i>GOLDEN COMPASS IS REALLY DARK

Gold, it turns out, may not have been the best ingredient for making a compass. Although New Line Cinema reportedly spent $250-300 million to make and market The Golden Compass, the movie earned only $26.1 million in its opening weekend. Most analysts had predicted an opening of between $30 million and $40 million -- and even that would have been low for a movie carrying such a huge budget. Other studios had expected such a big opening for Compass that they went out of their way to give it a wide berth, not opening another film against it in wide release. The disappointing opening was attributed to mediocre reviews and efforts by the Catholic League, the nation's largest Catholic lay group, to persuade moviegoers to stay home on the grounds that the movie might encourage children to read His Dark Materials, the book trilogy on which it is based and which the League claims espouses atheism. The film, nevertheless, landed at the top of the box-office list, deposing Enchanted which held the crown -- or, in this case, the tiara -- for the previous two weekends. Sales for the top 12 films totaled $73.2 million, down 10 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago. It's been a tough marketplace in terms of revenue and attendance," Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers, told Bloomberg News. "Despite the fact that there have been some high- quality films out there, the great ones aren't doing great box office."

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. The Golden Compass, $26.1 million; 2. Enchanted, $10.7 million; 3. This Christmas, $5 million; 4. Fred Claus, $4.7 million; 5. Beowulf, $4.4 million; 6. No Country for Old Men, $4.2 million; 7. August Rush, $3.5 million; 8. Hitman, $3.48 million; 9. Awake, $3.3 million; 10. Bee Movie, $2.6 million.

JUNO JUMPS IN OPENING

While major releases put on lackluster performances at the box office over the weekend, "specialty" films did solid business. Juno, which opened to sensational reviews last Wednesday, took in $420,113 in just seven theaters in Los Angeles and New York. Its per-screen average was $60,016. It has earned $531,399 since Wednesday. Opening in 32 theaters, Atonement registered $816,883 in ticket sales, or a per-screen average of $25,528.

EVEN ON BIGGEST DAY, HI-DEF PLAYERS CAN'T BEAT ORDINARY DVD

Putting those reports of huge sales of high-definition video players on Black Friday in perspective, Video Business magazine said on its website Friday that while 57,000 HD DVD and Blu-ray players were indeed sold the day after Thanksgiving, 600,000 standard definition DVD players were sold on the same day. The trade magazine, citing research by market analyst DisplaySearch, also observed that while 62 percent of the high-definition players sold on that day were in the HD DVD format (largely as a result of a $99 one-day only deal initiated by Wal Mart), Blu-ray players, because of their higher costs, accounted for 52 percent of the total revenue.

MORE CRITICS GROUPS WEIGH IN

Appearing to set up a wide-open race for the Oscars, several film-critics groups have split over which is the best film of 2007. In a surprise decision, the Los Angeles Film Critics named the thus-far-unreleased There Will Be Blood the top film. It named its director, Paul Thomas Anderson, best director and its star, Daniel Day Lewis best actor. The Washington DC and Boston film critics each named the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men best film of the year.

NEW LINE IN BAIT-AND-SWITCH AD CAMPAIGN FOR SWEENEY?

Chicago Sun-Times advertising/marketing columnist Lewis Lazare has accused Paramount/DreamWorks of launching a "bait and switch" ad campaign for its forthcoming (Dec. 21) release of Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Lazare observes that although the movie employs the entire Stephen Sondheim score from the stage production and that 90 percent of the movie is sung, the official trailer "makes the movie seem like a fast-paced bloody period thriller/horror flick." Lazare suggests that the ads should "lure in enough unsuspecting moviegoers in the opening weekend" but that sales may fall off following "negative word-of-mouth from slasher movie fans who feel they've been badly tricked."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.