Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pacific Problem: Some Thoughts Regarding Movie Cancellations


I'm sure you've caught the news... Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim 2 has been put on hold indefinitely, and it may be cancelled...

First up, I am a big fan of the first film, which came out two years ago. Pacific Rim is probably not a good movie, at all. Its script has its detractors, and I can see why. However, I think Mr. Del Toro directed the living heck out of it. I can feel the absolute fun he's having, and the execution - straightforward it may be - is nothing short of spectacular. Giant robots piloted by humans taking on kaiju is done some serious visual justice, and I can see why it cost a massive $190 million. It's colorful and flashy as all heck, eschewing the muted "gritty" aesthetic that's gotten so tiresome. The world building is really cool, the fights are all a knock-out, and its little eccentricities make it stick out amongst the big budget crowd. It's big, it's silly, and it knows it... But it aims to have lots of fun like no other popcorn flick, and it hopes you do too.

Unfortunately, Warner Bros.' marketing team made this super-fun film look like yet another summer blockbuster. I loved the concept, that alone had me sold, but the trailers did little for me. I admit on first viewing I didn't think much of it either, but I gave it another whirl and on that viewing it really clicked for me. Sometimes films with a lot of mayhem don't do it for me on the first viewing, then the second time around? Boom! I had that with this year's excellent Mad Max: Fury Road. In theaters I enjoyed it, but on Blu-ray? It's a new favorite of mine.

Pacific Rim opened rather softly in the states, with an okay $37 million. Lots of people bellowed about how Grown Ups 2 out-opened it that same weekend, but it did have okay legs and it was able to climb its way past $100 million stateside. Overseas is where it made some serious splashing, for it ended up with a good $411 million final worldwide total. Now, this is a great number for a movie that isn't based on any pre-existing IP, but the problem is... Obviously it cost too much, and the film just barely doubled its budget. It probably had to do more than just that...

As Pacific Rim 2 lurched its way into development, Legendary Pictures moved on from Warner Bros. to a new distributor: Universal. Legendary and their CEO Thomas Tull were very happy with how Del Toro's film did, and they campaigned for a sequel. Then... One was announced! Universal slated a sequel for April 7, 2017. Then a little while later it got pushed back to August 8, 2017. Filming was set to begin this year, too...

Now, it's being reported that the film is on hold and may just get the axe. Reasons are rather complicated. Legendary and Universal are apparently butting heads, and Universal has shipped in-development kaiju film Kong: Skull Island to WB because it's supposed to be set in the same universe as Gareth Edward's Godzilla. Eventually, we'll see a King Kong vs. Godzilla movie. Universal isn't said to be keen on a Pacific Rim sequel due to how the first film performed, they think it's too big of a risk...

It seemed like a reality up until now. Guillermo del Toro excitedly talked about it, shoot dates were announced, it had a concrete release date...

If it gets cancelled, knock on wood, then it will be just like the unmade George Miller Justice League film from last decade. It had a cast assembled, a script, it was going to cost a mammoth (back in 2007-08) $220 million, it seemed like it was definitely going to happen... But in 2008, after numerous setbacks and delays, Warner Bros. felt it was best to just focus on standalone movies like The Dark Knight. Green Lantern would be their attempt to launch a shared universe some three years later, but that was botched.

Miller and the cast of his Justice League film.

(In quite the turn of events, Miller is currently reportedly being asked to direct either Man of Steel 2 or Justice League Dark. It would be great to see him direct a DCEU film, but at the same time I'd really love to see Mad Max: The Wasteland happen first...)

Another example? TRON 3. Had the cast, had the script, had the filming dates, director Joseph Kosinski was back, it seemed like a miracle because Disney had sort of given the TRON franchise the cold shoulder prior to this year. TRON: Legacy did darned well for what it was, but it was a big budget film and it needed to make more to convince the money people to say "yes" to a third film. Animated series TRON: Uprising debuted strong, but Disney moved it to a death slot and that was the end of that. Because of all this, it was shocking to see TRON 3 moving forward... But then Tomorrowland came out, opened poorly, and boom... It was derezzed, the cancelation angered a ton of fans. Myself included, I'm not going to lie...

Anyways, let's look at the animation side of things...

In April 2008, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar unveiled a massive slate that ended at Christmas 2012. On that slate were films that ended up happening, like Tangled, Cars 2, and Brave. However, one movie on that slate was abandoned. A Pixar project called Newt. It had a director in place (Gary Rydstrom), among other things. Lots of concept art was made for the film, and it seemed to have a big cast of characters. As time went on, the film was pushed back. Cars 2 took its original summer 2011, then Brave ended up in summer 2012, pushing Newt back further. Then in May 2010, Pixar had officially stopped the film. The story wasn't working, and when director Pete Docter - fresh off of Up - was chosen as the new director of the picture, he decided to pitch his own idea instead... That idea was Inside Out.


Another film on the slate was Walt Disney Animation Studios' King of the Elves, which they intended to release in the holiday season of 2012. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel, it had quite a lot of potential. The Brother Bear directing team Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker were set to direct, but in late 2009, the project had hit a roadblock. Blaise and Walker left Disney sometime afterwards. In mid-2010, it was given to Bolt director Chris Williams, but in 2011 it went back on the shelf. (A rarely told story: It was put in a production "race" with Frozen, both were aiming to be the studio's fall 2013 release. Frozen ended up being the picture that was in the best shape, so it moved forward once again.) The project seemed to disappear altogether by 2013. It's unknown whether it'll still happen or not, what with the slate from now until 2019 seemingly filled: Gigantic, Frozen 2, Wreck-It Ralph 2, among others...

Disney Animation and Pixar now only lock release dates first, and then wait a long while before determining what will open on those exact dates. It's a very smart move, if you ask me...

DreamWorks on the other hand didn't do this for years. Until a couple of their films lost money at the box office, DreamWorks had this massive, no-holds-barred slate that was always changing. It had obligatory sequels, but a lot of cool-sounding original projects like Monkeys of Mumbai, Larrikins, B.O.O., lots of films. After Penguins of Madagascar turned out to be another box office disappointment, DreamWorks cut down their staff, shuttered the PDI unit, and whittled down the film slate. Some projects like B.O.O., which was until its delay slated for this past June (!), were delayed indefinitely. Others, like Monkeys of Mumbai, are officially dead. You can only imagine how upset I was when I found out that the Kevin Lima-helmed monkey musical was a definite no-go...


Outside of Beekle, DreamWorks hasn't announced anything that's in development. They already have a ton of projects from the last five years sitting around, so I suppose they don't have to get anything new for a little while. That being said, their first film in the wake of the collapse (Home) was a success, and they have decided to lay low. When things turn around, who knows what direction they'll go. Kung Fu Panda 3 is next and that's sure to make a healthy profit and then some. Trolls, Boss Baby, Larrikins... How will those do? All up in the air at the moment. The Croods 2 and How To Train Your Dragon 3 will obviously bring home the bacon.

Basically, it's really a bummer if a studio announces a film that you're really anticipating, only for it to get pulled...

I'm glad that Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar do their thing, and then wait. We have no idea what's opening in 2018 outside of Gigantic, which may have been officially announced by the company, but it doesn't have a concrete release date. Dean Wellins has a film in the works that Disney never officially announced, it's only been hinted at by reputable sources and some particular people there. Blue Sky Disney told us Wellins' film was going to be about space racing back in 2013, and then told us months later that it hit development hell. Story man Paul Briggs said on his blog back in March that he's working on a film with with Mr. Wellins, but who knows if it's still a space-set story or something entirely new. To be fair, Disney never said anything about a space movie or anything directed by Dean Wellins, so I can't get too bummed. A film in development is a film in development, when it's actually in production, then it's definitely a reality. Pixar kept a tight lid on Coco for years and years, the only thing they officially told us was that Lee Unkrich was developing a Day of the Dead-flavored film.

By contrast, DreamWorks told us that films like Monkeys of Mumbai were happening and gave them concrete release dates. That particular film even had something of a cast! Had Monkeys of Mumbai been a film only talked about by rumor mills and sites similar to Blue Sky Disney, and not DreamWorks themselves, the cancelation wouldn't have been as shocking. For it was still in development and there was a possibility that it wouldn't move forward. It not being something officially revealed by the company tells you upfront, "There's a chance this movie may or may not happen," so you temper your expectations a bit.

Of course, the lesson here is... Until it's in production, it can be cancelled in the blink of an eye.

In the Internet age, we know and sometimes have to know details about projects long before cameras roll or scenes are animated. In some cases, it's normal. Marvel Cinematic Universe's third phase is nailed down for the most part, and despite behind-the-scenes drama, nothing really got canceled in the past. After Edgar Wright walked from Ant-Man last year, it could've been scrapped, for cameras weren't rolling, but Marvel got his replacement and the film still happened.

But maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't know so much...

Maybe it would be nice if projects were announced when they are indeed going to happen. Maybe tell us what's in development or what's being planned, but that's about it. No concrete release dates, no cast reports even. Only when it begins production, you reveal that stuff. Unrealistic? Yes, but it would be nice...

When do you think studios should officially set upcoming films in stone?

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