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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
It has thus far been a tough year for Hollywood. Films like The Last Stand, Bullet to the Head, Parker, Beautiful Creatures, and Gangster Squad have come up short at the box office. Some of these films had mighty big problems to begin with, and this was probably to be expected. I was generally surprised that a few others bombed just as hard as they did. While these films will ultimately wind up being money losers for their respective studios, none of them has bombed on the scale of say a John Carter or a Battleship. None has until this past weekend, anyway. With that in mind, let’s explore the film behind the 27th edition of What Went Wrong?, our regular feature here at the Culture Cast.
After the enormous success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, it seemed many studios would try and update fairy tales for modern audiences. On television, Once Upon a Time and Grimm are both currently airing. In film, we recently got Jack the Giant Slayer, an updated version of the classic fairy tale about Jack (in this film played by Nicholas Hoult), a rather normal farm boy who runs afoul of a race of malevolent giants. Jack must defeat the giants and save the kingdom, all while also winning over the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson). Budgeted at a robust 190 million dollars (meaning the production would need to gross between 400 and 500 million to break even after printing and advertising costs are factored in), Jack grossed a scant 28 million in its opening weekend, which was less than that of John Carter. In its second weekend, Jack tumbled over 63%. It will wind up grossing around 60 million total domestically, a gigantic financial disappointment for Warner Bros. So, what exactly went wrong?
Bryan Singer has long been praised as a Hollywood whiz kid, perhaps even the second coming of Spielberg, who Singer idolized growing up. His feature films, which include the first two X-Men movies, the Stephen King adaptation Apt Pupil, and the Academy Award-nominated The Usual Suspects, have generally been successful in some form or other, be it critical success (Suspects, Pupil) or outright box office success (the X-Men franchise). I contend, however, that Singer has yet to direct a great movie in his career, and his past few feature films, including Superman Returns and Valkyrie, have been seen as disappointments to most. The downward trend for Singer-as-director continues with Jack the Giant Slayer, a film that has flopped so badly it would’ve set Singer’s career back considerably had he not already signed on to do the newest X-Men sequel, Days of Future Past (I feel similarly about Zack Snyder, whose Sucker Punch tanked but he had already signed on for Man of Steel). Jack has flopped so badly that it will end up being an even bigger disappointment than John Carter and Battleship were last year.
Shifting around a film’s release date is almost never a good sign. Jack the Giant Slayer was originally intended for a summer 2012 release, but was pushed back nearly a year (much like the upcoming GI Joe: Retaliation). Warner Bros.’ decision to push the film backed was based on incomplete special effects and toning down the level of violence in the film so it would appeal to a broader audience. Singer claimed the film had the highest body count of any he’d directed thus far, and changed the name of the film from Jack the Giant Killer to Jack the Giant Slayer as well. Singer and the studio both seemed to realize that an ultra-violent CGI film (perhaps similar to Robert Zemeckis’ flop Beowulf) was probably not a good idea. When Jack finally was released, critics agreed – the film scored a 52% overall on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences seemed unimpressed by Jack as well, either skipping the film entirely, or waiting a week for Disney’s Oz: The Great and Powerful, another film probably inspired by the superb box office numbers of Alice in Wonderland three years prior. Oz recently debuted to the third best March opening box office numbers of all time, and is a near guaranteed profit after just three days in theaters.
An incredibly slow winter box office paired with an uninteresting premise paired with a much more interesting looking film would have been more than enough to sink Jack the Giant Slayer on its own. To further exacerbate Jack’s problems were that it was full of virtual unknowns and character actors in its lead cast, outside of maybe Ewan McGregor, and he’s not exactly a box office titan these days. In short, there was just too much going against Jack the Giant Slayer. As noted earlier, Singer’s career will be just fine. He’s making the latest X-Men film, and that is an almost guaranteed box office success. Even if it fails, which it won’t, Singer will probably always be in demand as a writer and producer as well. I even feel like maybe Singer should just write and produce from now on and maybe move on from directing, but I’m willing to give him another shot. No matter how the numbers are quantified, however, Jack the Giant Slayer is an out-and-out flop and will probably be at least considered a blemish on the careers of everyone involved.