MICKEY AND SPIDEY -- TOGETHER AT LAST

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In a deal that could unite Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man (at least in theme parks, if not in movies), the Walt Disney Co. has agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment for about $4 billion in cash and stock, the two companies said today (Monday). The deal would add more than 5,000 Marvel characters to the Disney populace, reports indicated. It would also give Disney a direct link to the audience that it has always had difficulty reaching -- boys. Currently Marvel has distribution deals with a number of studios, but once those are over, Disney is expected to take over distribution of the various Spider-Man, Ironman, X-Men, etc. franchises. In reporting the deal, MarketWatch.com observed that the deal "represents a pricey bet on the strength of the U.S. economy." The financial website added that the deal also represents a gamble for Disney chief Robert Iger. "So far in his tenure, he has been a darling of the investment community," it said. "With this decision, he expects that Wall Street will applaud his sense of adventure and willingness to take a risk."

TREAT AND TRICK

Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who were presumably popping champagne bottles last week when their Inglourious Basterds opened well above industry forecasts, were given a fright this weekend as their Halloween II opened at the low end of expectations and landed in third place at the box office. The fright flick, which many industry observers had predicted would run neck-and-neck with The Final Destination, took in $17.4 million and was even beaten by Basterds, which took in $20.4 million in its second week, falling a moderate 47 percent. Destination was the clear winner with $28.3 million, its take boosted by premium pricing in 3D venues. (Although only 54 percent of the theaters showing it offered 3D, they accounted for more than 70 percent of the gross.) Harvey Weinstein told the Los Angeles Times that he thought the outcome was "inevitable and regrettable." The biggest disappointment of the weekend was Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock. Although analysts had forecast a modest opening of $5-10 million, it failed even to generate that amount of sales, coming in ninth with $3.7 million. One pleasant surprise was the strong showing of Julie & Julia, which fell just 15 percent in its fourth week. It placed sixth with $7.4 million, to bring its total to date to $71 million. Meanwhile, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince edged closer to the $300-million mark as it added another $1.7 million to its haul to bring its current domestic gross to $294.4 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Box Office Mojo:

1. The Final Destination, $28.3 million; 2. Inglourious Basterds, $20 million; 3. Halloween II, $17.4 million; 4. District 9, $10.7 million; 5. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, $8 million; 6. Julie & Julia, $7.4 million; 7. The Time Traveler's Wife, $6.7 million; 8. Shorts, $4.9 million; 9. Taking Woodstock, $3.7 million; G-Force, $2.8 million.

NEW MOVIES AT HOME FOR $40?

Sony is about ready to test a new video-on-demand service that will allow owners of its Internet-connected Bravia TV sets to watch new movies after they appear in theaters but before they are released on DVD or pay-TV, Businessweek reported today, citing no sources. It plans to charge $40 (which will include delivering a DVD of the movie to viewers when it becomes available. The magazine said that Sony, which also owns its own studio, is attempting to line up other studios to participate in the service but has so far found no takers.

AVATAR HIT BY VIRAL VIDEO

James Cameron's risky move to show preview footage of Avatar to fans months before the movie's release in December might well backfire -- thanks to a spoof video posted last week on YouTube, titled "Hitler learns that the Avatar trailer sucks." The video, which has been viewed more than 168,000 times since it went online (its one of numerous such movie parodies), employs a clip from the 2004 film Downfall showing Hitler in an explosive rant in front of his generals. In the altered subtitles, Hitler condemns Cameron for producing a lame trailer. "The trailer has disappointed the fans to the point of indifference," he remarks sadly at first. His voice rising, he later screams, "He should have left the remake of Ferngully: The Last Rainforest to Lucas! (He also refers to it as The Land Before Time 3. "I wait ten years for f***ing Captain Planet with cats! ... Who the hell wants Clone Wars: Thundercats?") He rails that "Cameron has spent too much time underwater and has taken the Hollywood opiate of putting technology before story." Finally, Hitler remarks forlornly, "Maybe the video game is good."