A great big war-of-the-worlds studio release got smoked last weekend by a little fish.
Both movies were sequels, of course
“Finding Dory,” a Pixar release in its second week, took in $73.2 million in domestic ticket sales. It was a follow-on to the 2003 film, “Finding Nemo.”
“Independence Day: Resurgence” grossed $41.6 million on its opening weekend, well less than the modest-sounding $50 million that 20th Century Fox had expected. An early signal of concern was the studio’s decision not to preview the film for critics before its release.
What is remarkable about the IDR results is that the movie is a follow-on to the highest-grossing movie of 1996. It took up 20 years after the first movie and starred key cast members facing a new and bigger alien onslaught. It had the same director, who also had a hand in developing both scripts.
First off, the biggest star of ID1, Will Smith, refused to join the second movie. The script says his character, Steven Hiller, is deceased and introduces Jesse T. Usher as his son. Usher may be a fine fellow, but he’s no Will Smith. At least not yet.
Second, the critics were underwhelmed.
“. . . an unnecessarily complicated plot that’s essentially in place to set up yet
another sequel,” said Molly Eichel of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“That dumb-fun spirit of the original can be found . . . but rarely and randomly. . .
largely a clumpy, vexing miscastrophe, ” wrote Brian Raftery of Wired
“thudding dialogue lines . . . razzle-dazzle visuals of destruction . . . . both
impossible to take seriously or seriously dislike,” from Kenneth Turan of the
Los Angeles Times.
Third, the sequel may have come too late. Audiences were mostly older than 25 and mostly men, which sounds like people who saw the previous movie 20 years ago. Perhaps Fox missed a chance by not promoting the earlier film on television to interest younger moviegoers.
Or maybe something else is going on.
Roland Emmerich directed and co-wrote both the Independence Day movies. After the first one was released, he told Variety, “Steven Spielberg told me . . . ‘this will be one of the most imitated movies for the next 20, 30 years.’ And it was, in a way.”
In the last 20 years, there have been at least 30 American movies that pitted humans against aliens: “Mars Attacks,” “War of the Worlds,” three Men in Black movies, two Cowboys and Aliens movies, “The World’s End,” even 2012’s “The Watch,” in which “four men who form a neighborhood watch group as a way to get out of their day-to-day family routines find themselves defending the Earth from an alien invasion.”
Maybe the alien-invasion theme is getting a little stale.
Given that no alien civilization has been known to take an interest in earth, let alone in destroying it, it is interesting that so many films involve fighting imaginary extra-terrestrials.
Sometimes I wonder whether filmmakers have run out of bad guys to cast as villains. Westerns lost their appeal 40 years ago. The Nazis and World War II are 65 years in the rear-view mirror. Civil war movies have a devoted but not large following; the latest one, “Free State of Jones,” flopped in its debut last weekend.
Now, with our society more diverse than ever and huge movie audiences in other countries, it may be that film funders are squeamish about stories of more real-life battles for fear of offending members of particular ethnic or cultural groups.
This does not mean movie audiences have lost interest in conflicts between good guys and bad guys.
(I apologize for the late release of this post. Events got away from me yesterday.)