24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Universal Pictures

Five lessons from the success of Kristen Stewart's 'Snow White'

June 4, 2012 |  8:30 am

Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, turned out respectable box office as it opened in theaters to decent reviews

The $56.3 million taken in by "Snow White and the Huntsman" at the U.S. box office this weekend won't shatter any industry records. But the number, like the movie's "B" CinemaScore, was a respectable result in a season that has been turning out plenty of zeroes.

What drove the film, and what can be learned from it? Here are five lessons of "Snow White's" solid performance.

Capeless. Between "Battleship," "John Carter" and "Dark Shadows," spring 2012 has seemed like a parade of big-budget disappointments, particularly for non-superhero movies. Either your release is an all-out "Avengers"-style blockbuster or you're fighting for scraps. But the results for "Snow White," along with the $112-million "Men in Black 3" has taken in domestically since opening last weekend, showed that there's room for mid-range, non-superhero successes in a season that's been dominated by "The Avengers" (and will next month be stormed by "The Dark Knight Rises").

No fairy tale. With "Mirror Mirror," "Red Riding Hood" and "Beastly" all disappointments over the last 18 months, the fairy-tale boom has often seemed like a bust. Turns out there's life in the subgenre yet -- though we'll see if it's enough life to support a potential "Huntsman" spinoff.

Universalism. It hasn't exactly been the best season for Universal Pictures, with "Battleship" tanking and "The Five-Year Engagement" stalling. But "Snow White" (which also performed well overseas) sets things up for a possible turnaround -- something that will be much needed as the studio releases a trio of hyped bets this summer in "Savages," "Ted" and "The Bourne Legacy."

The adults shall lead them? Fairy tales have long been the province of family films or high-school fables, from Disney's longtime hits to the current crop of teen releases. But Rupert Sanders' movie proves that if you go dark enough and advertise outside the youth demo, adults with steady jobs will come too. The proof? More than half the audience for "Snow White" this weekend was over the age of 30, according to Universal.

No longer stewing. Her performance didn't put her on anyone's Oscar shortlist, and there are plenty of non-Twihards who still aren't sold on Kristen Stewart. But the weekend's opening proved that KStew could -- at least with the aid of costars, a major marketing campaign and a known property -- help open a movie.

RELATED:

"Snow White" has surprisingly strong $56.3-million debut

"Snow White and the Huntsman" is a tale darkly told, critics say

"Snow White's" Kristen Stewart still wants new "East of Eden" pic

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Credit: Universal Pictures


Universal Pictures salute showcases century of crowd-pleasing fare

May 3, 2012 |  8:00 am

AbbottCostello

Hollywood's golden age saw MGM celebrated for its glamour, Warner Bros. for its grit and social conscience and Paramount for its easy sophistication, but Universal was known for ... what exactly? The studio that today is synonymous with tours and theme parks did not have a signature house style or genre (unless you count horror films like “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” which are more of a presence in retrospect than they were at the time).

Those looking for an answer, or just looking for a good time, are directed toward “Universal Pictures: Celebrating 100 Years,” a fascinating UCLA Film & Television Archive series starting Friday at the Hammer Museum's Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood that offers a glimpse into that crowd-pleasing catalog.

Universal, unlike entities like MGM and Paramount, did not own a nationwide theater chain. Without guaranteed screens, the studio had to concentrate on making each film as accessible as possible and not worry about prestige or awards. Seen in that light, the studio's move to theme parks was perhaps inevitable.

As its title indicates, this massive 36-film series, scheduled to run through the end of June, is being put on to celebrate what UCLA describes as “the oldest continuously operating film producer and distributor in the United States.”

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After four years, Universal returns to CinemaCon with A-listers in tow

April 26, 2012 |  9:01 pm

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LAS VEGAS -- Universal Pictures hasn't brought a slate of films to CinemaCon for four years, but this year the studio pulled out all the stops at the exhibitors convention, teasing 10 movies from its slate and putting on a star-studded presentation with more big names than any other studio, including Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and John Travolta.

The footage included scenes from Oliver Stone's "Savages" and "The Bourne Legacy" starring Jeremy Renner; a teaser of "Les Misérables" with Anne Hathaway singing "I Dreamed a Dream"; and a glimpse of the recently delayed Keanu Reeves action flick "47 Ronin."

"Snow White & The Huntsman" received one of the more enthusiastic responses from the audience, who were visibly excited to see Stewart, Theron, director Rupert Sanders and producer Joe Roth emerge from backstage.

Studio chairman Adam Fogelson emphasized that choosing first-time feature director Sanders to helm the film was an unorthodox movie, saying it was "a pretty big risk to hand a movie of this size over to somewhat of a rookie."

Sanders said he was intrigued by the project because the Snow White fairy tale has long been his favorite, describing it as "the least princessy, least pink one" of the folklore tales.

Stewart, who seemed somewhat uncomfortable in front of the large audience, tapped her leg slightly as she called the film the "perfect choice for me. It was something to prove myself in," the "Twilight" veteran said.

Theron, who plays the film's evil queen, said that once the filmmaking team agreed with her vision to take the character "balls to the wall," she agreed to sign on.

"I didn't realize it'd be my balls," Sanders quipped.

The presentation only got more vulgar once "Family Guy" creator Seth McFarlane came out to promote "Ted," the summer comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and a talking teddy bear. The film's trailer has already created an immense amount of buzz in recent weeks, but McFarlane insisted the film has as much heart as it does raunch.

"Despite the tonnage of the language, it actually has a fairy tale undertone that permeates it," he said.

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'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' director: U.S. films losing voice

-- Amy Kaufman

twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: Kristen Stewart stars in "Snow White & The Huntsman." Credit: Universal Pictures


'Ted's' bong toke: Is the MPAA softening its drug policy?

April 16, 2012 | 10:47 pm

 

As we all know from the recent controversy over the initial R rating for the documentary “Bully,” the Motion Picture Assn. of America finds bad language very scary. It is almost entirely unperturbed by extreme violence, which is why so many movies, most notably “The Dark Knight,” can still receive a PG-13.

But when it comes to drugs, the MPAA apparently isn’t sure what it thinks anymore. It seems especially confused about what kind of drug use can be depicted in movie trailers, the primary means studios have of luring young people to see their films.

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Let’s go to Exhibit A: the new trailers for “Ted,” an upcoming R-rated comedy from “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane. For the last couple of weeks, the Internet has been abuzz over one uproarious trailer for the Universal Pictures film, which chronicles the wacky co-dependent friendship between Mark Wahlberg’s John and Ted, a foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed talking teddy bear.

The trailer is a so-called “red-band” trailer, which can be crammed with foul language and crude sexual humor. Because of restrictions imposed by the MPAA advertising administration wing, headed by Marilyn Gordon, it's almost impossible to see red-band trailers in theaters, although they are widely available on innumerable websites. Green-band trailers, in contrast, are generally scrubbed of most offensive content and made available either for “all audiences” or “appropriate audiences,” the latter being audiences in theaters that don't contain a significant proportion of children.

In recent years red-band trailers have flourished on the Internet, where they are a prized marketing weapon for studios eager to impress kids by showing just how much raunchy sex, drugs or naughty language is in their R-rated comedies. One of “Ted’s” red-band trailers on YouTube has been viewed 4.3 million times.

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PercyFX app: Add your own messages into movie clips [video]

April 7, 2012 |  8:00 am

Two mainstays of Web culture are sending short messages — via Twitter, instant messaging, texting, etc. — and re-appropriating pop-culture imagery, as the many mash-ups on YouTube or celebrity memes on Tumblr demonstrate. The smartphone app PercyFX does a little bit of both, allowing users to insert personalized written messages into clips from Hollywood movies.

Take for example the clip above from "The Big Lebowski," in which the slacker protagonist Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski uses an old detective's trick to reveal what the shady smut peddler Jackie Treehorn previously wrote on and ripped off a notepad. In the actual film, the Dude turns up a crude doodle, but users of PercyFX can change that to any message that fits into 54 characters.

Some of the app's suggested uses include sending birthday wishes or invitations, or even telling off your boss while quitting (don't expect a good reference), though users will doubtless come up with their own ideas.

The app, which launched a BlackBerry version in December and an iPhone and iPad version in January, currently includes a modest selection of recent and older films from Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures, including "Bridesmaids," "Animal House," "Despicable Me," "Sixteen Candles," "Wayne's World" and "Rango." New films are being added to the library at a rate of about one per week. The app is free, but customizing videos requires buying credits, with individual videos ranging from 24 to 33 cents.

Once created, the videos can be shared via email, Facebook and, in the case of Universal films, YouTube. (Paramount's corporate parent, Viacom Inc., is currently engaged in a copyright infringement lawsuit with YouTube.)

Julie Steiner, president of Toronto-based Percy3D, sees the app as a fun way for users to interact with and share movies they enjoy and identify with. "It's kind of like in your high school yearbook, everybody chose a quote from a movie," she said. "This is sort of this generation's version of that."

Steiner said the app is designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of users. "Depending on what age you are, different things appeal to you, different clips," she said. "We're always looking for stuff that's going to appeal to different age groups."

That said, the company is aware that a smartphone app could be a good way to reach a coveted young demographic. "That's the way [young people] are communicating and finding things," said Steiner, who is also a mother of teenagers. "My kids don't watch TV," she added. "They watch the Internet, they watch the computer."

For studios like Paramount and Universal, apps like PercyFX allow them to monetize their back catalogs and hopefully introduce new generations to their existing properties. The app, for example, also provides links to purchase or rent the featured films via iTunes and Amazon's video-on-demand services.

Steiner also said the app's current text-based personalization features are just the beginning, and the technology powering the app can also handle user-generated multimedia content such as photos and video.

Check out two more tongue-in-cheek videos created by 24 Frames below.

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— Oliver Gettell


'American Reunion' stars talk pies, sex, kids and rehab

April 4, 2012 |  2:02 pm

Seann William Scott, left, declines an offer of apple pie from actor Jason Biggs at the House of Pies restaurant in Los Feliz.
The guy who had sex with a pie.

That’s how most fans still identify Jason Biggs, even though it’s been 13 years since the actor partook in an infamous act of experimental copulation with a dessert in “American Pie.” The R-rated raunchfest set the bar for dirty high school comedies and launched the careers of many of its young stars, including Seann William Scott -- still known to many as the party-loving Stifler.

Both actors were featured in the two theatrical sequels to “Pie,” the last of which was released nine years ago. Now, Biggs, 33, and Scott, 35, are back in “American Reunion,” which brings the class of 1999 back to its Michigan hometown for a get-together. (Each has an executive producer credit on the film as well.)

A few days after returning from Europe where they had been promoting the film, we caught up with the pair at -- where else? -- Los Feliz’s House of Pies.

You’re already on your third cup of coffee, Jason. Has the press tour been exhausting?

Biggs: The last time I did a press tour that was this extensive was for the third “American Pie,” and that was nine years ago. Well, I guess my body has changed a lot in the last nine years. Back then, I was single, and I’d go out at night from dinner to drinks, go out with local people and party, and then roll into the publicity obligations in the morning with energy. Now, I lay down for a nap at 6 p.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. the next day. One glass of champagne and I’m like, “What happened last night, baby? Do I have a Mike Tyson tattoo on my face?”

How did landing “American Pie” change your career?

Scott: I was working at Home Depot. There were a lot of teen movies coming out, but this particular one seemed to have a buzz about it. So I quit Home Depot.

Biggs: It was the biggest high to date for me. I had been OK with girls before that.

Scott: But the part didn’t hurt.

Biggs: It was a lot different afterward. I totally realized that it was largely superficial and absolutely ridiculous and thought most of the people that were interested in me because of [fame] were absolutely ridiculous. But I’m also a young, virile man … that has opportunities now. And these opportunities need to be capitalized upon for the sake of men everywhere.

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3-D 'Jurassic Park' coming to theaters in July 2013

March 15, 2012 |  3:42 pm

"Jurassic Park" coming in 3-D

Steven Spielberg’s dinosaurs will roar again — but this time in 3-D.

Universal Pictures confirmed Thursday what long has been rumored: Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” will be re-released in 3-D, with the stereoscopic version set to come out in July 2013.

The 1993 drama about a science experiment gone bad was one of the first movies that used computer effects to create believable creatures. The film spawned two sequels, and ushered in a number of similar over-sized monster movies, including remakes of “Godzilla” and “King Kong.”

RELATED:

3-D makeover coming to aging Hollywood movies 

Steven Spielberg says 'Jurassic Park 4′ is on the way

Disney plans 3-D re-releases of 'Little Mermaid,' 'Nemo'

-- John Horn

Photo: Ariana Richards, Sam Neill and Joseph Mazzello in "Jurassic Park." Credit: Amblin Entertainment / Universal Pictures


'Safe House': Universal looks for vivid visuals from Espinosa [video]

February 9, 2012 |  2:50 pm

Daniel Espinosa
Star Denzel Washington, who plays opposite Ryan Reynolds, thought it was a little odd that Swedish director Daniel Espinosa wanted to put his "Safe House" cameras behind his actors' heads, rather than in front of them. Producer Universal Studios was a bit taken aback when they saw the first batch of footage from the film's South Africa set, but eventually calmed down.

But the very things that give "Safe House" its unusual look are what separate the CIA thriller from any number of action movies. Even though the film is likely to lose to "The Vow" at the weekend box office, "Safe House" marks a notable arrival of a new filmmaker.

This week, John Horn profiles the young filmmaker, and in this video talks about his distinctive style:

-- John Horn


Universal Studios unveils 100th anniversary plans

January 10, 2012 | 12:01 am

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Universal Studios will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year in large part by restoring and reissuing some of the studio’s classic films, including “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Jaws,” “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Birds.”

As part of its centennial, the former studio home of filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock will unveil a new movie logo that will debut on “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” on March 2 and be shown at the start of all Universal films thereafter.

One of the most tangible aspects of the anniversary, outside of the logo and a new historical focus on the tram tour attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, will be the studio’s efforts to restore 13 films and introduce a 100th anniversary collector’s series on DVD. It is unclear if some, or any, of the restored films will be released theatrically.

The slate of restored films is rounded out by “Dracula,” “Dracula Spanish,” “Frankenstein,” “Schindler’s List,” “Out of Africa,” “Pillow Talk,” “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Sting.”

“I have four kids,” said Ron Meyer, Universal’s president and chief operating officer, “and they haven’t seen ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ or ‘Pillow Talk.’” He is hopeful that the centenary work will “reintroduce our audience to films they wouldn’t know.”

At the studio’s theme parks, 100th anniversary materials will be highlighted in a new “entertainment experience” in Orlando, Fla., and a new focus on the studio’s filmmaking legacy at Universal City.

Universal Film Manufacturing Co. was incorporated on April 30, 1912. The studio has passed through several owners over the last few years and is now controlled by Comcast Corp. as a majority holder and General Electric as a minority owner.

The studio’s 2012 lineup features several ambitious, expensive productions, including “Battleship,” “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “47 Ronin.”

— John Horn

Photo: Gregory Peck stars as small-town Southern attorney Atticus Finch, who defends a black man accused of rape, in 1962's "To Kill a Mockingbird," which is to be restored and reissued on DVD as part of Universal's centenary celebration. Credit: Universal Studios


'Fast and Furious' 6 and 7 may speed into production together

October 21, 2011 | 11:09 am

FastFive
EXCLUSIVE: Eager to move ahead with new installments of what's currently the studio's hottest series, Universal Pictures is considering shooting its sixth and seventh "Fast and Furious" movies back-to-back with a single story connecting the two films.

Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who wrote the last three films, is busy working on story ideas while director Justin Lin, who also worked on the last three "Fast" movies, is expected to return behind the cameras for both films, according to people familiar with the studio’s plans but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Universal already has penciled in a May 24, 2013, release for “Fast and the Furious 6,” but the consecutive shooting schedule may result in a later launch, as Lin would be shooting the seventh film before he could edit the sixth. By making the two movies together, the seventh film could be in theaters sooner than the typical two-year gap between the Vin Diesel movies.

The idea of shooting multiple films has been tried (and has succeeded) before. Recent examples include “Back to the Future,” whose first and second  sequels were filmed consecutively, as were the second and third “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.  Peter Jackson shot all three “Lord of the Rings” films in one epic swoop, a pattern he is following with his two “Hobbit” films, due Dec. 14, 2012, and Dec. 13, 2013.

Paramount Pictures is also considering shooting the fourth and fifth "Transformer" movies together, according to a report in Variety.

Such combined production schedules can significantly reduce the combined cost of the two films and also minimize scheduling and staffing issues, as the lead cast and filmmakers essentially work on one longer production rather than coordinating their calendars to reassemble two separate times.

Universal's potential "Fast and the Furious" strategy would represent a risk for the studio, as it already would have invested hundreds of millions to make a seventh movie before knowing if the sixth was a hit.

The "Fast and Furious" franchise, which began in 2001, almost died with 2006's modest performer "Fast and the Furious 3" before revving back with 2009's fourth installment and this year's hit "Fast Five," which grossed $624 million worldwide.

A Universal spokeswoman declined to comment.

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When can we expect the sixth film in the 'Fast and Furious' franchise?

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-- John Horn and Ben Fritz

Photo: Elsa Pataky and Vin Diesel in "Fast Five." Credit: Universal Pictures


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