Pipeline: "The Avengers'" Boffo Box Office

Tue, May 15th, 2012 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

"MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS" -- STRAY THOUGHTS

There are no spoilers below, in deference to those who are waiting to watch the movie at home in the comfort of their home theaters with far fewer distracting teenagers sitting behind them texting their besties.

The Money: If you had asked me a year ago, I would not have bet on this movie hitting a billion dollars. Given the popularity of the other movies and the director behind it, I might have gone with a half billion -- putting it above all the movies that fed into it by a chunk.

Instead, it only took 19 days to hit a billion dollars worldwide. Yikes.

Remember when "Titanic" was #1 in the theaters for months on end? That happened in the slower winter months and not in the world of weekly "summer" blockbuster releases. But grossing over a hundred million dollars in the U.S. alone in its second week makes me wonder what movie will topple this one. I know there are some heavy hitters coming up, but every other movie right now seems to be running for the shadows. No pun intended: "Dark Shadows" opened to less than $30 million, which would be impressive for a "regular" film, but doesn't look good for the follow-up to "Alice in Wonderland," which took in over $100 million for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp in its opening weekend.

And, of course, where will the movie wind up in the record books? I doubt it'll reach the heights of "Avatar," ($2.78 billion) but what do I know? Looking at the list of billion dollar movies, it is a lock to come out ahead of #4 "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" ($1.1b) and #3 "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" ($1.3b). But #2 "Titanic" is up close to $2.2b.

The 3D ticket sales is surely boosting the box office for this movie. When I looked for a show on opening weekend, two-thirds to three-quarters of all show times were for a 3D showing of the movie, which gives the final grosses a couple extra bucks per ticket sold. Maybe the most interesting statistic from this run up the box office records chart will be to see how the total number of tickets sold generates the final box office dollar tallies.

Speaking of 3D: I haven't seen many movies in three dimensions at the movie theater, yet. The last two I saw were with my daughter: "The Lorax" and "Beauty and the Beast." I was curious to see how I'd react to a live action 3D movie. "Avengers" worked well in the format, but it wasn't perfect.

The opening scene had issues with items that would pop forward in the frame being cut off at the edges of the movie screen. It is jarring when a computer monitor, for example, is sticking out at you like it's in front of the screen, only to be cut off by the edge of the screen that your brain is telling you is behind it.

Some of it was overdone. The thing that popped out the most to me was stray limbs getting pushed forward for no reason. Watch for scenes where everyone is standing around, and check out the elbows and forearms of the characters closest to the camera. There are scenes where Thor has his arm hanging free and his elbow is pointing way out in a way that feels unnatural.

Joss Whedon did a lot of scenes from a very low angle, looking up at a character. The effect lengthened their bodies, naturally, but the 3D effects made it look a little wonky, too, like people had been stretched. That wasn't optimal.

Still, there were a lot of scenes that looked to me like they were done with the intention of adding the third dimension. The film wasn't shot with a 3D camera, though. I wonder at what point in the process they knew the thing would be converted in post, and how the process of making the movie changed. Or was it just a financial reason to do the 3D in post, so they always accounted for it and it took a little bit for the director to warm up to it, in practice?

I took my glasses off a couple of times to see just how bright the screen was. I've read before about how important it is to make the image super bright to get through the darkening 3D glasses. Sure enough, the screen was brighter than anything I've ever seen in a theater before, though I wish it had still been a step brighter. I'm greedy like that. It didn't bother me when I didn't think about it, but it was there.

All in all, I'm glad I saw it in three dimensions. I'm glad I didn't go to an IMAX 3D showing, because my eyes can never focus on a single spot on those screens. Looking all around the screen to see everything would have been too distracting for me.

Black Widow and The TV-to-Comics Tangent: Remember when J.J. Abrams was known as "The 'Alias' guy?" (When "Alias" was starting, he was known as "The 'Felicity' guy." Crazy world, eh?) It feels like the show has gotten lost in history, overshadowed by the bigger explosion of "Lost," but then Joss Whedon does that introductory scene with Black Widow and it feels so much like a Sydney Bristow moment that you want to guy buy up all the DVDs and watch that series again.

Obligatory comics reference: Rob Liefeld once held the license for an "Alias" comic. This Andy Park sample page looked amazing. So does this one. The book never made it to stands, sadly.

As a special bonus: Read this Liefeld interview, where you can look back at the tease of a Jennifer Lopez movie that never happened, either.

Trailers: Two other blockbuster movies had big trailers attached to the beginning of this film: "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "Batman: Dark Knight Rises." They are completely different styles of superhero movie, and both left me excited for them.

The Spider-Man movie was made with 3D in mind. That much is clear in the trailer. They're using the special effects in that trailer to the max. It'll likely tick off some people, but I almost don't mind the cartoonish three-dimensionality so long as it's a consistent style choice. Shots of Spider-Man swinging through the city almost demand that kind of three dimensionality, don't you think?

The big problem I have with 3D is that is so often fails during abrupt scene cuts. In a trailer, when a single shot rarely lasts longer than three seconds, it can be tough for my mind to register and appreciate the extra dimension before the next shot pops up and I'm left trying to re-establish my vision.

The Batman movie is just dark, dreary, and a little bit scary. I feel sorry that all of the characters are about to go through such hell, but I'm also excited for a story that promises a conclusion of some sort to this story arc. It feels like all options are available to Christopher Nolan in making this film, and so anything goes. It's not a direct adaptation of an existing comic, so I can be surprised at whatever choices are made.

But, damn, that's one dreary looking world I don't want to live in...

COPYRIGHTS, ORIGINAL ART, AND MOVIE MAKING

  • The biggest news story in the realm of comic book copyright law last week has gone unreported that I've seen in the comics press. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems that a new precedent was set last week, and it's one that could easily start a whole new round of lawsuits. And it starts with The Village People.

    Last week, a judge ruled in favor of Village Person/songwriter Victor Willis, who is suing the labels that own the rights to "YMCA." Under the revised copyright law of 1978, he's invoking his option to reclaim his rights to over 30 songs. The record companies sought to throw out the suit on the basis that they were works for hire. The judge disagreed:

    But Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz's ruling has set a new precedent. In his decision Judge Moskowitz wrote, "The purpose of the Act was to 'safeguard authors against unremunerative transfers' and address 'the unequal bargaining position of authors,' resulting in part from the impossibility of determining a work's value until it has been exploited."

    He added, "Under plaintiffs' interpretation, it would be more difficult to terminate an individual grant than it would be to make it in the first place."

    Sounds a lot like some comic book-related lawsuits that have flown in recent years, doesn't it? I'm curious to see if this decision will be used by any comic creators from the 1970s. It might be too late for Marv Wolfman or Gary Friedrich, but who might be next?

  • Forbes Magazine suggests buying comic book original art as investment. Honestly, it's not a bad idea. Those prices have been going up for as long as I've known about them. Even stuff I just bought ten years ago is worth more today on the higher end. I know there are comic professionals who'll tell you stories of how their original art collections paid for houses. The values of these pages -- particularly the older work of the masters -- has never sagged. There's a very limited supply for a very active audience there.

    The problem is, the Forbes article took it a step too far. The whole article is in response to rip-off artist -- er, "pop artist" Roy Lichtenstein's artwork recent selling for $45 million. (In other words, it's just enough to likely fund every project on Kickstarter today, and all the ones that start for the next month, too.) And here's the line that will make you spit out whatever food might be in your mouth at the moment. Please finish chewing before reading the following quote:

    Yes, some comic artists aren't as good as others, and only a few are as good as Lichtenstein.

    I try not to get all righteously indignant about things in life, particularly things that are outside my control. I like to think I'm a more mature person than that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and it's very likely we might just disagree on things.

    But that line of text is downright insulting. I could name you twenty artists working in comics today off the top of my head who have more creativity, more vision and more skills than Lichtenstein, whose best-known and top-selling artwork is blown-up copies of artwork he Xeroxed and added dots to. Don't give me the claptrap crap about "pop art" and speaking to a specific audience and some high-minded commentary on commercial art with a -- blah blah blah blah blah.

    The man -- or his agent -- did a great marketing job. They're great business folks. As artists, they're thieves.

    Or, just open up the comment thread underneath the article to watch the comic book art buying community pile on. That's fun, too.

  • Speaking of original art, the cover to "Spider-Man" #1 by Todd McFarlane goes up for auction in July. Given the insane prices any Spider-Man page by McFarlane commands, combined with this particularly iconic page having been out of circulation since its creation (in Gareb Shamus' hands), I imagine we'll be seeing headlines about how much this goes for. I'd bet it goes for more than that Frank Miller/Klaus Jansen "Dark Knight Returns" page. Yes, six figures.

    I do get a kick out of how breathless the description of the page is: "Boldly signed by Todd McFarlane in its lower border."

    Bidding begins on July 7. Take out your second mortgage now!

  • Did you know that "Marvel's The Avengers" was filmed, in part, on Canon DSLRs? Leave it to Planet5D.com to dig that up. The cameras are so cheap in comparison to full-tilt move cameras that they're practically disposable. That makes them perfect for superhero movie action sequences where all sorts of stuff is blowing up.

    You know Aardman's "The Pirates" stop-motion animation movie? They exclusively used Canon DSLRs for that one -- 50 $8,000 cameras. And they're all likely headed for the scrap heap now. They wore them out.

  • Watch Neal Adams draw Batman and read the lessons Macdrifter takes from it about making purposeful mistakes.
AND IN CONCLUSION

I give you this boilerplate in lieu of any forward-looking statements that I couldn't guarantee:

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TAGS:  pipeline, marvel studios, the avengers, joss whedon, captain america, thor, todd mcfarlane

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