11 March 2008

New Direction for The Golden Compass?

Monica Edinger alerted me to an interesting article in Variety about the movie version of The Golden Compass. Although it's seen as an expensive dud here in the US, it's been performing very well overseas. In fact:

After its strong start in Japan last week, "The Golden Compass" is on course to make box office history as the first film to gross $300 million in foreign while failing to reach $100 million in North America.
None of that helps the executives at the New Line studio, which is being absorbed into parent company Warner Bros. For one thing, they had sold off most of the international distribution rights, so those grosses "in foreign" aren't helping the company. For another, the situation implies that the movie could have been a hit in America as well if New Line's Marketing Department had taken the right approach.

Variety suggests The Golden Compass should have been marketed as a family film (i.e, for middle-grade kids and parents, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) rather than a special-effects adventure film (for teen boys, like the studio's magnificently successful Lord of the Rings). I don't have enough of a feel for movie marketing to parse the differences here. But the controversy over the books' portrait of an oppressive church might have foreclosed some of those Narnia marketing channels. Then again, the movie grossed "a perfectly decent $15 million" in Italy even after the Pope himself had spoken up for oppressive churches everywhere by calling it "the most anti-Christmas film possible."

Producer Deborah Forte seems determined to proceed with a sequel based on The Subtle Knife, my favorite of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Back in 1999 Sony Pictures president Amy Pascal told Entertainment Weekly, “If a movie makes $400 million, you make a sequel. It’s that simple.” She was talking about the Roland Emmerich-directed Godzilla, released in 1998. It made $136 million in the US and $243 million overseas--more than The Golden Compass has so far, without even adjusting for inflation. And we still haven't seen a sequel to that.

We also haven't seen DVD revenue for The Golden Compass. Though its visuals won't look so handsome on a smaller screen, the movie might find its family audience at home and start to grow American interest in a sequel.

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