Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Twilight Saga comes to an end in John Gosling's weekend movie preview.

This weekend, after only four years, the Twilight saga comes to a close with the release of Breaking Dawn Part 2.  Based on the books by Stephenie Meyer, it has become a global phenomenon, creating its own literary sub genre with many imitators (the multi-million selling 50 Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fiction). Primarily, the series concerns the romance between 17 year old Bella Swan and the eternally youthful vampire, Edward Cullen. Like Harry Potter, the series has also spawned all manner of related (and not so related) merchandise, along with gaining a fervent fan base. The first book, Twilight, had not been an easy sell for Meyer, and had been rejected a number of times before securing a publishing deal with Little, Brown and Company, who paid $750K as part of a three book deal (LBC originally offered $300K, Meyer had wanted $1M). Published in October 2005, the initial print run of 75,000 sold out, and the book debuted at number five on the New York Times Best Seller's list within a month of its release and would eventually reach the top spot. In September of 2006, a follow up was released, entitled New Moon. Like its predecessor, the book was incredibly successful, selling out of its entire 100,000 hardback print run and making the top spot on the USA Today best sellers list (as well as the NY Times one again). 

While the series was already on its way to becoming a phenomenon, it's arguable that it was the third book, Eclipse, that really put the Twilight Saga front and center on a global scale. Eclipse was released just eleven months after New Moon, with a print run of one million copies and sold 150,000 within the first 24 hours of its publication (It also knocked Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows off the top of the best seller's chart). But even greater success was to come with the release of the final part of the series - Breaking Dawn, in August 2008. By this point the fan base was firmly established and incredible sales were a given - something indicated by its huge initial print run of 3.7 million copies (It would sell 1.3 million editions in the first 24 hours). Not only that, but with the first three books now going down a storm on paperback, The Twilight series held the first four places on the 2008 biggest sellers list - ordered as Twilight, New Moon, Breaking Dawn and Eclipse. This success hadn't gone unnoticed by Hollywood, which was always on the look out for the next 'Harry Potter'.

The rights to produce a movie based on the first book were secured by MTV Films, a sub-division of Paramount Pictures in 2004, while Meyer was still shaping the story. Their screenplay differed quite considerably to the finished book and a decision was made not to move forward with the project. With the adaptation stalled, the potential picture was put into turnaround. In 2007, Summit Entertainment, who up until that point had been a distribution house for studio pictures overseas, moved into fully-fledged film production thanks to a $1 billion dollar deal led by Merrill Lynch. The studio then moved to secure the rights to Twilight by agreeing to cover Paramount's development costs to date (plus interest). Summit assigned Catherine Hardwicke to direct and Melissa Rosenberg to adapt Meyer's first book for the screen. Rosenberg began by outlining the story, sending excerpts and scenes to Hardwicke for approval and feedback. However, with the impending Writer's strike set to begin in October 2007, she had to work full time to complete the screenplay before the deadline hit, especially if the film was to make its November 2008 release date. With Hardwicke and the studio happy with what Rosenberg had turned in, casting could began on the now $37M budgeted Twilight

For the lead role of the vampire Edward Cullen, the director chose Robert Pattinson, a young model turned actor whose most notable role to date had been as the tragic hero Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As for Bella Swan, the female protagonist and narrator of the story, Kristen Stewart was selected. In comparison to Pattinson, Stewart was something of an old hand at the acting game, having featured in over fifteen movies prior to signing up for Twilight. The remainder of the cast would be made up of similar new faces and old hands (so to speak), notably Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli and Billy Burke. Signs of its future success came with the news that the first trailer had been viewed more times than the one for the long-awaited fourth Indiana Jones film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With midnight ticket sales accounting for $7M worth of business, Summit knew they'd struck gold. Twilight would make $35.9M over it first day, on its way to a stunning $69.6M weekend. It's worth noting that prior to release the film's potential was something of a complete unknown - the books had very little cross over from the female demographic and this was essentially a brand new property. But, by the end of that first weekend, everyone knew Twilight's name.

In all, the first film in the saga generated $192M domestically, with an equally impressive $199M coming overseas - all from that budget of $37M. In the month the first movie was released, Summit announced they'd been granted the rights to produce further films in the series, and planned to release the next one, New Moon, just twelve months later. Due to the tight production window, Hardwicke opted not to return, and she was replaced by American Pie helmer, Chris Weitz. Melissa Rosenberg would return to script on what was now being called The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The picture would receive a slight budgetary increase, to $50M, but that aside, it was business as usual as the vast majority of the existing cast would return. The story this time around would focus more on Bella's relationship with Jacob Black, a friend with a dark secret. Any worries that Twilight was a flash in the pan were soon dispelled when the new picture smashed the midnight screenings records, taking $26.3M. It would make an astonishing $142M over the next three days, and finished up at the end of its 19 week run with $296M in its coffers. The news was even better internationally, where New Moon amassed $413M. From a $50M budget, the picture saw a $709M global return. If the series wasn't a cinematic phenomenon thanks to the first film, it most certainly was after the second. While the first sequel was still in post-production, Summit announced work had already begun on The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Due to still working on the second picture, Chris Weitz would not return to direct the third and instead, the studio hired David Slade, who had recently finished work on a different type of vampire flick, the ultra-violent 30 Days of Night

Eclipse received another slight budget increase, to $68M and would be the first of the series to debut mid-Summer - only seven months after the release of New Moon. The majority of the principle cast would return, with the notable exception of Rachelle Lefevre's Victoria, who would be replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard (Summit claimed this was due to a scheduling conflict, something Leferve vehemently denied). Having had November all to itself, Eclipse would face a number of summer blockbusters, and while they did impact on some levels, the film still performed exceptionally well. It set a record prior to opening thanks to seeing the highest theatre count of all time (4,468), a feat it still holds to this day. It smashed the midnight screening record set by New Moon back in November, taking $30M, and went on to have the biggest Wednesday in cinematic history ($68.5M). The flick would make $300.5M in North America, a series best, with a further $397.9M abroad (Stronger than Twilight, slightly weaker than New Moon). The only blip on the horizon was that there was only one book left to adapt. Or was there?

Meyer stated in 2009 that she thought that if a Breaking Dawn film was to be made, it would almost certainly have to split into two parts due to the length of the book (something Warner Bros. did with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). But it wasn't as simple as that due to the cast being contracted for one film, not two. Furthermore, any new deal would need to reflect how huge (and essential) the three main leads were to the films - though Summit were not against recasting any other role, according to reports, if deals could not be brokered for 'two' pictures. By June 2010, the studio confirmed that they would indeed split the release of Breaking Dawn into two films and that all players would return for both parts. However, it was decided to still shoot the film as one huge project, with a view to splitting it up during post production. The budget would require a huge boost - with the entire endevour said to have cost around $241M to bring to screens (split $110M for Part 1, $131M for Part 2 according to sources). Tasked with the now enormous undertaking was Bill Condon, who had directed Gods and Monsters and Dreamgirls, and had won the job over Sophia Coppola and Gus Van Sant. Filming officially began in November 2010 in Brazil, before moving on to Baton Rouge and Vancouver over the course of the next six months. 

There was also some talk that the second half would be shot in or converted to 3D to reflect Bella's heightened awareness since becoming a vampire. However Condon was against the idea unless he could shoot in 3D, being fearful of post-converted features since seeing the work done on Clash of the Titans. In the end, the production stuck to two dimensions. The shoot officially finished for the majority of the cast on April 15th 2011, with the actual final day of filming on the entire Twilight Saga being April 22nd. Post production began while shooting was still taking place in order to meet Breaking Dawn Part 1's November 2011 release date. One issue that was still to be dealt with, and that had come up repeatedly prior to and during shooting, was the graphic nature of some of the sequences in the story (among others, the birth of Bella and Edward's daughter) leading some to speculate that the new films would need to be R-rated to do the scenes justice. However, the studio simply couldn't risk alienating the fanbase by accepting a higher rating. Condon, as director, was more than aware of this and shot the sequences to be intense, without being graphic. Both films would receive a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

Breaking Dawn Part One would cover the wedding of Edward and Bella, and the birth of their daughter Renesmee, a vampire/human hybrid. Part two would then cover Bella coming to terms with her newly acquired vampire status  and impact their child has on the vampire world. While reviews have never been a strong point of the series, the first Breaking Dawn flick is the lowest rated at the time of writing. It opened in November 2011 to a $71.6M first day haul, heading towards a weekend total of $138.1M, slightly weaker than New Moon's $142M but still very strong. Even with a huge drop the following week, the film still managed to hit $200M in only nine days. All up, Breaking Dawn Part 1 finished its domestic run with $281.2M, ranking it as the third best performing of the series. Internationally the news was similar to the two previous releases, the latest finishing with $423M. What came to light with these figures was that the series had pretty much reached saturation point. 

The fan base had remained steady (perhaps due to the lack of a new book) and meant that while the films had been incredibly successful, the final part is unlikely to break out further and hit $900M in total ticket sales, for example. Given that the entire production budget for Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2 was covered amply by just the first film's revenue, Summit is unlikely to be too concerned if the final flick doesn't find a wealth of new fans. As it stands today, the series has made a global total of $2.5 billion dollars, from a budget of $265M - and that doesn't include any DVD/Blu-ray or related merchandise sales. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 opens this weekend at an estimated 4,000 locations.

In limited release this weekend (and expanding wide next) is the romantic comedy drama, The Silver Linings Playbook, which is directed by David O. Russell. The story is an adaptation (done by Russell) of Matthew Quick's book of the same name, and follows Pat Solitano (played by Bradley Cooper) as he tries to get his life together after losing his job, wife and house. After moving back in with his Philadelphia Eagles obsessed parents, Pat meets Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who has issues of her own to work through. The two form a friendship, and Tiffany agrees to help Pat get his wife back, if he will do something very important for her in return. Joining Cooper and Lawrence are Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, who play Pat's parents, along with a rare acting turn for comedian Chris Tucker (this is his first on-screen role since 2007's Rush Hour 3). The feature actually started with different leads - Mark Wahlberg was set to play Pat (having worked with director Russell on The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees and Three Kings) but chose to play opposite Russell Crowe in Broken City instead. Similarly, Anne Hathaway had been tagged for the role of Tiffany but filming clashed with her commitment to The Dark Knight Rises. Blake Lively and Kirsten Dunst were both said to be in the running too, but Jennifer Lawrence ultimately won out. Silver Linings shot earlier this year and debuted to great acclaim at the Toronto Film festival in September 2012, winning the People's Choice Award over Ben Affleck's Argo. Since then it has continued to collect plaudits and great notices for both cast and individual performances. The Silver Linings Playbook opens at 15 locations this weekend, expanding nationwide next week.

Finally this weekend we have the limited release of Joe Wright's Anna Karenina. The film is an adaptation of the Tolstoy classic which was first published in 1887 and has been bought to  the silver screen at least ten times, in one incarnation or another. This latest version was adapted by playwright Tom Stoppard, and stars Kiera Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Wright signed up as director once work on his previous release, Hanna, was completed and began assembling his cast around mid-2011, with a view to start shooting in October at Shepperton Studios. Like The Silver Linings Playbook, Anna Karenina received its premiere at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival in September, and debuted in UK cinemas the same month. Critical opinion has been somewhat mixed, but generally runs from average to very good indeed. Set to open in 16 theaters at the time of writing, the film is unlikely to expand further unless it does exceptional business.

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, which was covered in the preview for last weekend, expands nationwide this Friday.

John Gosling

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