Was that an explosion? An ambulance on its way to the ER? No, the sound you heard this morning was "Mission: Impossible III" crashing to Earth. The flick, chosen to lead off the 2006 summer movie orgy, has returned with a disappointing $48 million in ticket sales for its first three days. And, believe me, you can hear the emergency sirens going off around the entertainment industry. The death knell is already sounding. Why? Because last summer was a disappointing season in ticket sales for the industry. Can you even remember a movie you saw last summer (other than Star Wars: Episode Three)?
What went wrong with Mission: Impossible III? (from here on out referred to by the keen acronym M:I:III). It seemed to have a lot going for it: action, mystery, spy drama, explosions, Tom Cruise running… I haven’t seen the movie so what I offer up now will be based strictly on the best type of blogging evidence: conjecture and other web pages.
Industry analyst Brandon Grey at Boxofficemojo.com said he expected the movie to kick off with about $70 million in sales, that’s where the previous two movies opened at. "A truly successful sequel needs to open bigger than its predecessor," Gray said, noting that follow-up movies usually burn out more quickly. People in the entertainment industry are worried. Last year “Batman Begins” kicked off what would be a lackluster year in summer ticket sales with a $48.7 million dollar opening.
First of all, the problem isn’t quality. Rottentomatoes.com gives M:I:III a 73% rating, which is strong. (Rotten Tomatoes takes all of a movie's review ratings and averages them out.) Apparently most reviewers like the movie. The site’s consensus says “faced-paced, with eye-popping stunts and special effects, the latest Mission: Impossible installment delivers everything an action fan could as for. A thrilling summer popcorn flick.” Plus, come on, Philip S. Hoffman is the bad-guy. Winner!
The problem was also not Cruise’s eccentric behavior. Experts feared that Cruise’s outspoken and controversial Scientology opinions, odd couch-jumping behavior on Oprah, and strict handling of bride Katie Holme’s labor, would all hurt ticket sales. After all, last year after Russell Crowe threw a telephone at a hotel employee the acclaimed movie Cinderella Man in-which he starred bombed. But even after a year of odd-headlines from Cruise the demographics for M:I:III were exactly where expected.
So, what’s the deal? M:I:III was hurt by the Poochie Principle.
This is a principle I’ve created inspired by the famous Simpsons’s character Poochie The Rocking Dog—an ill-conceived, cliché ridden, corporate creation spawned to boost Itchy and Scratchy’s falling ratings. The principle states that there's often an inverse correlation between hype and quality. What went wrong with Poochie is what often goes wrong with movies: a sleek exterior and buzz words can not fix a bad project. And, what's more, people are now conditioned to see hype and become suspicious.
What do you think of when you see M:I:III ? I see a movie that’s trying too hard. It’s too buzz-friendly. It’s too slick. Come on, this is a summer movie. It should survive on the force of its many exploding cars, not the sleekness of its title. M:I:III is too cool for school, man. It looks like the “X-Games”, something that’s supposed to be edgy and current but is really fueled by companies looking to line their pockets from your willingness to believe the hype.
Let’s face it Hollywood doesn’t know what to do. There’s a lot to lose with big summer movies so they’re going to remake old movies (Poseidon), add sequels (M:I:III, X-Men: III), and, out of almost sheer obligation, dig up old super heroes (Superman: Returns). Essentially, they’ll take as few chances as possible, while producing colons at an alarming rate. The only impossible mission here is coming up with a creative idea and not ruining it with inane hype. Mission: Impossible III may be a great movie, but M:I:III looks like a dog. And with M:I:III’s numbers, despite solid reviews, it seems like people are growing wary of too much hype.
The Poochie Principle is alive and well. It's in effect all around us. A great example was Woodstock 94 and Woodstock 99, a hyped up mess that, unlike it's patriarch, will be remembered as an embarrasment. Woodstock 69 was a groundbreaking and unique event that spoke for something. Superflurous hype was not needed. Leave it up to corporations to try to tap into that again. People are learning: all that glitters is not gold.
We're constantly fed garbage and told to believe it's quality. Where's the wreckage that was the XFL? Is that Ashlee Simpson wailing away on the radio? What's Joey up to these days? People are getting turned off and M:I:III may be the sad story of a good movie that got hurt by the backlash.
Poochie started off like a standard dog. The boss hated it. “He’s supposed to have attitude!” he screamed. The artist didn’t understand. “You know, attitude! Uh…sunglasses!” Then they put him in a hip-hop context, added a surfboard, and Rastafied him by 10%. Finally, the artist blackened Poochie’s sunglasses and the transformation was complete.
What could possibly go wrong? Poochie was killed off after one show, declaring to the viewers that he had to return to his home planet. Hollywood had better do the same with all the hype. Want people to come to the theater? Treat them as intelligent beings. Make quality movies and let them speak for themselves.