BOX OFFICE ENCOMPASSING NEW LINE

Some analysts have suggested that the very future of Time Warner's New Line studios -- and almost certainly its chairman, Bob Shaye -- may hinge on the performance of The Golden Compass, which reportedly cost $180 million to produce and another $60 million to market and distribute. Nevertheless, even the studio's own executives are making modest predictions about the film's fortunes this weekend, with New Line president Rolf Mittweg telling the Hollywood Reporter: "We should do somewhere between $30-40 million." But L.A. Weekly columnist Nikki Finke quoted unnamed "box-office gurus" as predicting that the movie "is going to be a huge bomb," and open "in the high $20 millions." Although the film is being compared with Disney's Narnia franchise, analysts have pointed out that while those films received a considerable boost from church groups, just the opposite is the case with Compass, which has been targeted by the Catholic League, the country's largest Catholic lay group, as an introduction to the atheistic views of Philip Pullman, the British author who wrote the book on which the movie is based. In an interview with today's (Friday) Orlando Sentinel, Compass director Chris Weitz said that although he had expected some controversy to develop over the movie, "I didn't expect quite as vicious an attack as the one that has come from Mr. Donohue. I suppose I spend half my time being bemused at being accused of having a 'hidden atheist agenda' and the rest of the time just appalled by it."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE GOLDEN COMPASS

Reviews of The Golden Compass are going in all sorts of directions. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times gives it a four-star review, writing: "As a visual experience, it is superb. As an escapist fantasy, it is challenging." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times suggests that it's a challenge merely to keep up with the plot. "The Golden Compass is an honorable work," she writes, "but it's hampered by its fealty to the book and its madly rushed pace." Indeed, Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times suggests that compressing writer Philip Pullman's book into the confines of a two-hour movie may have been a feat in itself. "Whenever a book like The Golden Compass gets turned into a movie," he observes, "it's inevitable that the story will be simplified, characters will lose nuance and, in this case, rousing battle scenes will be emphasized and heightened at the expense of more introspective elements." As for the religious controversy surrounding it, Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post suggests that the whole project should have been vetted by Sister Mary Ignatius. "She should rap the movie across its fierce little knuckles for violations not against church protocol but against storytellers' dogma: too many characters too fast; too much emphasis on design and effects and not enough on emotion; too many hoary Brit old pros." What has resulted, says Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News is "a bloodless, effects-heavy spectacular that's devoid of magic or mental stimulation." And Kyle Smith in the New York Post sums up the movie this way. It amounts to "a sort of The Empire Strikes Harry Potter of the Caribbean."

IMAX THEATERS BEING RETROFITTED FOR DIGITAL 3-D

IMAX and AMC Entertainment plan to convert 100 IMAX theaters into digital 3-D venues at a cost of $50 million for the projection equipment alone, the New York Times reported today (Friday). In addition, AMC plans to retrofit IMAX auditoriums in 33 cities with new seating and larger screens. The companies noted that they expect to recover the costs by charging an extra $2-4 to see films in the giant-screen, 3-D auditoriums. Bradley Wechsler, co-CEO of IMAX, called the deal "Transformational for us from a strategic point of view."

WAL-MART PLANNING NEW HI-DEF VIDEO SALE

Wal-Mart plans another sale of HD DVD high-definition video players on Friday, but instead of dropping the price to $99 as it did on "Black Friday" last month, it will be including up to 12 free movies, depending on the model. List price for the players is $198.00 for Toshiba's HD-A2 and $298.00 for the HD-A3. The retailer will also be offering a free $50 gift card with the purchase of Sony's 40GB PlayStation, which plays Blu-ray hi-def disks.

CHINA BARRING HOLLYWOOD MOVIES?

China has denied a report that it has barred the release of any new American movies in the country for at least three months. The report appeared Thursday in Daily Variety, which described the decision as China's "most drastic measure ever against Hollywood." The trade publication cited unnamed sources as saying that the ban could even continue until May. However, the Associated Press quoted an executive with state-run China Film Group as saying that it is still reviewing Hollywood films. It also quoted Mike Ellis, a representative of the Motion Picture Association of America in China, as saying that the group has not received official word of such a ban. Variety had claimed that the alleged ban resulted from disagreements with the U.S. over trade policy and the fact that American films have proved to be more successful than Asian films in Chinese theaters recently.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.