Critics can’t stand director Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D, hip-hop take on novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Roaring 20s love tale “The Great Gatsby.” Fans can’t wait.
“Gatsby,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the enigmatic, love-struck millionaire, is forecast to generate as much as $50 million in domestic ticket sales for Time Warner Inc. (TWX:US)’s Warner Bros. this weekend, by far the biggest debut for Luhrmann, who’s known for lavish, over-the-top productions including the critically acclaimed musical “Moulin Rouge!” and a modern take on “Romeo + Juliet.”
The Australian director embellishes the story of Jay Gatsby’s climb into high society with 3-D graphics and a thumping soundtrack from artists including Jay-Z, Beyonce and Jack White, giving the picture a modern spin compared to the slower-moving version starring Robert Redford 40 years ago. That may be enough to please fans and turn a profit even if the critics wince.
“You have people in their 30s and up who remember the book fondly and want to see the new take on it,” said Phil Contrino, chief analyst for researcher BoxOffice.com.
Luhrmann’s approach has mostly failed to win over movie critics, while a marketing campaign promoting the film’s dazzling parties and music has enticed moviegoers, according to Paul Sweeney, a Bloomberg Industries analyst. Of 97 reviews compiled on Rottentomatoes.com, only 41 are positive. Yet the users’ “want to see” rating is 98 percent.
“The 3-D gimmickry wears itself out, sometimes looking like an elaborate, gorgeous pop-up book and other times leaving the actors stranded in a foreground with the movie playing behind them,” Greg Evans, a Bloomberg News critic, wrote yesterday.
“Gatsby” showings were sold out in 27 cities, ranging from New York to Nicholasville, in central Kentucky, ticket seller Fandango.com said yesterday. The picture accounted for 65 percent of sales of booked at the site, which showed a favorable rating from 90 percent of fans.
The outlook wasn’t always that favorable. The film originally was scheduled to open late last year, when it would have faced off with DiCaprio’s “Django Unchained” for Oscar consideration. Warner Bros. announced in August it was moving the picture, co-produced with Australia’s Village Roadshow Ltd (VRL), to this summer. The change gave Luhrmann more time to work on his 3-D interpretation and the music, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.
Dan Fellman, the studio’s head of domestic distribution, has said he saw this weekend as an opportunity to draw film fans not enthralled by Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US)’s “Iron Man 3” or Paramount Pictures’ “Star Trek: Into the Darkness,” scheduled to open next week.
A $50 million opening, the top forecast from Ben Mogil, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in St. Louis, will put “Gatsby” in second place behind “Iron Man 3,” which is projected to collect $71 million in its second weekend.
“There’s a large segment of the moviegoing population that really doesn’t turn out for a movie like ‘Iron Man,’” Contrino said in an interview.
The projections suggest “Gatsby” will turn a profit for Warner Bros. The movie will probably move into the black through video-on-demand and pay TV sales, based on an SNL Kagan analysis that examined Luhrmann’s past films and the DiCaprio titles “J. Edgar,” “Shutter Island” and “The Aviator.”
Studios count on revenue from DVDs, video-on-demand and movie channels like HBO, in addition to domestic and foreign theatrical sales. Usually they don’t make money on a picture until it’s showing in homes.
“It’s going to depend on home video and VOD and free TV,” said Wade Holden, an SNL Kagan analyst. “That’s not unusual.”
“Gatsby” produced a 1.46 score on the Kagan Profitability Index. The number represents a ratio of revenue to most costs, encompassing estimates of sales from theaters all the way to DVDs and free TV. One issue is whether enough people will pay about $3 more per ticket to see a romantic drama in 3-D, he said.
“They’re taking a risk with this, it being a 3-D film, but I don’t know if it’s a risk that’s going to pay off,” Holden said.
Contrino estimates “Gatsby” could take in as much as $125 million in its domestic run alone, putting it on par with the best-performing picture in Kagan’s analysis. The film’s production budget was $127 million, according to IMDB.com.
Luhrmann’s best performing movie in the U.S. and Canada was “Moulin Rouge!” the 2001 release featuring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. The film opened with $13.7 million and generated a total of $57.4 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo.
DiCaprio’s “Shutter Island” did $128 million in the U.S., “The Aviator” took in $102.6 million and “J. Edgar” brought in $37.3 million.
Luhrmann has said in interviews that he wanted cutting edge music in “Gatsby.” Fitzgerald infused his book with references to jazz, the hip sound of the Twenties. Hip-hop duplicates the feel, he said.
“The best way to enjoy Baz Luhrmann’s big and noisy new version of ‘The Great Gatsby’ — and despite what you may have heard, it is an eminently enjoyable movie — is to put aside whatever literary agenda you are tempted to bring with you,” New York Times critic A.O. Scott wrote.
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