WILL TRANSFORMERS TRANSFORM A LOSING BOX OFFICE?

With summer ticket sales down from last year at this time -- last weekend's were up, following three weekends of significantly lower business -- Paramount/DreamWorks is hoping that this weekend's opening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will reenergize the box office, which started the year at a record pace. Online ticket sellers Fandango.com said Monday that hundreds of theaters showing the movie at midnight tonight (Tuesday-Wednesday) have already sold out. That is particularly good news for the studio which reportedly poured more than $200 million into the production and countless more millions into promotion and distribution. Reviews of the movie have been mostly dreadful, and while it is generally regarded as critic-proof, the reviews often are good predictors of word-of-mouth following the initial weekend. Next week's business could fall off precipitously. The movie is expected to perform particularly strongly at IMAX theaters, since it is well known that many of the special-effects scenes were created especially for the big-screen format, with each frame containing eight times as much digital information as a conventional movie frame. (The ILM effects company has said that it took some 72 hours to render a single frame of one of the robots on its supercomputers; it takes 24 frames to create one second of film.)

MOVIE REVIEWS: TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN

Reviews rarely come more caustic than the early ones for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen -- even from critics who had had nice things to say about the original. For example, Claudia Puig in USA Today comments: "Bigger, louder, longer and more metallic is definitely not better. Where the first movie was a happy surprise, a comedy with engaging characters and spectacular action-filled escapades, the sequel lacks wit, charm, subtlety, restraint, humanity and clever dialogue. It has loads of spectacle but no soul." Saying that he wished he "could explain the plot," Lou Lumenick in the New York Post remarks that the movie is "squarely aimed at 8-year-old boys and men who never quite matured past that stage." Peter Howell in the Toronto Star says it's a movie filled with "booms and boobage" that is so noisy, it's "akin to lying on the tarmac at Pearson International while a revving Airbus A 380 rolls over you." Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel asks: "Is it the worst movie of the summer? Possibly. Will everybody see it? Probably." But Rafer Guzmán in Newsday concludes: "The battles between giant robots are astoundingly detailed, and cleverly set in organic places like forests and deserts that add to the realism. Like its predecessor, this Transformers is a terrific guilty pleasure."

PROPOSAL ROMCOM BRINGS BLISS TO BOX OFFICE

Audiences were clearly looking for laughs over the weekend as comedies took four of the top five places in the box-office rankings, including the No. 1 spot, held by Disney's The Proposal, which raked in $33.63 million, according to the studio's final tally. Ticket sales for the Sandra Bullock starrer came in far ahead of forecasters' predictions. In second place was Warner Bros.' The Hangover, which declined just 18 percent in its third week and wound up with $26.75 million. Right behind was Disney's animated Up, which remained way up with $23.49 million in its fourth week, bringing its total to $226.27 million. Sony/Columbia's Jack Black comedy Year One opened in fourth place with $19.61 million -- at the high end of analysts' expectations. Rounding out the top five was Sony/Columbia's The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, which took in a so-so $12.03 million in its second weekend. Another notable comedy on the box-office list was Woody Allen's Whatever Works, which counted $266,162 in just nine theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Its $29,574 average per theater compares with the $11,004 average for The Proposal. Overall, the top 12 films grossed $144.57 million, 4.45 percent above the $138.40 million for the comparable weekend a year ago. Revenue for the year is up 10.42 percent against the same period a year ago, while attendance is up 7.86 percent.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Box Office Mojo (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. The Proposal, Disney, $33,627,598, (New); 2. The Hangover, Warner Bros., $26,753,473, 3 Wks. ($152,817,015); 3. Up, Disney, $23,492,677, 4 Wks. ($226,268,932); 4. Year One, Sony, $19,610,304, (New); 5. Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Sony, $12,034,899, 2 Wks. ($44,067,224); 6. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, 20th Century Fox, $7,807,185, 5 Wks. ($156,459,744); 7. Star Trek, Paramount, $5,511,434, 7 Wks. ($240,255,340); 8. Land of the Lost, Universal, $4,358,945, 3 Wks. ($44,055,510); 9. Imagine That, Paramount, $3,290,227, 2 Wks. ($11,541,605); 10. Terminator Salvation, Warner Bros., $3,284,230, 6 Wks. ($119,727,528).

JOBS BACK ON THE JOB

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was spotted by a Reuters reporter at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, CA Monday, lending credence to speculation that he has already returned to work. The report comes days after a Wall Street Journal article claimed that Jobs, who is also the largest stockholder in the Walt Disney Company, had undergone a liver transplant in Virginia two months ago. "This is the first time we've heard from Steve Jobs since he reported he was taking medical leave," Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner told Reuters. "It's a sign Apple has its CEO back." But Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Jeffrey Fidacaro told the wire service that some investors still have concerns about Jobs's health. "He's obviously the clear visionary of the company," Fidacaro said. "There is a concern about his health and what Apple has told us about his health and what role he'll be playing when he returns."

NIKKI FINKE SELLS HER BLOG

Mail.com Media Corporation has acquired Hollywood columnist Nikki Finke's DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com website for an undisclosed amount. Finke, one of the few online showbiz journalists who relies on her own sources for information (the Financial Times said that she had an "unrivaled network of high-level industry contacts") rather than so-called mainstream media, has become an influential figure in her own right in numerous Hollywood disputes -- in particular appearing to champion the positions of activist union leaders while at the same time cautioning that labor actions should not result in losses greater than possible gains. In a statement, Mail.com chief Jay Penske said, "Ever since the first scoop of Nikki's that I read, I quickly realized that she has raised the bar on -- if not changed the game of -- entertainment journalism."