by Rob Gonsalves
Too hip for the room?
It's official: America would rather see a Will Ferrell skating comedy in its second weekend, an animated kiddie flick in its second weekend, and an Ice Cube comedy sequel than see the Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez labor of love 'Grindhouse,' which debuted at #4 with a less-than-stellar $11 million. Some, including Harvey Weinstein, are asking 'Why? Why? Oh, God, WHY?' Well, there are five possible answers, and maybe at least one of them actually isn't bullshit. You be the judge.
(1) Size does matter. Harvey Weinstein thinks it was the three-hour-plus running time: "Our research showed the length kept people away. It was the single biggest deterrent. It was 3 hours and 12 minutes long. We originally intended to get it all in in 2 hours, 30 minutes. That would have been a better time. But the movies ran longer, the [fake] trailers ran longer, everything ran longer."
True, a 192-minute flick, even if it's two flicks, is a sizable chunk of time. Still, that didn't stop Peter Jackson's last four films from enjoying healthy opening weekends. Nor did it stop Titanic from chugging its way to box-office glory. The point is, length in and of itself isn't necessarily the kiss of death — if people want to see the movie.
(2) Nice timing, boneheads. Quint over at Ain't It Cool News questioned whether Easter weekend was the optimal time to unleash a double-barreled spray of gore and mayhem upon a heavily Christian nation: "People going to see movies last weekend were more than likely going as a family, taking the kids or the parents and grandparents. If 300 had been released last weekend, it would have flopped, too."
Hence the relative success of Blades of Glory, Meet the Robinsons, and Are We Done Yet?, presumably. But look at some of the other blockbusters that also opened over the Zombie Jesus and Egg-Distributing Hare weekend: Panic Room ($30,056,751); The Matrix ($27,788,331); Indecent Proposal ($18,387,632 in 1993 dollars). These were all R-rated films not meant for or marketed to "the kids or the parents and grandparents." I don't think 300 would've flopped; The Matrix didn't.
(3) Under-17 kids bought a ticket to one of the other three flicks and then snuck into Grindhouse. This is plausible, though it depends on how many multiplexes still have ushers roaming around in theaters looking for underage faces and asking them to show their ticket stubs.
(4) Eh, I'll wait for the DVD. It's a Netflix world, and the studios are living in it. Films are still doing pretty well — look at 300. But people are being way more selective about which movies are worth putting up with the ticket prices, the concession prices, the parking and babysitting prices, the noisy assholes in the theater, the clueless assholes who are supposed to be making sure the film's in focus and the boom mikes are out of frame, etc.
Now, if ever there was a movie hyped as an Event To Be Seen In Theaters, it was Grindhouse. But:
(5) The mass audience doesn't know what the fuck "grindhouse" even is. As incessant as the marketing was, it wasn't as crystal-clear about what the movies were about as actual old grindhouse trailers so often were. When Defamer ran a blog entry about Grindhouse's disappointing returns, commenter Magister summed it up succinctly: "Plus, all of the ads that I can recall promoted the directors and the concept. I've seen nothing that has told me anything about the content."
TARANTINO AND RODRIGUEZ ARE BACK — BACK TO BACK, the ads screamed. But the average moviegoer doesn't know or care who Tarantino or Rodriguez are. And the trailers, edited to buzz the predisposed fans, offered a barrage of disconnected imagery that gave very little indication of what, exactly, the viewer was getting aside from scratchy, bad-ass moments. And if you're not enthralled by the idea of an old-school double feature, you're looking for what the movies are about, and all you get are explosions, Rose McGowan with a gun for a leg, and Kurt Russell driving a car.
There's a reason QT and RR lavished such nostalgic love on this project: because the days of grindhouse are over. When a movie can feature cannibalism and a sicko wearing women's skin — lurid material once confined to the most gruesome and disreputable flicks ever to see the light of a red-light-district projector — and go on to win five Oscars, something's going on. Grindhouse has been assimilated, mainstreamed. The brand of cinema sleaze enshrined in Grindhouse is long dead aside from rogue outfits like Troma, and what was the last Troma film that opened in 2,000 plexes nationwide? People like their sex and violence slicker these days, with a patina of respectability. (The exception is the horror genre, which tries single-handedly to keep the grindhouse spirit alive, but the "torture porn" trend may turn out to be as short-lived as the slasher-flick boom of the '80s. Turistas came and went; The Hills Have Eyes II came and went.)
Drive-ins are on their last shaky legs. The 42nd-Street fleapits (and fleapits like them around the country) that used to show stuff like Machete are mostly gone. The mechanism that used to supply grindhouse flicks to theaters across America like so many blood-and-tit-covered sausages is gone. Fans get their sleaze fix from DVD outfits like Blue Underground, Synapse, and Anchor Bay these days. Grindhouse was always going to appeal to a cultish, fanboy/girl niche; its crossover potential was limited. The QT/RR/cult-movie fans did come out, but, as with Serenity, there weren't enough fans; Harvey Weinstein should be thankful the movie made as much as it did. (And now, reportedly, he's thinking about releasing the films separately, and I promise you they will bomb just as badly as separate units as they did as a package.)
Grindhouse died in theaters because grindhouse, as a theatrical experience, is dead. End of story.
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originally posted: 04/10/07 00:34:19
last updated: 04/11/07 09:34:34