In an age when box office receipts are reported like sports scores, when any movie with an opening weekend of $50 million or more seemingly gets a sequel greenlighted, Hollywood wants “sure things.” For studios and producers a sure thing is: a prequel/sequel to a movie that made a lot of money; a movie with a star whose previous, similar films made a lot of money; a film adaptation of a known and well-loved property that has made a lot of money.
Years ago the known properties were books: Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird. Then it was comics: Superman, Batman. Then TV Shows: Star Trek, Mission: Impossible. Then old movies: Cape Fear, King Kong. Now it’s fairy tales.
This is not to say that a fairy tale movie was never made before, or a book adaptation since. Rather it’s to say that when something works (i.e., makes a lot of money), Hollywood likes to produce in bulk. In 2010, Alice in Wonderland (fairytale-ish) made $1 billion worldwide. The effect? Studios began production on their own “new spin on a classic story” ⎯ all centered around in-control young women fighting against the status quo.
Since Alice, there has been five movies adapted from fairy tales: Red Riding Hood, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Jack the Giant Slayer. Except for some great special effects, costumes, and some enjoyable moments, they are forgettable. Well, excluding Red Riding Hood, which should really be classified as a crime again humanity.
This weekend, Disney (the studio that created the fairy tale genre) joins the fray with its Oz the Great and Powerful. Not only is it a fairy tale, it’s a prequel to a beloved film and based on beloved books. But along with the others, it offers diminishing returns. There are gorgeous visuals, like the Ozian landscapes. There are enjoyable moments and actors who feel right (mostly Michelle Williams as Glinda, who perfectly captures the tone of Wizard of Oz). But there are others that feel wrong (James Franco is a little too modern). It is neither quite adult enough for adults, nor childlike enough for children. And with a score composed by Danny Elfman and production design by Robert Stromberg, everything appears and sounds a little too familiar. Perhaps it’s because they both worked on Alice.
But no matter the quality, this is about money. Oz’s opening should far surpass the lackluster box offices of Hansel and Gretel and Jack this year ⎯ some predicting in the $70 million range. And with ABC’s Once Upon a Time and a “revamped” version of Cinderella just opening on Broadway, it doesn’t look this trend is will continue for some time. That is, until 2014 when Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is released. Then perhaps “Once upon a time…” will finally be replaced with “In the beginning…”