even his promotion of the film has been flavored by such obvious attempts to play target to the right, like the exchange between Moore and Republican Senator Fred Thompson where the two traded barbs over the film maker's trip to Cuba. Thompson scored some easy political points by attacking a popular target and Moore got his movie in the news. Everyone was talking about it. Michael Moore that is, not health care. It's the main problem with presenting only anecdotal evidence- proof gets lost in personality and evidence in individualism.
American health care is a complex issue. It is one without simple solutions and one which requires cooperation and intelligence to even begin to address. It is also one ill served by a film maker who prides himself as a provocateur and whose solution is to present emotionally manipulative sob stories and enraged politicized finger pointing in place of an even handed presentation of figures, events, and evidence.
Al Gore ended his film with a call to action for the viewer to help address the problem. Michael Moore ends his with more blame. The culprits of the current state of American health care are debatable, but the blame for Sicko's failings is Moore's alone. It's a valid argument poorly made.
TWO THUMBS UP
Live Free or Die Hard
starring Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Timothy Olyphant
directed by Len Wiseman
There were rumors back in the early 90's that Die Hard 3 and 4 would be shot back to back and that one of them would be on a cruise ship. Of course that was before Speed 2 or Die Hard with a Vengeance, and long before director John McTiernan's being charged with federal perjury. Now it's been twelve years since the last film, McTiernan is facing sentencing, and Die Hard is finally back with a new director, Len Wiseman, best known for Underworld. Die Hard also has a new rating- PG-13- which pretty much means John McClane's catchphrase will be the only F word in the whole movie. The film does follow the series' tendency for taking a pre-existing action screenplay and repurposing it for the John McClane character, though, in this case one called WW3.com about cyber-terrorists attacking the U.S. Bruce Willis stars, with Justin Long as his sidekick, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as daughter Lucy, and Timothy Olyphant as the bad guy. Rated PG-13.
Since the financial success of the original Die Hard, the challenge to every filmmaker who's inherited the franchise has been twofold- how to one up one of the greatest action movies ever made, and, perhaps more importantly, how to get around the logic defying idea of, as John McClane so eloquently put it Die Hard 2: Die Harder, “How can the same **** happen to the same guy twice?” Or for that matter three or four times?
The heir to the franchise for its fourth time out with Live Free or Die Hard is Len Wiseman, best known for Underworld and its sequel. In both Underworld movies, vampires fight werewolves to murky lighting and techno music in stories that seem crafted by nerds wielding twelve sided dice. Thankfully Wiseman is smart enough to stretch his abilities beyond the realm of role player fan fiction and enough of a fan of the franchise to get the tone of the Die Hard movies dead on.
While Wiseman gets the feel for the movies, established by quintessential action helmer John McTeirnan, he's also upped the ante for action several times over. It seems with each successive Die Hard the terrorist threats get bigger and this one's a doozy. The first one was just a building, the second an entire airport, the third was greater Manhattan, and now the bad guys are going to shut down most of the East Coast. Bigger threats mean bigger action, and from launching a car at a helicopter to crashing a SUV down an elevator shaft to blowing up a power station to fighting an F-22 on a collapsing overpass this movie throws more at McClane than the last three combined. Much has been made of the franchise getting its first PG-13, but there's so much action and enough of a potty mouth that only the MPAA would notice a real difference. Besides, there's always unrated DVD for those who want more blood and swears.
Waiting for the DVD would mean missing out on the big screen scope of the film however and there's some real eye candy in this. Wiseman shoots in a fairly classic style in keeping with that of the series and without the slow motion, bullet time, whizzing by camera tricks that have turned the modern action movie into ADD inducing video games. It's just classic action film making taking advantage of the latest in digital compositing and effects to let the actor's face show up in the stunt for a precious few more seconds. This is important because it's really the actor, Bruce Willis, who makes the action such an entertaining thrill.
Willis has done other action films and there's certainly been a number of movies that have since adopted Die Hard's formula for claustrophobic action and suspense, but the real draw is the McClane character. He connects with audiences like few other action heroes because despite his inhuman feats he could seemingly, in a movie magic sort of way, be one of us. The first film was brilliant in pitting the wisecracking everyman hero who makes mistakes and bleeds for them against the preened and polished bad guys. Far from the supermen of Stallone or Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis as John McClane was the underdog who wasn't a hero for killing the bad guys and saving the day but for merely not dying himself. That talent has become a bit more far fetched with each outing to near superhuman levels this time around, but the character's self deprecating wit and enthusiasm haven't dwindled a bit. It's been twelve years since Willis last took on the McClane persona, but he does it with such humor and gusto this go round that is seems like only yesterday and makes you wonder why they waited so long to bring him back.
Also nicely resurrected is the overriding theme of McClane as an anachronism, which really hasn't been touched on since the first film. He was already out of step with the times in 1988 when he played the role of cowboy hero against a well organized group of coordinated thugs, and is even more so now in the age of blackberries, bandwidth and terabytes. The plot's essentially the same in that terrorists create a threat to cover up a robbery, but it's just different enough this time in that the very analog hero is up against a digital enemy, creating the challenge of pitting McClane against villains he can't just punch, kick or shoot to defeat. There is a bit of the ridiculous hacker Houdini with the magical modem schtick that Hollywood has been pulling since before there was even an internet. Slick nerds are able to control anything electronic with just a laptop and some frantic keystrokes and the government has futuristic computer control centers that look more like Star Trek than your tax dollars at work. Like a number of other things about the film it's a conceit that has to be taken with a grain of salt in order to enjoy the full package.
Another of those conceits is the same **** happening to the same guy twice. The second film thumbed its nose at the idea, the third cleverly avoided it, and this one does a bit of both by getting McClane involved through his job and keeping him involved once his daughter is captured by the terrorists. Obviously it's a bit of a stretch that one person, even if they are a police officer, would be accidentally involved in defusing four major terrorists threats. It's even more of a stretch that not only his wife, but now his daughter would be the captive of those terrorists, but it's become par for the course in a Die Hard sequel that McClane will inadvertently get caught up in such things and there's very little in getting around it.
It is interesting that with each new movie in the franchise there's such little mention of the events of any film but the first one that each sequel acts as its own Die Hard 2. It's possible to watch the first one and then any one of the sequels individually and almost buy the idea that it would happen again. Almost.
Live Free or Die Hard also does do a nice job of pointing out that while it's happenstance that gets him into these situations, it's McClane's character that keeps him in them and pushes him through. It's also that character that makes the suspension of disbelief worth the price for an amazing and amusing ride.
While certainly not the best in the franchise, Live Free or Die Hard is a worthy addition and a welcome return for a classic character.
FOUR THUMBS UP
As with his previous work with Pixar, writer/director Brad Bird once again thoroughly proves that animation is not a genre of film but a technique for film making. Animation is a tool rather than the blueprint and a tool which Pixar consistently applies to create great storytelling.
Five Thumbs Up:this movie is so good the rest of your life will be a let down.
Four Thumbs Up:stop whatever you're doing and go see this movie.
Three Thumbs Up:worth two hours of your life
Two Thumbs Up:it's a rental. maybe.
One Thumb Up:if it's 2a.m. it's on cable and you're still up it might be better than an infomercial.
Zero Thumbs Up:or two thumbs up- right into your eye sockets to gouge them out so you never have to see this horrible dreck
It's interesting to compare this technique to that of the documentary which won the Academy Award last year ... Where Al Gore was the college science professor teaching America's freshman class, Michael Moore is the kindergarten teacher who just can't help but talk to everyone like they're five.
It's been twelve years since Willis last took on the McClane persona, but he does it with such humor and gusto this go round that is seems like only yesterday and makes you wonder why they waited so long to bring him back.
The Future of Animation
Meet the Robinsons had a dismal time at the box office, Shrek 3 is a bonafide hit but won't make nearly as much as the second installment, Surf's Up hasn't exactly been up at the box office and now Disney has spent some time over the past few weeks alternately hyping their latest collaboration with Pixar and trying to lower industry expectations for the film's box office performance. It is arguably the least kid friendly and marketable Pixar film to date and it's no mistake that there's fewer toys and restaurant tie ins this time around.
A good part of Disney's revenue comes from marketing it's movies, but they now have a head of animation, John Lasseter, who is more interested in creating good stories than toy commercials while the Pixar characters Disney paid so much money to acquire last year are losing traction among kids who either don't know them or outgrow them without more sequels. Lasseter put the kaibosh on the direct to video sequels, which not only made old characters more marketable with kids but was the primary source of income for Beuna Vista Home Entertainment and the main source of work for Disney's now defunct Australia animation studio.
With the additional challenge of concurrently running two competing animation studios for the same company, Lasseter also faces the challenge of how to differentiate them, leading to speculation that Disney will revert to traditional hand drawn animation, making their humongous investment in retrofitting their studios for CGI seem like more money down the drain.
At the same time Disney and Pixar's competitors face similar challenges of increasing competition and in many cases decreasing revenues.
So what's new for animation? There's actually no shortage of it in the upcoming couple of years despite these challenges.
Despite their acquisition by Dinsey, Pixar is continuing in their unorthodox method of production with no executives, in house story development, and director headed projects. This means we can expect their films to not only keep their unique pattern for originality, but become even more diverse.
Next up is a film by Andrew Stanton, who did Finding Nemo, called Wall-E, whose trailer debuted with Ratatouille. It's about a robot called Wall-E who has spent 700 years as the last functioning robot tasked with cleaning up the garbage filled earth while the remaining humans exist in an orbiting space ship. Wall-E's solitary existence is altered though when the humans send down a new model robot to check up on the progress. The first third of this movie is completely dialogue free and is reported to feature Fred Willard in it as the first live action human to be featured in a Pixar film.
After that it's Toy Story 3. John Lasseter's first order of business when gaining his new title was to cancel Disney's version, which was to feature a story where Buzz Lightyear is recalled and was to be animated by Disney's now defunct Circle 7 animation studio. The new Toy Story 3 will be produced at Pixar's facilities and feature a story by Lasseter.
Following the merger between PDI and Dreamworks and the subsequent spinning off PDI/Dreamworks into it's own separate company before Paramount acquired Dreamworks, PDI/Dreamworks now runs two separate animation studios, the original PDI studio and another in Glendale CA, and has several projects in production.
At PDI's studio, The Shrek the Halls Christmas special is getting ready for its exclusive 5 year deal with ABC starting this fall while a sequel to Madagascar tentatively called Madagascar 2: The Crate Escape is also up and running
In Glendale, Bee Movie, written by and starring Jerry Seinfeld, is getting ready for a fall release. It's the story of a bee who graduates college only to find that the only job available to him is honey production. After a life of drudgery he escapes and befriends a human, and in the process learns that humans owe bees a load of money for taking all their honey and never paying them.
After that it's Kung Fu Panda featuring the voice of Jack Black as a lazy, martial arts obsessed panda who is prophesized as the chosen one in this chop-sockey style martial arts parody. Other voices include Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, and Angelina Jolie.
After the British animation studio's co-production with Dreamworks' Glendale studio, Flushed Away, failed to perform as expected at the box office the partnership between Aardman and Dreamworks is now over, leaving Aardman free to return to stop motion animation and restart projects Dreamworks rejected for being too Anglo centric.
Among these is their Tortoise and the Hare movie, which has recently been restarted as well as another film which is rumored to star a certain cheese eating inventor and his faithful canine companion. Meanwhile their American adaptation of their U.K. hit series Creature Comforts is airing on Monday nights on CBS.
Sony Pictures Imageworks
Despite the so far meager performance of Open Season and now Surf's Up, Sony has two more movies in the pipeline.
One is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, based on the popular children's book about a world where it rains marinara and snows mashed potatoes.
The other is Hotel Transylvania, featuring the classic monsters of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula, and the Wolfman hiding from the the scary world of the 21st century.
The studio that won the Academy Award for Happy Feet started out as a visual effects studio, work which it continues to do for films like 300, but has expanded to do more feature animation and in May signed a three picture deal with Warner Brothers to produce animated features.
Blue Sky, who has had a string of hits with the two Ice Age movies and Robots, is currently working on an animated adaptation of the Dr. Suess classic Horton Hears a Who featuring the voice of Jim Carrey as Horton and Steve Carell as the Mayor of Whoville.
Disney has several features coming out despite the poor box office performance of Meet the Robinsons. Two are CGI, two are traditionally animated, and three feature princesses. If that seems like a lot of princesses, keep in mind that the Disney Princess line nets the Mouse over a billion in retail sales .
First up for next year is Enchanted, which combines traditional animation with live action and is a romantic comedy about a Disney Princess who is banished by a witch to the real world of New York. It stars Amy Adams (not Isla Fischer) as the princess along with James Marsden as Prince Charming, Susan Sarandon as the Wicked Witch, and Patrick Dempsey as the real world guy she falls for. Veteran Disney composer Alan Menkin is composing new songs for the film's musical numbers after he was bumped off the other traditionally animated princess feature The Frog Princess.
Set in 1920's Louisiana, The Frog Princess is Disney's first black princess, a flapper named Tiana who is transformed into a frog and must find her Prince Charming to save her. After Menkin was moved off the project Pixar vet Randy Newman was brought in to create the film's songs.
There's still one more Princess story coming up and it's Rapunzel, except this one will utilize CGI. Originally imagined as a pop culture reference filled Shrek rip off, the film has been altered to a more traditional approach albeit with nontraditional techniques.
Disney's other CGI project is tentatively titled American Dog, and started out as the pet project of Lilo and Stitch creator Chris Sanders. Originally it was about a dog who starred in a James Bond-esque television show but in a series of events sees himself torn from the fictional world of Hollywood to the American Southwest, where he befriends a giant radioactive bunny and a tough kitten with an eye patch. Together the threesome go on a road trip in a Caddy Convertible to take the dog back to L.A. The film was to be kind of quirky like Stitch was and a little too quirky for Disney's new animation head John Lasseter, who never really liked Lilo and Stitch. Deep into preproduction Lassater demanded changes, Chris Sanders walked from the project and then from Disney altogether, and now the movie has been moved away from the Southwest (which was deemed too much like Cars), and now features a dog who stars as a television superhero and who fails to realize when he gets stuck in the real world that all his strength and ability to fly and fight crime was due to special effects and acting. Despite the radical turnaround this movie is due closely after Enchanted, a deadline it must meet to avoid a similar debacle with marketing partners that happened when Disney's direct to video Tinkerbell feature had to be pushed back, leaving retailers with tons of product and no movie.
The Return of the 80's Action Star
Live Free or Die Hard opens 6/27 and is the first filmed outing for the John McClane character in twelve years. Production just started on the fourth Indiana Jones movie, his first feature since 1989, and is slated to hit theaters next summer. Rambo is back too and when John Rambo hits theaters next May it will have been two decades since Rambo III.
So why are film makers resurrecting franchises from over a decade ago with stars who have had fairly uneven box office successes in recent years?
A large part of the resurrection of these old franchises is that they are franchise at all. In recent years, the largest grossing movies have been part of a franchise. So far this year it's Spider-Man 3, last year it was the second Pirates movie, in 2005 it was Revenge of the Sith, 2004 Shrek 2, 2003's top earner was The Return of the King, in 2002 it was the first Spider-Man, in 2001 the first Harry Potter movie.
The last time a movie that wasn't part of a series or based on a pre-existing media property came in number one for the year was close to a decade ago when Saving Private Ryan topped 1998. It was also one of the few times in recent history a movie with bonafide star power led the box office. A look at the box office for the past thirty years in fact shows a dominance of high concept, franchise friendly movies over movies with star power.
Several of these top grossing franchise movies have been sequels as well, where instead of following the old conventional wisdom that sequels meant higher production costs with lower returns, the subsequent installments now often make a great deal more than the original films.
Beyond that, the action and adventure genres, though they do not account for the largest portion of the overall box office grosses for the past decade, each have a dramatically higher average gross than any other genre. Action films over the past ten years have tended to gross on average over 50 million and adventure films over 65 million, while those from the overall top grossing genre, comedy, have an average gross of well less than half that.
Meanwhile the stars of these movies have had their fair of success, but nothing to rival their performances in their respective franchises. Harrison Ford's highest gross outside a franchise was ten years ago with Air Force One with 172 million. An impressive sum, but paltry compared to the immense returns of both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade made close to 200 million in 1989 dollars. Raiders made 245 million in 1981. Even the lowest grossing Indiana Jones Adventure made nearly 180 million in 1984.
Sylvester Stallone hasn't had a gross of over 100 million since 1985, where he had two 100 million plus hits in one year- Rocky IV and Rambo II. Rocky Balboa's 70 million gross may not have been a career high, but it was the biggest gross a Stallone film had seen since Cliffhanger.
Bruce Willis has faired slightly better over the years, mainly due to his willingness to take a wider variety of roles in more ensemble casts, and the Die Hard films actually aren't the highest grossing movies he's had over the course of his career. His career highs have been headlining The Sixth Sense and Armageddon, both of which went over 200 million with the Sixth Sense earning 293 million. Even the lowest grossing Die Hard installment though grossed more than the last three movies he's headlined combined.
Franchises also mean increased marketability for consumer tie-ins. Lucas Licensing recently struck a deal for Indiana Jones tie ins with Burger King, Lego, Hasbro and others. Even Die Hard has a tie in with Arby's.
The real indicator of how a sequel is going to do today though, is not the the box office but the DVD. Strong DVD sales on Shrek led to the record breaking success of Shrek 2 while Shrek 2's comparatively weak DVD sales indicated that Shrek the Third would not out pace its predecessor. The same for the Pirates franchise.
Each of these 80's action films have enjoyed fairly robust DVD sales, with the Indiana Jones Collection setting a record for box set sales and selling 600 thousand copies on its first day of release alone. The Die Hard collection was re-released recently and the Rambo Trilogy Ultimate Collection in 2004. High profile DVD releases not only indicate the audience's overall enthusiasm for the property, they also increase the brand visibility, introducing it to new, often younger audiences.
The DVD market and the appeal to younger audiences also explains Live Free or Die Hard's PG-13 rating. PG-13 is by far the highest grossing rating overall for the past decade while R rated films have an overall gross on average less than half that of either G or PG rated films. On DVD however, unrated versions of movies trump the sales of the rated versions almost universally. PG-13 guarantees Live Free or Die Hard a wider potential audience while additionally allowing increased DVD marketability.
Strong DVD sales and brand identity doesn't necessarily account for why such old franchises have been resurrected though. Sure, it makes economic sense for the actors and the studios, but why would audiences be craving these old timers as well?
A big part of it may be that while these action franchises have been absent, they haven't been replaced. With the possible exception of the Bourne series, there hasn't been a similar successful action adventure character launched in the years these three have been out of commission. Indiana Jones meets blank or Die Hard on a blank must be some of the most common movie pitches made over the past two decades, but none of the successors have replaced the originals in movie goer's hearts.
It may also be that culturally we hold a collective nostalgia for those times and heroes that has recently become ripe for the plucking. The simple fun of 80's action movies has largely been replaced by special effects laden disaster spectacle, wire fu martial arts, and wimpy heroes who cry as much as they fight. It could be that we're just fed up with that and want a morally resolute hero to cowboy up and blow some junk to kingdom come.
Or maybe Hollywood really has run out of original ideas altogether.
Either way the action guys from the 80's are in their 60's and firing M-16's for the twelve year old in all of us again.
Yippie Ki Yay, Melon Farmer!
Think Live Free or Die Hard's PG-13 rating is bad? Try watching the television edits of the originals. Here's a few of the more ridiculous ways in which John McClane's infamous potty mouth was curbed for the delicate ears of T.V.
"Yippie Ki Yay, Mister Falcon!"
In Die Hard 2, the general is redubbed "Falcon" just so they could do this classic butchering of McClane's catch phrase at the finale
In Die Hard 2 when McCLane ejects from the exploding plane he suddenly sounds like a sunday school teacher who realizes his book is overdue at the library
"Yippie Ki Yay, my friend!"
In Die Hard with a Vengeance, an uncharacteristically friendly McClane offers this term of endearment to Simon Gruber before blowing him up
"I Hate Everyone"
In Die Hard with a Vengeance, the sign McClane is forced to wear that incites the wrath of the neighborhood kids, who are really offended by the use of the word "Everyone"
"Yippie Ki Yay, ______"
The original Die Hard shows some class and just lets the catchphrase trail off into silence
We listened to John Ottman's scores for the Fantastic Four movies, reviewed the FF sequel, and had a special sneak preview review of Ratatouille. Plus our usual mix of box office review, previews, and trivia.
Zack Page-Wood is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a degree in visual art as well as Grand Valley State University with certification in art education. He is both an educator and a freelance artist. He worked on the documentary film Swarm & Destroy, contributing to animations, title sequences, and creating the films promotional materials. He has been with WIDR since 2002 and acts as producer for Audio Bijou.
Jaakan Page-Wood is a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in telecommuniactions and film. When there he was the founder and head of the MSU Film Club and worked on a number of student films as well as studying film in Edinburgh and London. He currently works as a director for WWMT Channel 3 as well as producing DVDs. He served as director and editor of the documentary Swarm & Destroy. He has been with WIDR since 2002.
Ben Stap is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a degree in English. While there he worked on several student plays. After living and working in Chicago for a few years he has returned to Kalamazoo. He is the newest member of the Audio Bijou crew, joining the show in 2005.