WHOLESOME BEATS GORE AT BOX OFFICE

There was no sign of economic hardship at the box office over the weekend, as Disney's High School Musical 3: Senior Year, a film that reportedly cost less than $15 million to make, raked in $42 million -- the most any musical has earned in its opening weekend ever. Moreover, another low-cost film, Lionsgate's R-rated horror flick Saw V, debuted with $30.5 million in ticket sales. Together the two films helped the box rise 41.3 percent over last year to $120.8 million, according to box-office trackers Media by Numbers. In an interview with today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times, Media by Numbers President Paul Dergarabedian observed, "Ultimately, there was something for everyone in the marketplace. ... It shows that if you put the right movies in the market, people will turn out." All was not rosy, however, as Warner Bros.' Pride and Glory, which had taken years to reach the starting gate, came up lame with just $6.3 million. Last week's winner, Fox's Max Payne fell 57 percent to $7.5 million, while Lionsgate's W. dropped 49 percent to $5.3 million. In limited release, Clint Eastwood's Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, got off to an impressive start in nine cities with $502,000, representing a per-screen gross of $33,441, three times the per-screen average of High School Musical. And Sony Pictures Classics' Synecdoche, New York also performed strongly with $172,926 in nine theaters, or $19,214 per theater.

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

1. High School Musical 3, $42 million; 2. Saw V, $30.5 million; 3. Max Payne, $7.6 million; 4. Beverly Hills Chihuahua, $6.9 million; 5. Pride and Glory, $6.3 million; 6. The Secret Life of Bees, $5.9 million; 7. W., $5.3 million; 8. Eagle Eye, $5.1 million; 9. Body of Lies, $4.1 million; 10. Quarantine, $2.6 million.

MUSICAL HOT OVERSEAS

Overseas, High School Musical took in nearly as much as it did domestically, earning $40 million in 22 countries -- $13.5 million in the U.K. alone, according to Disney. The studio said that it topped the box office in every country. It was the best overseas opening for any movie since the $42-million debut of The Dark Night in August.

MOVIE REVIEWS: SAW V

Like the previous Saw movies, Saw V was not screened in advance for critics. And indeed many critics did not bother to stand in line at theaters to catch it over the weekend. Several who did obviously had their knives sharpened before they saw it. Nathan Lee of the New York Times indicated that he had been prepared to call it "a revolting, nerve-racking trip into the cesspool of the human imagination." Instead, he said, he found the movie "just plain boring and even a little tame." Lee's reaction is typical. Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News calls the movie "as disappointing as a Halloween bag filled with nothing but raisins." Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel also uses the Halloween metaphor, calling the movie "as fresh as a jack-o-lantern left out in the sun until Thanksgiving." And the performances by the actors, Sam Adams suggests in the Los Angeles Times are as horrible as the plot. "It's not a good sign when watching someone stick their hand into a table saw is easier than listening to them recite dialogue," he writes. On the other hand, any moviegoer who has "a taste for watching people get mutilated" and has "an intricate knowledge" of Saw movies will likely find Saw V "a reasonably satisfying film."

SAG MEETS WITH MEDIATOR

The Screen Actors Guild said over the weekend that its president, Alan Rosenberg, and national executive director, Doug Allen, met with federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez to discuss SAG's request for mediation in its stalemated negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Gonzalez is scheduled to meet with AMPTP representatives on Thursday. Industry observers have expressed little hope that the mediator will be able to find a middle ground acceptable to both sides. If he is unsuccessful, the union is expected to send strike-authorization ballots to its membership by the end of next month.

THEATERS REFUSE TO SHOW ZACK AND MIRI

Megaplex Theatres, which operates theaters in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah say that it has refused to book The Weinstein Company's R-rated Zack and Miri Make a Porno. The theaters are owned by Larry Miller, who in 2006 refused to screen Brokeback Mountain in his theaters, saying that it "crossed the line." Miller is also the owner of the Utah Jazz. In an interview with today's (Monday) New York Post, theater manager Cal Gunderson said, "We feel it's very close to an NC-17 with its graphic nudity and graphic sex." When the newspaper's "Page Six" column asked Gunderson why the theater chain had no problems booking the ultra-violent Saw V, Gunderson replied, "No comment."