Thursday, 18 August 2016

Beyond - The Drama of the Box Office

What the hell happened? 

With a marketing campaign that sung its credentials from all angles, Star Trek Beyond looked like a total, sure fire hit. The reviews were great, Rotten Tomatoes even certified it Fresh. It was easily the best of the three reboot movies, there was no lens flare and the story was, for the most part, pretty solid. It wasn't the perfect Star Trek movie but it was showing that the movie arm of the franchise was moving in all the right directions.    

In a lot of ways it felt like Star Trek was coming home and getting somewhere near its roots again in this key 50th year but, after the release weekend and it's number one opening slot in the US (second to The BFG in the UK) it disappeared off the face of the Earth. There's been no movie novelisation this time, no sustained drive on marketing after that 22nd July premiere and only by the fact that a few reminder adverts keep popping up on @TheWarpCore Twitter feed did I know that it was still out. A visit to the cinema yesterday showed that it's now down to two daytime showings and the building had no posters or promo on it aside from the touchscreen booking terminal which had the one-sheet poster to select a screening. I have it on good authority that Star Trek in 2009 was still spinning around cinemas five months after release while this will be looking optimistic to be pushing five weeks (thanks to @zer0 on Twitter for that nugget).

The numbers have been less than was expected. The opening weekend was apparently on target hitting around $60 million. Not a behemoth of the box office but still respectable however the second week saw an over 50% drop in revenue and then the third week around another 50% drop in relation to the week before. Indeed, by the end of its second week we were looking at only $24.7 million in takings which is significantly less than the amount Into Darkness took at the same point ($37.2 million). Frankly it seems that once the hardcore fandom had been and seen the movie it was all over and done with. Star Trek is, it seems, no longer a sure fire box office winner and a 'banker' if you will.   

So where did it all go wrong? For starters I think the suggestion that people boycotted the movie because of the revelation that Sulu was gay is utter garbage and a waste of good journalism. Perhaps having JJ Abrams not as prominently linked to the project as director could have had an impact on the takings. After all his name on the previous two movies certainly had an effect but his reduction to a purely production role in favour of the some little film called Star Wars may have put off some cinema goers. If he'd "abandoned" the franchise then maybe his fanbase did too.

Then there's the publicity before hand. The first trailer was all guns, bangs, loud Beastie Boys music and action all he way which reinforced the credentials of replacement director Justin Lin and would appeal to the masses however writer Simon Pegg quickly jumped in to reassure fans that this was going to be more like the original Star Trek than either of the previous two movies. There was a fan event and three subsequent trailers which then gave mixed messages versus that original adrenaline filled two minutes of footage. Could this have warned off potential viewers? Possibly. 

Viewers may not have really understood what they were going to be getting - old school cerebral Star Trek or Fast and Furious action or maybe a messy mix of both. Nor do I believe that the boycotting campaign in light of CBS/Paramount's law suit against Axanar had much of an effect. That fan production really would have only influenced a hardcore central to ignore the movie and that wouldn't have made that much of a week on week dent in the takings. The amount of people viewing the trailers versus those viewing Axanar leans more to the movie than the fan film by some ridiculous margin.  

The marketing campaign too was far more subdued in virtually every sense. From day one there was very little information forthcoming and it seemed to take an age for anything to surface of any substantial quality. It was like pulling teeth for ages then there was a bit of a spurt and then it fizzled just as quickly as it started. This was due, it was revealed later, to the fact that the July release date was immovable and the production schedule was reduced substantially after the departure of Roberto Orci and his team and the restart from scratch that had to take place. Beyond may not have had the best of luck therefore from its conception but does the sudden demise of this movie show something else?

Some sites have suggested that Star Trek is no longer a "box office certainty" or that it's had its day or that it should have remained as was under Abrams but, personally, I don't think it ever was. The franchise has never had the same universal appeal as Star Wars for example because of its more (dare I say it) "cerebral" attitude which doesn't gel with the masses. 

Beyond did something different and visually tried hard to bridge the feel of The Original Series with the box office action draw that is demanded in the current time. Monetarily it's already being seen as a flop even though its now only just opened in South Korea and some more far flung points of the globe are still to follow but the same would have been true of the previous movies. I don't think in any way that this is the end of the franchise as some websites I won't even care to name are trying to sensationalise but it would be prudent to expect that the already announced fourth movie will have a budget less than Beyond's $135 million and also be required to edge more towards the higher action bracket that the 2009 and Into Darkness flicks chose to step into.

Finally though, maybe it's just apathy for the cinema (take credit for this one @Captain_Revo) since there have been a lot of action "blockbusters" around - Suicide Squad, the reboot Ghostbusters, Independence Day and the like. Perhaps fans are just getting bored with getting the same old material pumped their way? Is the time of the action movie as it exists now coming to an end and we'll have to think of another way to do it other than just look to The Avengers for inspiration? None of the summer's expected big films have performed as first thought and that might have impacted on Beyond since its marketing was initially pushed towards the same genre.

It's a huge let down that Beyond hasn't hit the stellar heights fans and (more than likely) the studio were predicting given the year and the adjustments that had been made since the last movie. what does concern at this point is that CBS have a new series just around the corner which will be costing an absolute bomb and will now be coming off the back of a box office "flop". While Star Trek is more suited to the small screen it must still be a worry to those involved. Are fans not inclined to shell out after the disappointment of Into Darkness for a third "substandard" movie which isn't in the 100% spirit of the original? I actually think that's most realistic. In fact I know that a few people have taken that stance and will catch it on DVD or when it premieres on a network. A shame because it did look great on the big screen (if a little dark in places).

The end of Star Trek? No way, however there may be some significant changes ahead and they will probably become evident very soon indeed.

What do you think has affected Beyond at the box office?

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