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'Beowulf' is in a fight with itself

November 15, 2007|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

It's as close as moviegoers will ever get to being Brad Pitt: the chance to hang out with Angelina Jolie (or a digitally manipulated version of the actress, at least) completely naked. But is that enough to help turn "Beowulf" into a hit?

The computer-animated adaptation of the epic poem many of us read in its CliffsNotes iteration arrives in theaters this weekend, and while the fantasy film faces little new opposition at the multiplex, it is essentially competing against itself.

Neither live-action "300" spectacle nor family-friendly "Polar Express" animation, "Beowulf" carries both a steep price tag -- more than $150 million -- and an untested concept. With a PG-13 rating for violence and sexuality, "Beowulf" is essentially an adult-oriented cartoon. And Paramount Pictures and financier Steve Bing need it to do a whole lot better than "Fritz the Cat."

"Forrest Gump" director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriters Roger Avary ("Pulp Fiction") and Neil Gaiman have tried to give the Middle Ages classic a modern spin.

Grendel's mother, which some translators have described as a "hag" and "wretch," is now the unfairly curvaceous Jolie (albeit with a tail). The titular warrior is played by Ray Winstone. While the English actor had no visible abs in "Sexy Beast," through the miracle of motion-capture animation he now has a body so ripped Beowulf would look at home in a West Hollywood strip club.

Audience tracking surveys show that "Beowulf" has respectable interest in three of the four main demographic categories -- men and women, each divided older and younger than 25. National Research Group surveys show that although 82% of moviegoers are aware of the film and 39% are definitely interested in seeing it, women over 25 have been slower to climb onboard.

At the same time, "Beowulf" is not the first choice of people planning on seeing a movie this weekend: NRG's data indicate "American Gangster" holds the lead in that category.

Data compiled by IAG Research indicate movies with comparable awareness and definite interest tend to open with a gross under $25 million, but Paramount still has two days to drum up "Beowulf" interest, and there's the added hook of the film's playing in 3-D in some 750 theaters, including several large-format IMAX venues. A gross of about $28 million seems reasonable, which should push "Beowulf" past "Bee Movie" and "American Gangster" for first place this weekend.

The other new film in wide release, "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," is a G-rated comedy set in an extraordinary toy store. Fox Walden, which is releasing the Dustin Hoffman-Natalie Portman film, is banking on data that show strong support from parents with children.

Among moms and dads taking their little ones to the multiplex, nearly half are definitely interested in "Mr. Magorium." Only 37% of that demographic are definitely interested in last week's "Fred Claus," NRG surveys show, but 58% remain definitely interested in "Bee Movie," which is entering its third weekend of release. Look for "Mr. Magorium" to gross about $14 million, which would probably put it behind "Bee Movie" over the weekend.

Director Mike Newell's adaptation of "Love in the Time of Cholera" arrives in about 700 theaters this weekend, and its prospects don't look good. With a shortage of enthusiastic "Cholera" reviews and older moviegoers drawn to "American Gangster" and "No Country for Old Men," New Line might be fortunate to bank $3 million in "Cholera's" debut.

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