As 2010 winds down, we’ll be taking a look at the key films and Hollywood players for 2011. Today, we have a conversation with Jon Favreau, the director of the “Iron Man” films and “Elf.” Favreau goes in a new direction next year with “Cowboys and Aliens,” which stars Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, boasts Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Steven Spielberg as producers and was written by in-demand screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek,” “Transformers,” “Fringe“). Even with that lineup, though, Favreau knows that 2011 will provide especially fierce competition.
Jon Favreau has seen Hollywood’s future — at least as far as summer 2011 — and it looks a lot like “Saving Private Ryan.” “It’s Omaha Beach, it’s going to be a blood bath,” the filmmaker said Friday about next year’s crush of big special-effects films, remakes and sequels. “There’s never been a summer like this next summer. It’s going to be bloody [for filmmakers and the studios]. As we were sticking thumb tacks in a calendar we realized that this is going to be looked back upon as Omaha Beach.”
Favreau, the director of the “Iron Man” films, is well known to moviegoers as an on-screen funny guy in movies like “Couples Retreat” or the sublime “Swingers” (which he also wrote), but he wasn’t joking a bit when he said Hollywood is going to be in “a pit fight” next summer because of a glut of high-profile releases that will translate to some big-name disappointments just because of the numbers game. Favreau has a sci-fi horse in the race, of course, with July’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” which stars Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell and Harrison Ford in a mash-up of an Old West tale with a space-invader story.
Favreau’s track record and the cast make “Cowboys and Aliens” a movie to pay attention to, but Favreau knows he is going up against some titans of the popcorn sector. “Do you know the list? It’s pretty staggering,” Favreau said. It is a deep roster: There’s the huge finale of the “Harry Potter” franchise, Johnny Depp’s return to his signature role with a new “Pirates of the Caribbean” installment from Disney and a third “Transformers” film, which is Michael Bay’s follow-up to the 2009 mecha-movie that pulled in more than $836 million worldwide.
Then there’s the masked-man crowd, with four major superhero films: “Green Lantern” starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by “Casino Royale’s” Martin Campbell ; “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” two promising projects from the ever-expanding Marvel Studios universe; and director Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class,” which will take the prequel route to Fox’s mutant-hero epic. Also arriving are proven animation powerhouses, such as Pixar’s “Cars 2” and the DreamWorks sequel to “Kung Fu Panda,” as well as a new “Winnie the Pooh” feature film that goes old-school bear with hand-drawn animation. “The Smurfs 3D” will seek out the youngest moviegoers, as will Robert Rodriguez’s return to kid fare, “Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World.”
There are also some wild cards. “Rise of the Apes,” starring James Franco, aspires to take the “Planet of the Apes” property in a bold new direction, while “Super 8” is an alien-menace tale that follows “Cloverfield” in cinematic spirit and, with J.J. Abrams’ name in the credits, can’t be dismissed. On the comedy front, there’s “Zookeeper” with Kevin James, which might just as well be called “Paul Blart: Zoo Cop,” and “The Hangover 2,” which might end up being a bender to remember.
Favreau said it’s great for moviegoers, but it looks like a steel-cage match for filmmakers and studio executives. “There’s not a weekend where there won’t be teeth on the floor. The audience wins but it’s going to be rough for people making these movies. Then there was the big rush to 3D, so you have all of these people fighting for a limited number of screens and to get the 3D done, since most of these are hybrids or conversions, so this is a technology that is still in the relatively early stages and there’s going to be a lot of blood pressures going up in the months ahead.”
Why don’t studios spread the wealth? The simple reason is that the summer months mean big box-office; young people are out of school and willing to make repeat visits to their favorite new silver-screen adventure. More than that, Favreau said, there is a deep anxiety in Hollywood that home-video retail is headed for a cliff.
“Even if there is a DVD market now, there won’t be in a few years,” Favreau said, predicting that all those expensive boxed sets of Blu-rays and DVDs will be pushed aside for digital delivery of movies, a far lower price point and rampant piracy. That’s what has happened in the music industry, where the scale of economics changed dramatically once the shiny silver disc gave way to the mouse-click.
“People will download on a subscription basis, and the industry model that allowed me to make independent films [such as ‘Swingers’ and ‘Made’] and approach the limited theatrical release as a way to market the home-video products, that’s going away as home-video dries up rapidly. Everything soon will be about what you take in at the box office.” That explains why filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann are turning to outlets like HBO as the natural place for adult drama. And the movie theaters — especially next summer — will be loud and crowded with something a bit more explosive and expensive. “In the hour-and-a-half and two-hour theater experience, what people are looking for is something big and brash, an event that you can communally share … that’s what people want and everybody in Hollywood is chasing that right now. And I mean everybody.”
— Geoff Boucher
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