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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
It’s been a few weeks since the last edition of this feature, but I am back and ready to write about failures once again (my favorite topic to write about!). For this installment of What Went Wrong? I will once again take a look at two films I have recently watched, perhaps giving me insight into why these films either struggled mightily or outright failed at the domestic box office.
From writer/director David Wain, Wanderlust is the story of middle-aged couple George and Linda (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) as they struggle with losing their jobs in New York City, forcing them to move into a posh Atlanta suburb with George’s boorish older brother (Ken Marino, in an hilarious supporting role). When this doesn’t work out, the couple joins a commune in rural Georgia, eschewing modern conveniences and attempting to get back to nature. Featuring a lively cast that also includes Alan Alda, Malin Akerman, and Justin Theroux, Wanderlust is extremely funny, combining the type of humor prevalent in director Wain’s previous films (Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models) with the type of humor one might find on NBC’s Thursday night comedy block (e.g., shows like Parks and Recreation and Community). Wanderlust was also positively reviewed, garnering a ‘Fresh’ rating on the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. So, what exactly went wrong?
First things first, with the exception of Role Models, nothing in Wain’s filmography suggests any kind of mainstream success (and even Role Models is fairly forgettable in an I Love You, Man or Forgetting Sarah Marshall kind of way). Wain and his typical crew (Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, Ken Marino) of writers and contributors are the very definition of alternative comedy. Wain’s films and oeuvre in general appeal solely to a narrow subset of the population, most of whom would probably be more apt to catch this movie during its home release (just as they did with Wet Hot American Summer). Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, on the other hand, are mainstream names and have appeared in bonafide box office hits consistently over the past half-decade (Aniston is one of the highest-earning actresses in Hollywood, for example). The two of them should have been at least able to open a film with more than the measly eight million dollars Wanderlust took in during its first weekend. Opening in a fairly small amount of theaters (2,002) and up against the Tyler Perry machine, the recently released Journey 2, and the action hit Act of Valor, the film probably never had a shot at a big opening weekend gross. Also in theaters during that same month were hits like The Vow, Safe House, and Chronicle. I recommend checking out Wanderlust on DVD, especially if you’re a fan of Rudd, Wain, and crew.
I have previously reviewed Sanctum for this blog. It was one of the first film reviews we ever did for the site, and as such it might be a bit poor. I recently re-watched Sanctum in 3D on my home set-up. I remember liking it somewhat initially, and wanted to go back and check it out again. Sanctum is the story of a father and son (Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield) who are often at odds with each other, but bond during an accident on an underwater cave dive. Filmed with 3D cameras (apparently the same technology used to film Avatar – James Cameron is a producer here), Sanctum looks absolutely amazing. The story is solid and the main performances are good (the less said about Ioan Gruffudd, who is awful, the better). The film seemed primed to take some of that big 3D money to the bank, but failed domestically. So what exactly went wrong?
Sanctum met with mixed-to-low reviews when it hit American theaters in February 2011. The advertising made it seem like some kind of underwater monster/horror movie rather than a disaster movie (no monsters appear in Sanctum, unless you count man as a monster – hey, that’s deep stuff!). Advertising should have played up the Cameron connection more, emphasizing the fantastic 3D effects (which were praised in the reviews). The claustrophobic setting as well as the brooding paranoia and sense of dread could have been better advertised as well. Indeed, in other parts of the world Sanctum received much better critical notice (and it also did much better in theaters overseas as well). Sanctum also features no major stars, and thus there is no one single actor to build a campaign around. Additionally, this film was also released during the whole “3D burnout” thing (when many movies – such as The Last Airbender, Clash of the Titans, etc – were crappily post-converted to 3D and people began to tire of the gimmick). I would be hesitant to recommend catching Sanctum unless you have the means to see it in 3D, but it is a pretty glorious experience to behold in the third dimension, especially if you’re a fan of great camera work.