How do you write a blockbuster review? Always mention penguins, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart says.
"If you have a big hit, suddenly you've been deified. Then people want you to have a flop because that's a better story—and you oblige them."—Peter Bogdanovich
How do you make a blockbuster? Use lots of ice. It's part of the recipe used in Titanic, which Box Office Mojo cites as the all-time domestic box-office champ. March of the Penguins stirred in lots of ice as well. If you've been watching the ads, you know that Happy Feet is hoping to freeze in ice as a solid plot element in hit flicks.
So why don't you see ice floes in every flick down at the local multiplex?
"If there was a rule to make a successful movie, don't you think every movie would be successful?" Director Penny Marshall says. She should know, since her A League of Her Own broke at least two rules; it was a baseball period piece set in the World War II era.
According to Boffo! Tinseltown's Bombs & Blockbusters, the hit that got Hollywood into the habit of thinking big was 1972's The Godfather, which easily topped the $100 million mark worldwide. The HBO documentary takes a clip-laden look back at Hollywood's hits as stars, directors, and executives are interviewed about what (they think) makes a hit.
Some of the insights are interesting: Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws) was expecting the famous beach disaster movie to dive faster than a shark at the box office. Morgan Freeman ticks off the surprise hits on his resume: Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption, and March of the Penguins.
"Penguins. Penguins. Penguins?" he says, mimicking the astonishment of Hollywood types.
To punctuate the Daisy anecdote, the documentary shows the Variety headline: "The film nobody wanted takes four top Oscars." Since Variety was involved in the production, there are a lot of catchy headlines from the trade paper interspersed throughout the documentary, set against that classic old-movie background of a running press. Points also are illustrated by clips from silent stars like Laurel and Hardy.
The movie also rests—briefly—on bombs like Howard the Duck and The Bonfire of the Vanities. George Clooney relates his early enthusiasm about landing the role of Batman in Batman and Robin, only to make his point: "The movie came out; I wasn't very good in it."
If you're looking for recipes, you may be disappointed; most of the anecdotes and quotes here deal with Hollywood's attitudes toward hits and flops. Little attention is given toward the reasons for success and failure. That's not surprising, though, if you ponder Marshall's quote above.
The presentation isn't bad for this mix of clips and talking heads, and the sound quality is good as well.
The documentary is enjoyable, but breezes by too quickly. Movie buffs will be left wanting more. HBO should have provided expanded versions of the interviews as extras so that viewers could delve deeper into the subject matter; more front-page headlines from Variety would have been fun, too.
The fun here is that Boffo gets you thinking about what makes a movie work or wash out. Would George Lucas's huge Radioland Murders have fared better as a low-budget indie flick? Could there be room in today's crowded movie dockets for B-movies like Night Train to Paris, a lightweight 1960s action flick with Leslie Nielsen? Could any classic film—Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, North By Northwwest, or Citizen Kane, to name a few at random—be a hit today if it came along as a new picture without the reputation? Just remember: Nobody knows nothin' is one of Hollywood's catchphrases.
Boffo! is guilty of barely skimming the surface of a complex topic. Still, if you love movies, you'll be pondering its points afterward. Show this one to a gang of movie buffs and the arguments you'll get could provide months of entertainment value. Remember: As with anyone in Hollywood, hedge your bets with lots of ice. It's trendy!
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