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What Went Wrong?: Vol. 25 – Failed and Forgotten Fantasy Adaptation Edition
February 20, 2013Posted by on
A high fantasy tale of swords, sorcery, and dragons, Eragon starred newcomer Edward Speleers, long-time film vets Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich (obviously slumming for a decent paycheck), and Rachel Weisz, who voices the dragon at the center of the tale, Saphira. This critically-derided film, based off the popular book by Christopher Paolini, was released by Fox into theaters during the holiday season in 2006, where it grossed an extremely quiet 75 million dollars domestically. Overseas totals were more significant, and all told the film grossed a somewhat profitable 249 million dollars (and then an additional near 90 million in DVD sales — harkening back to a time when people actually bought DVDs…). Ask anyone about Eragon today, however, and chances are they probably don’t remember the film (or even the book series) all that well. Twentieth Century Fox, according to long-time effects man/first-time director Stefen Fangmeier (what a great name for a fantasy-film director, by the way), was mildly pleased with the box office results, but nothing based on the property ever came after, and the movie itself seems to have sunk in the deep, dark recesses of the forgotten film wasteland. So, what exactly went wrong?
Poised as the next big box office thing after the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film adaptation, Eragon was supposed to be a massive hit with several film sequels, tie-in merchandise, and perhaps potential comics, cartoons, and the like as well. The film, however, was met with extremely harsh criticism. One of the worst reviewed films of 2006, Eragon scored only a 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. High budget event-movies like Eragon are often considered to be critic-proof, but this film came at a time in movie history when audiences expected a ton out of their fantasy films (the Lord of the Rings films, for instance, were met with over-whelming critical acclaim). Eragon clearly didn’t deliver the goods. Though its 75 million dollar domestic gross is respectable, it in no way made up for the film’s massive budget (approximately 100 million, before marketing and print costs as well). It didn’t help that Night at the Museum, from the exact same studio, was released just one week later, eating into the potential audience for Eragon (young tween and teenage crowds). Why film studios continually cannibalize their own productions, I have no idea. Night at the Museum went to gross massive amounts of money and then spawn a lucrative franchise which has seen a third installment recently get the green-light. Eragon can be found at your local dollar store or garage sale, I imagine.
Like Eragon, Inkheart is a failed fantasy film based off of an original book property (this time from German author Cornelia Funke). The similarities pretty much end there, however. Inkheart is the story of Mortimer Folchart and his daughter Meggie, who are “silver tongues,” or people who are able to bring books to life simply by reading them aloud (how Mortimer made it through school without ever being called to read aloud for class is beyond me). The film, directed by Iain Softley (Hackers, The Wings of the Dove) was released in the UK in late 2008 and the US in early 2009, where it grossed an incredibly weak 17 million dollars domestically, and just over 60 million internationally, on a total budget of 60 million, meaning the film will probably never be profitable. The cast of Inkheart seems fantastically put together, and includes Brendan Fraser, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, and Paul Bettany. This seems like exactly the type of film Brendan Fraser (The Mummy series, Journey to the Center of the Earth) does really well in. Audiences have responded quite positively to Fraser in these types of fantasy adventure roles, but Inkheart was a critical and commercial failure for New Line Cinemas, as well as one of the last films it released before being absorbed completely into Warner Bros. So, what exactly went wrong?
Inkheart’s high concept, unique premise, and well-regarded source material probably could have made for a much better movie. Rotten Tomatoes rates the film at a rather dismal 39%, indicating generally unfavorable reviews. Additionally, Inkheart spent an enormous amount of time in the production stages. The film was originally scheduled for release in 2007, but delay after delay pushed the release date back by well over a year domestically. It doesn’t help that director Iain Softley isn’t particularly known for his fantasy work. The director’s most successful films, which include Kevin Spacey vehicle K-Pax (2001) and horror film The Skeleton Key (2005), are not known for their special effects shots or high budgets. Inkheart itself was actually mostly shot in 2006 and early 2007, and screenings of a roughly completed film took place in London during the summer of ’07, a full year and a half before its final release date. The screenings, according to author Cornelia Funke, went well, and it seemed like the film was poised for a successful run at the box office that just didn’t pan out. By the time Inkheart was actually released, audiences in general had probably moved on from waiting for the project (other book-to-movie adaptations, including the first Twilight movie, had eclipsed it). Somehow, Inkspell, the sequel to Inkheart, has begun production for a film adaptation. I can’t imagine Softley will be back as director.