Box Office: ‘Tomorrowland’ Faces Bleak Future After Soft $41.7M Debut

25 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Box Office: ‘Tomorrowland’ Stumbles to $41.7 Million in Slow Memorial Day Weekend.

A summer box office that was hurtling towards record breaking numbers hit its first speed bump this Memorial Day after “Tomorrowland” landed with more of a whimper than a bang. Disney’s sci fi-adventure film Tomorrowland opened to an estimated three-day total of $32.2 million, and estimates have it on track to bring in about $41 million through tomorrow.Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past, but I’ll be damned if I can work out which is which. The Disney adventure film debuted to a disappointing $41.7 million across 3,972 theaters, less than the $50 million it was projected to make over the four-day weekend.

That is the upshot of “Tomorrowland,” the new film from Brad Bird, which starts with Frank Walker (George Clooney) revealing that “when I was a kid the future was different.” We then loop back to that kidhood, and to the eager young Frank (Thomas Robinson) attending the New York World’s Fair, in 1964, and lugging along a homemade jet pack—basically, a modified vacuum cleaner with straps. Even if it had hit those estimates, “Tomorrowland” faced an uphill climb if it hoped to make back its $180 million production budget plus tens of millions more spent hawking and distributing the fantasy film.

He enters an inventors’ contest, where the judge, a man named Nix (Hugh Laurie), looks at the jet pack and inquires, “How would it make the world a better place?” To which Frank replies, “Can’t it just be fun?” Nix has a wise and smiling child with him, presumably his daughter. Her name, aptly, is Athena (Raffey Cassidy), and though not a functioning goddess, she has talents that prove, in the course of the film, to be more than human. Big openings from Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III set the Memorial Day weekend record in 2013, with $254.6 million over three days and $314.2 million over four.

One of these is the ability to ferry souls to Tomorrowland: a comely metropolis of sparkling towers and swooping pathways, cheerily buzzed by airborne vehicles and staffed by genial citizens drawn from every band of the racial rainbow. There are still several major territories left to open such as China and Japan, but it seems likely that “Tomorrowland,” which starred George Clooney and was directed by Brad Bird, will result in a write-down for the studio. As a boy, at the World’s Fair, following Athena, he goes on a theme ride, aboard a little boat that tips him downward through a vortex—shades of Alice and her trip to Wonderland, in both the water and the fall. The Warner Bros. release has earned $95.5 million domestically — a respectable figure, but one that will have to rise higher if the studio wants to recoup the $150 million it says it spent making the picture. Fourth place went to “Poltergeist,” a remake of the 1982 horror classic from Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that brought in a solid $26.5 million across 3,240 screens.

Fifth place finisher “Avengers: Age of Ultron” crossed the $400 million mark domestically, after bringing in $27.8 million over the holiday weekend. On the strength of that resolve, she is recruited by none other than Athena, who shows up, wondrously unaged, and takes her to Frank, now holed up in a farmhouse. In a summer that some analysts expect will top $5 billion for the first time, Memorial Day ranks as a bust, with numbers suggesting it will be the worst box office result for the holiday in at least five years. That glumness sits awkwardly in “Tomorrowland,” which strives against the fad for dystopian sagas—“The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and so forth—and bravely asks, Where did all the utopias go? Brad Bird directed “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” before switching to live action, for “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” the larkiest of the sequels in that franchise.

One sequence after another is streamlined and clean-cut, and you sense that Bird has a genuine affection for gizmos, not just because they’re cool but because they clear a path through the obstacles of life—because, in short, they work. Look at Casey, sending a mini-drone over NASA’s fence to mess with the security cameras; or the fiercely barking hologram that guards Frank’s house; or the bathtub that doubles as an escape pod, hurtling skyward when he wants to get out in a rush. Even gizmos, however, need to lead somewhere, and although “Tomorrowland” never runs out of objects or ideas, its supply of dramatic fuel soon springs a leak. Bird co-wrote the film with Damon Lindelof, who, as addled viewers of “Lost,” “Prometheus,” and “World War Z” can attest, is more concerned with setups than with payoffs.

No, it’s a superconcept! (It’s also, of course, a zone that you can visit at Disneyland, and “Tomorrowland” is a loyal Disney production.) Toward the end, it falls to Hugh Laurie to keep a heroically straight face as he inveighs against the people of Earth: “They didn’t fear their demise. Then there’s the herd of largely uninteresting, often unlikable folk whose fortunes we track in “Madame Bovary,” and who would be alarmed to learn that they were the raw material of a masterpiece. The latest director to make the attempt is Anne Fontaine, who approaches the problem sideways. “Gemma Bovery” is an adaptation not of Flaubert but of a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, which toys with an unlikely resurrection of the story in the modern age. An English couple, Charlie Bovery (Jason Flemyng) and his wife, Gemma (Gemma Arterton), move to a delightful, damp, and mouse-ridden house in a small Normandy town. He dotes on Gemma, corrects her French, and schools her in the kneading of dough (“my yoga,” he calls it), although his ogling seems paltry when compared to that of the camera, which carries out regular inspections of Arterton’s nape and breasts, in a succession of summer frocks.

Her character is vapid enough, as the novel demands, but anyone who hoped that Fontaine might unpick, rather than fortify, the male gaze is in for a letdown. Contrast the boldness with which Renoir, in his movie of 1934, made Emma somewhat older and plainer than custom dictates, and thereby made us reflect on the eyes of her beholders, and on how provincial myopia can skew the moral vision.

As Gemma goes through the motions of her fictional counterpart—boffing a blue blood in his faded château, hatching an appointment in Rouen Cathedral, and so on—we are offered a handful of sketchy observations on the extent to which art either does or does not mimic life. The only performer who seems at ease is Luchini, eternally hangdog, who in one juicy moment spies Gemma and her beau-to-be, at a market stall, and confesses not to envy but to “a strange kind of jubilation” at seeing Flaubert’s narrative lock into place.

Such glee, however, pales beside the delicate daring of François Ozon’s “In the House” (2012), a study of similar fixations, with Luchini as a literature teacher at the Lycée Gustave Flaubert. And that, in turn, is no match for “The Kugelmass Episode,” written by Woody Allen for this magazine, in 1977, which transports a balding, henpecked humanities professor into the midst of “Madame Bovary”: Emma turned in surprise. “Goodness, you startled me,” she said. “Who are you?” She spoke in the same fine English translation as the paperback. As for the ensuing scenes, which spring Emma forward through time into a suite at the Plaza, where she racks up room service and complains, yet again, of being bored (“Watching TV all day is the pits”)—well, read the tale for yourself.

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