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A 'King' without a crown

A 'King' without a crown

While the box office remains steady for Peter Jackson's "King Kong," it's safe to say that "Titanic's" record is safe.

In fact, after all the hype, the critically acclaimed remake of the 1933 movie may not even break into the top 50 of all-time blockbusters.

"Kong" sold about US$125 million in tickets in the United States during its first two weeks, and some analysts are projecting its final U.S. gross at about US$220. That would put it just ahead of "Mrs. Doubtfire" at No. 50. (It was expected to pass US$400 million worldwide Monday.)

Where did those of us predicting spectacular numbers for "Kong" go wrong?

Judging by the e-mails sent to me, Jackson may have simply crossed the line by remaking such a revered classic. Readers were angry with me for even praising the new movie, and some were really steamed at my characterization of Kong's face in the original film as a "fright mask."

I love that movie, too, but I'm sorry, folks - compared with the new gorilla's fully expressive kisser, the original Kong was a stiff. Jackson's movie is the original done state-of-the-art justice. It's the same, just better!

But there is another, deeper reason for "Kong's" relatively disappointing performance. As worried analysts have been saying all year, American moviegoers are breaking their habits. They're just not seeing as many movies in theaters as they used to.

Studios and exhibitors have been laying the blame on the poor quality of films, but the ratio of bad to good was probably no worse than in previous years. In fact, most critics found more films to praise at the end of this year than usual.

Granted, the studios would be doing themselves a huge favor by spreading their quality films over the whole year rather than back-loading them into the fall and holiday seasons, and they should listen to Hollywood Reporter film writer Anne Thompson, who has been pointing out for some time that teenage boys and young men are no longer the dominant movie audience.

In any case, the studios have trained us not to expect many must-see movies before summer. The result: People are staying home with their fancy new widescreen, high-definition TVs and renting movies available on DVD three months after their theatrical release.

When you figure in rising ticket prices, plus scandalously inflated concession-stand prices, parking, baby-sitting, maybe a snack or a drink afterward, well, you can pay off that plasma-TV investment in about two years.

It's debatable just how much of a slump theaters have suffered in '05. The box-office gross is expected to be about 5 percent below last year's, and when you take into account two '04 blockbusters that weren't really movies - Mel Gibson's religious experience "The Passion of the Christ" and Michael Moore's anti-Bush rally "Fahrenheit 9/11" - the numbers aren't nearly as bleak.

Still, habits are clearly changing.

Movie stars aren't nearly as irresistible as they used to be, and are even less irresistible given the short wait between theatrical and DVD. But if you have any love for movies at all, you have to see "King Kong" in a theater, preferably one with a screen as big as the ape. There is just too much going on visually in the movie to be fully appreciated on even the widest of home TV screens.

Why in the world, though, would you pay US$10 each to see Jennifer Aniston in a slight comedy like "Rumor Has It" when you can have it delivered in the mail - by Netflix or Blockbuster - in April? And the run-of-the-mill studio movies coming between January and May are pretty much the same movies released in that period last year.

Check 'em out, rent 'em, and save your money for "Kong."

Updated : 2021-04-20 13:17 GMT+08:00