Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wreck It Ralph vs Flight in the Weekend Movie Preview.

Easily expected to be the biggest film this weekend, Wreck-It Ralph is the latest release from Disney Animation. The plot follows Ralph, the protagonist in the fictional video game Fix-It Felix, who tires of being the bad guy and leaves his game to find another in which he can become a hero. Along the way he encounters Tamora Calhoun, a sergeant in the Call of Duty/Halo style game, Hero's Duty and Vanellope von Schweetz, an 8 year old girl in racing game, Sugar Rush. But while Ralph is trying to realise his dream, Schweetz discovers a problem within her own game, one that could have dire consequences not only for the cast of Sugar Rush but the entire arcade - and it looks like Ralph leaving his own game could be the cause of all the problems. Development on Wreck-It Ralph began a number of years ago, as an idea from story artist Sam Levine. At that point the picture was known as Joe Jump and featured an over the hill character attempting to make the transition into modern videogames. Levine was making good progress on the project (enough for a rough synopsis to turn up online) but when John Lasseter took over as head of Disney Animation in 2006, the status of Joe Jump became unclear. While the Pixar honcho let Levine (and his writer) work on the project for a further year, it began to languish, and with little sign of moving forward, Joe Jump was put on the shelf and Levine was assigned to another project. While Lasseter was impressed by the core idea, he wasn't sold on the story itself. 

Moving forward to October/November of 2009 and another project that wasn't working out - the still missing in action, King of the Elves, on which all work was halted while it was retooled. Requiring a project for 2012-2013, Disney dusted off Joe Jump and set Rich Moore to direct. Moore got his break working on TV shows like The Simpsons, The Critic and Futurama, amongst others, and also did sequence direction on The Simpsons Movie. He took on Joe Jump and completely reworked what Levine had done, erasing almost all trace according to those familiar with both version. The picture also received a title change, to Reboot Ralph and now resembled the plot detailed above.  In order to add an air of authenticity to Ralph's world, Moore and his creative team opted to write in a number of cameo roles for famous (and not so famous) video game characters, with the idea to secure the rights when scripting and storyboarding was complete. The vast majority of copyright holders granted permission (though Nintendo were said to have requested too high a fee to allow the use of Mario and Luigi), with some going so far as to work alongside the animators to ensure there was no misrepresentation. In all, there are said to be over 185 of these cameo appearance in the finished film, including Sonic The Hedgehog, Streetfighter's Chun Li and Zangief, alongside the cast of Q-bert and Pac-Man. For the voice behind the character of Ralph, Moore chose John C. Reilly, with Sarah Silverman as Schweetz and Jane Levy as Sergeant Calhoun (30 Rock's Jack McBrayer takes on the role of Fix-It Felix). 

Originally set for a March 2013 release, the picture was actually pulled forward to November 2012 thanks to being ahead of schedule. In June 2011, Reboot Ralph got its final name change, to Wreck-It Ralph, and the first footage debuted a couple of month later at Disney D23 conference. The first trailer appeared in June 2012, timed to coincide with the E3 videogame festival. The studio went all out on marketing the picture, producing fake commercials for the Fix-It Felix and Hero's Duty arcade games, retro-style posters and even going so far as to create an actual Fix-It Felix videogame for online and mobile devices. A second trailer appeared with the 3D release of Finding Nemo in September. Disney will be hoping that Wreck-It Ralph can play to both the old and the young, with the former recognising the retro characters from their youth. In terms of competition, Ralph will face the six week old Hotel Transylvania, which has had the family market almost entirely to itself, becoming the film of choice by default (Frankweenie aside). Expectations are high and while initial reviews haven't been quite as strong as anticipated, Wreck-It Ralph should comfortably open to figures north of $40M.

Flight marks the return of Robert Zemeckis to live action directing after a 12 year hiatus and stars Denzel Washington as airline pilot Whip Whitaker. When a flight runs into trouble, Whitaker manages to execute a safe emergency landing, saving everyone on board. However, during an investigation into the events, it's revealed that the pilot had alcohol in his bloodstream, something that could lead him to be prosecuted and face life in jail. John Gatins scripted the film, the idea coming during a flight he made in 1999, when he sat next to an off-duty pilot. He began sketching out the basic plot and air crash center piece, but unable to get much further, he moved on to writing and making his directorial debut on Dreamer. When Dreamworks' Adam Goodman (who had signed up Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity and worked with Gatins on Dreamer) asked him to write an outline for a new film, he turned in Flight. Despite the idea (at that point) being both unconventional and largely non-commercial, Goodman would bring it with him when he moved from Dreamworks to Paramount. Teaming Gatins with producers Walter Parkes and Laurie McDonald, the trio spent months working on the script, experiencing particular problems with its ending. The project still didn't move forward and eventually Gatins departed to work on the screenplay for Real Steel. In 2010, the script ended up in the hands of agent Ed Limato, who in turn showed it to his client, Denzel Washington. The actor liked what he read and met with Gatins, but wanted a more experienced director to helm the feature. Around this time, Robert Zemeckis found himself without a project and came across the script for Flight.

Motion Capture had been the reason for Zemeckis' absence from live action filming since 2000's Castaway. Beginning with The Polar Express in 2004, the costly festive release (produced through his company ImageMovers) did turn a profit but came in for criticism for the 'dead eye' nature of its characters, something the director attempted to rectify with his 2007 follow up, Beowulf and 2009's A Christmas Carol, to varying degrees of success. However, it was 2011's costly flop, Mars Needs Moms (that Zemeckis produced via ImageMovers Digital - a partnership with Disney) that was the final nail in the coffin, becoming the biggest bomb in cinematic history. After pre-production on his fourth motion-capture film, Yellow Submarine, was scrapped due to budgetary issues and concerns over the success of the mo-cap system, he opted to return to live action (though hasn't ruled out a return to motion capture particularly in regard to a long-gestating Roger Rabbit sequel).  

In April 2011, it was announced that Robert Zemeckis had signed on to direct Flight, with Washington's participation confirmed in June. Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood and John Goodman would all join the picture by late September, with a view to begin shooting mid-October 2011. Thanks to a huge tax incentive by the state of Georgia and the director and main star foregoing their usual salaries, Paramount were able to bring Flight to screens for just $31M (adjusted for inflation, the smallest budget Zemeckis had worked with since 1980's Used Cars, according to an interview he gave to the LA Times). Washington comes to Flight off the back of the second biggest domestic release of his career, February's Safe House, and has remained a reliable (if not always huge) box office draw for a number of years. Early reviews for Flight have been solid enough, with many pointing out Washington's dramatic turn and the central plane crash sequence as particular highlights. As a method to further reduce costs and their own risk, Paramount have opted to put Flight into 1,800 locations this weekend, worried that the R-rated drama may struggle to find an audience despite the recent success of the similarly dramatic (and R-rated) Argo.

The wild card entry this week is The Man with the Iron Fists, a Shaw Brothers style martial arts epic directed by RZA, a member of the rap group, Wu-Tang Clan. The film was officially announced back in 2008, but RZA and director Eli Roth had talked about the project as early as 2005. Roth joined in a producing capacity in 2007 and the duo spent the next two years turning RZA's story into a workable script, with the view that the Wu-Tang member would make his feature directing debut on the movie. While still in development, Quentin Tarantino agreed to get involved, offering to lend his name in a 'Presented By' capacity (RZA claimed in October 2012 that the two had planned a crossover with Tarantino's Django Unchained which would see the rapper cameo as his Iron Fist's character but time constraints meant it didn't come off). With a $20M production budget in place, shooting commenced in Shanghai in December 2010, with the legendary fight choreographer Corey Yuen co-ordinating the action sequences. The premise would see a blacksmith (played by RZA) forced to defend his villiage when a group of warriors and assassins descend upon it in a hunt for gold. 

Amongst its cast, The Man with the Iron Fists counts Lucy Liu, mixed martial arts fighter Cung Le and former-WWE wrestler, David Bautista. Joining them would be Russell Crowe, who had worked with RZA on the Paul Haggis film, The Next Three Days. By March 2011, the director was ready to assemble his first cut, which ran to an eye-watering four hours. Initially the idea of releasing two films was entertained but Roth convinced him to edit the film down to a tight 96 minutes (RZA admitted to leaving the editing process for two weeks in disgust at having to chop his film down to size). To promote the picture, alongside the usual trailers (standard and ultra violent red band which debuted in June and August respectively), the rapper turned director embarked on an 11 city music concert tour, and also narrated an animated prequel, detailing how the blacksmith had first encountered Bautista's Brass Body character. Universal are on board to distribute the picture and have opted to put the film into around 1,800 locations, perhaps a little unsure how the Grindhouse-style flick will play with the general public.

John Gosling


Derrold said...

Considering Denzel's fear of working with inexperienced directors (e.g. Tony Gilroy), it's surprising he agreed to star in Safe House. Flight looks conventional to me. Will be seeing because of Oscar buzz surrounding Denzel's performance.

max said...

antagonist, not protagonist
Lynch, not Levy


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