Thursday, April 2, 2009

Futures Market 2009, Part I: May

It is, once more, April, a month of rain and dark clouds. But do not despair, dear reader, for April showers bring May blockbusters.

Indeed, the summer begins early this year: May 1st. And this year, the number of films on the horizon surpass even the quantity of last, though, in truth, there are fewer that provide the same intensity of interest we felt a year ago. This year offers but two large comic superhero properties, one of which has already seen release and the other shall appear on the first of May. By our reckoning, this about a third of what we received last year. In exchange, we've a series of sequels, science fiction, fantasy, and cartoon adaptations. In one summer, we shall see a Transformers and GI Joe movie.

But, like the world outside, we in The Middle Room know the pain of economic downturn: while there are many films we'd like to see, we expect many will need to be sacrificed.

Fortunately, we have already devised a system for predicting our attendance; a system modeled on the markets, themselves. And, like the markets, they proved unstable and flawed.

Had we trusted our gauge, we might have skipped Speed Racer, and this would have been tragic indeed. Oh, we anticipated error: our system is founded on the collective opinion of film critics, and this is a poor basis. A castle built in a swamp cannot stand unless it is rebuilt three more times.

This, dear reader, is one of those times.

Let us review the system in all its limited glory: Each film of interest is given a minimum rating it will need to achieve on Rotten Tomatoes. This rating is far from fair: it is based on our initial interest in the property, as well as our likelihood to overlook the critical response. It is not connected to how the movie is expected to be received.

We never promised a fair Universe.

However, because we are not incapable of learning, we add this; that we shall keep our eyes open for movies which are scoffed at by a majority of critics, but which win the love - not indifference, but LOVE - of those who remain. This describes movies like Speed Racer, and we one day hope to develop a numerical model for detecting these films.

For now, we shall need to rely on our instincts; a shame, because they are hardly as foolproof as pure mathematics. Still, this is an issue we shall need to address when films are released. We are also adding in an added feature: a estimate of how we believe the movie will be met. This serves no useful purpose, but we feel our readers deserve the opportunity to gloat when it's revealed that we're wrong.

Let us begin with the month of May:

May 1: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Estimated Tomatometer: 62%
Minimum Tomatometer: 35%
It is becoming a tradition, of a sort, to begin the summer with a big-budget production based on a Marvel character. While our expectations for this movie are less than high, we find ourselves excited by its arrival, nonetheless. It strikes us as highly unlikely that this will surpass the quality of March's Watchmen, we hope to enjoy it nonetheless. Our estimate presumes that this be better received than X-Men 3, but will fail to impress the critics - or anyone else for that matter - to the extent of X-Men 2.

May 1: The Battle for Terra
Estimated Tomatometer: 71%
Minimum Tomatometer: 88%
This is a movie that has interested us for some time now, though the form of that interest remains primarily academic. This is an animated picture looking at a dark future where the last survivors of the human race attempt to save their species by exterminating the intelligent life of another world. The trailer can be found here. In essence, this is War of the Worlds, but we are the Martians. While the premise intrigues us, the trailer belabors these ideas in a manner that was more succinctly delivered in the Belgian UNICEF add where the Smurfs met an unfortunate end. Nonetheless, there is enough about the animation that impresses, and if the critics can assure us that the movie isn't overly preachy, perhaps we'll be willing to see two movies this weekend. Our estimate of the critics' reaction here is based on no science, whatsoever: this reflects our gut reaction and nothing more. We'll be as surprised as you if it turns out to be close.

May 8: Star Trek
Estimated Tomatometer: 77%
Minimum Tomatometer: 55%
Our expectations for this movie are high: J.J. Abrams (iD&Di: .53) has long interested us as a director. The images we've seen of his take on Star Trek reveal a deep respect for the source material, as well. While we wish that the design was a bit less reminiscent of the iPod and Wii-mote, we are still happy he managed to keep as much of the original look as he did. It would take a high degree of critical disappointment to keep us from the theater when this is released. To estimate this film, we remembered Mission: Impossible III, where J.J. Abrams left critics pleasantly surprised. We expect him to do even better this time, and we will not be entirely shocked if we find our estimate low.

May 21: Terminator: Salvation
Estimated Tomatometer: 80%
Minimum Tomatometer: 60%
Everything we've seen from McG's (iD&Di: .50) installment of the Terminator franchise fills us with hope. The post apocalyptic wasteland seen only in fragments in the original films now appears complete, and we are eager to see it. While McG has never been the favorite choice for this project, we believe he deserves the benefit of the doubt. The first Charlie's Angels movie was worth seeing, even if the second was a disappointment. Our estimate will likely be viewed by some as optimistic, but we hope it proves conservative.

May 29: Drag Me to Hell
Estimated Tomatometer: 65%
Minimum Tomatometer: 90%
This is a touchy subject, here in The Middle Room. With the exception of Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi (iD&Di: .83) has seldom let us down. And, from what we've heard, his upcoming horror film is supposed to be a triumph of the genre. And yet, look back on the movies we've already discussed. May has three movies representing major geek franchises, and, as we'll discuss in a moment, this movie does not have the weekend to itself. It is with a heavy heart that we need to admit the odds we will see this are not high. Only if it truly seems to be a picture of unparalleled brilliance, will we likely head back to the theater.

May 29: Up
Estimated Tomatometer: 94%
Minimum Tomatometer: 40%
It is difficult to remember why we were uninterested in Monsters, Inc. when it was released in theaters - the character designs suggested it was more kid-friendly than we were interested in, perhaps - but it was a decision we wound up regretting. When we finally got around to the DVD, we made a solemn oath to never again miss a Pixar film's theatrical run.

In The Middle Room, we are relatively serious about such oaths. More or less.

But money is short, the summer is long, and there are many movies we want to see. So, in the unlikely event the movie fails to impress, we could, conceivably, skip it.

Still, applying a minimum rating to a Pixar movie is an exercise in futility: these films have a tendency to excel. While the aesthetics of Up are less appealing to us than those of their previous films, we must admit that we've greatly enjoyed the comedy and tone of the previews we've seen.

And it doesn't hurt that the director is the same one who directed Monsters, Inc. We estimate the critical response will be equal to that film, by the way. Not a particularly inspired metric, we confess, but we expect a fairly accurate one.

This ends the first installment of our series. Next, we move into the month of June and the strange films that come with it.

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