24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Harry Potter and the Hald Blood Prince

'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' could augur a post-Harry Potter boom

March 22, 2010 |  1:37 pm

The surprise success of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" at the box office this weekend -- it earned nearly $22 million, beating out the blazing originality of "The Bounty Hunter" and "Repo Men" -- shows much about the state of contemporary box office (and not just that a well-made movie can actually come out this time of year).

For one thing, it demonstrates that audiences may finally be getting tired of Jennifer Aniston (we've heard that before, so fingers crossed). For another, it shows that a well-known title or brand -- the movie is based on Jeff Kinney's wildly bestselling children's graphic-novel series -- is these days increasingly likely to trump a well-known actor, as several pundits have noted.

But maybe most strikingly, it proves that books aimed at pre-adolescents can be turned into successful movies.

We've heard that one before too. Observers have spent the better part of this past decade of "Harry Potter" touting a post-Potter boom at the movies. But children's books -- especially those aimed at the pre-teen set -- generally haven't caught on at the multiplex. "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," based on the literary mega-phenomenon, flopped.  "The Golden Compass" helped sink New Line as a studio. And just last month, "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," based on Rick Riordan's bestselling fantasy series, generated more rain than thunder (though it fared far better overseas).

With "Diary" (and, in a somewhat different sense, with "Alice in Wonderland"), there are signs that the post-Potter boom is finally here. "Diary" producers pulled off a well-regarded pre-teen film despite a smaller budget than many of their more action-oriented counterparts. And they did so by showcasing a central character who's roughly the same age as much of the film's target audience. (The conventional wisdom among producers of youth-skewing movies is that most kids in elementary school and junior high want to see older characters, a la "Twilight" and "Pirates of the Caribbean").

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With bake-off, visual effects Oscar gets cooking

February 1, 2010 |  3:39 pm

In the wake of the blockbuster success of "Avatar," 3-D is all the rage in Hollywood -- and not just for big action movies either. A 3-D documentary called "Cane Toads" generated buzz in Sundance, and there's chatter that Ang Lee could make his next project, the adaptation of boy-on-boat bestseller “The Life of Pi,” in 3-D. (There are plenty of large-scale animals on the boat with the main character, including a 450-pound Bengal tiger).

Avat As one Oscar-winning effects guru said at the annual bake-off, the gathering of the Academy's visual effects branch narrowing down the contenders, "dramas are where [3-D is] heading."

The main purpose of the bake-off, held recently at Kate Mantilin's restaurant in Beverly Hills, is to whittle down a list of seven pictures (initially chosen from a list of 271 eligible films) to three titles that will be nominated for the Oscars. Presentations were made over the course of the dark, stormy night -- an appropriate tone for an evening featuring end-of-the-world epics, killer robots, wizards and general destruction.

"Avatar" is all but guaranteed one of the three Oscar slots, which left “Star Trek,” “2012,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” “Terminator: Salvation,” “District 9,” and “Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen" battling it out for the other two positions.

It was almost as interesting to note the films that didn't make the cut. Fanboy favorite “Watchmen" never made it as far as the bake-off despite arriving at theaters as one of the most anticipated effects films in recent memory; several artists, including some who worked on the Zack Snyder film, agreed that the middling reception to the film undermined its chances. "District 9," however, impressed despite being a much more modestly budgeted film. “It was physically impossible to see the difference between the background, humans and synthetic creatures,” one member remarked.

Before the presentations started, visual effects branch chairman Richard Edlund -- who picked up Oscars for the original “Star Wars” trilogy -- reviewed the red light rule, which requires presenters to wrap up when the light goes on. Some are more willing than others to follow that regulation. When James Cameron last appeared at the bake-off 12 years ago for “Titanic," he had a novel solution: When the red light flashed by the podium indicating his time was up, he casually reached over and unscrewed the light bulb.

-- Liesl Bradner


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