Saturday, July 30, 2011

The real problem with Cowboys & Aliens: The ampersand

The film Cowboys & Aliens opened Friday to high expectations. However, according to Deadline, it's not doing very well.
According to Universal's North American box office stats, Cowboys & Aliens opened only #2 Friday with $12.994M, beaten by the $13.291M debut of Sony Pictures' The Smurfs. But Universal is still claiming its Western/scifi mashup should come in #1 for the weekend at $36.78M, behind the little blue guys toon's $36.02M. Or is that only wishful thinking at this point? Smurfs is really overperforming while Cowboys & Aliens is way behind expectations to the point of tanking.
The movie took a tortured path from graphic novel concept to movie property to graphic novel to actual film -- it was apparently sold to movie producers before anything more than a title and cover existed (check out some of that story here, and some more interesting stuff here). All of that time spent in development only increased the cost of the film, which in about ten years went through about a dozen script drafts. The budget is estimated to be around $165 million, or $180 million.

If Deadline's estimate holds, C & A won't make it to $40 million this weekend. That would be a disastrous opening weekend for a movie that cost so much. Maybe it will make the money back overseas, where alien invasion films and American westerns do boffo box office (am I being facetious? I don't know), but it would have to make a ton of money.

The reviews haven't been stellar. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 44%. Even worse, its Cinemascore is B. That happens to be the same score that Green Lantern earned. And we all know how I felt about Green Lantern. It was feebogzh.

So what happened? Was it that the mash-up of the western and alien invasion films was too original for moviegoers? Was it that the movie was too dark? Is it the fact that there was another interesting alien invasion movie that opened this weekend? Was it the nude scene?

If you read this post's headline, you know what I believe was the real problem with this film. It has a stinking ampersand in its title. I effing hate ampersands. For crying out loud, just write out the word


It's not that hard. It's only three letters. Three letters, versus one little squiggle. You can't spare the time? Your art department can't figure out a way to make "and" look good? You've got to resort to an ugly, annoying little squiggle right there in the middle of your title?

In general, the presence of an ampersand in the title of a film is a big, bold signal that said film is to be avoided at all costs. I offer by way of examples the following partial list:

Gnomeo Ampersand Juliet
Cats Ampersand Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty GaloreBatman Ampersand Robin
Angels Ampersand Demons
Thelma Ampersand Louise
Fast Ampersand Furious (okay this is actually a pretty decent movie)
Toddlers Ampersand Tiaras (not a movie but a pretty creepy show)
US News Ampersand World Report (not a movie but a rotten magazine publication)
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, Ampersand Her Lover

The only real exception that I can think of is the lost classic movie Penn Ampersand Teller Get Killed, which is a dark, weird film I haven't seen since I was a kid so maybe I'm misremembering it as a great film or I'm letting my love for Penn Ampersand Teller cloud my judgment on this.

Please, at long last -- let the ampersands of time run out.

Cowboys and Aliens. How hard was that?

Bonus: Penn Ampersand Teller Get Killed is apparently available on YouTube. Now I can see if I agree with my younger self about that movie. Did I have good taste back then? I'll let you know!

Image source.


A.Jaye said...

I remember when the most famous squiggle in the world was 'Prince'. Don't tall me you burnt all your 45s.

High Concept movies wag the dog by definition. As in "wouldn't it be cool if aliens invaded earth during the cowboy era? Somebody write the script!"

I beg to differ. The cowboys had their own sexual problems - as in they weren't getting any (women that is. Cows? The historical records have been expunged). So they didn't have the need to fantasie about little green men sticking it up their rectum.

Has daniel Craig carried a movie outside of James Bond? When was the last harrison Ford hit? I still haven't seen this Meagan Fox sort in a picture but I understand she's done sod all outside of Transformers. $180m budget? $40m opening weekend? I laugh at Hollywood.

I bet you the camcorder crap called Paranormal Activity 3 opens bigger.

Paranormal Activity 3. Not Paranormal ampersand Activity 3. You could be right about the &.

Ricky Sprague said...

The rules by which the rest of us are forced to live do not usually apply to Prince. He could actually change his name to an ampersand and it would be awesome.

I think that you're dead-on correct about cowboys and alien invasion/abduction scenarios. People in the modern industrialized world have such relatively easy lives that they can waste their time with such nonsense. If you're breaking your back working at manual labor all day with no real idea of where your next meal is coming from and have access to only a few other people, you don't have time for alien abduction, horoscopes, bigfoots, etc.