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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Jackson’

A Lion, Hobbits and Bond – oh my!

July 22nd, 2011 No comments

As summer heat scorches most of the U.S., (except, interestingly enough, Hollywood), perhaps it’s time to chill out and get caught up with stories we’ve blogged about in past months. Interestingly, in one way or another, all of today’s stories link to Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Sort of.

 

The Cat Came Back…

Proving a corporate survival rate second to none, MGM emerged from bankruptcy in late 2010 and was placed under the leadership of former Spyglass Entertainment honchos Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber. Having successfully fended off corporate raider Carl Icahn’s attempt to take over the beleaguered studio via his one-third share in Lionsgate, as well as a semi-serious offer by Time Warner (and even some foreign tire-kicking),  MGM received debtholder approval and the bankruptcy court’s blessing to restructure its obligations, and has re-entered the movie business. Well – sort of.

As a matter of fact, MGM has a movie in the theaters right now – sort of. “Zookeeper” is a MGM film, but it is distributed by Sony under that studio’s Columbia label. MGM bought the script in a 2008 bidding war for $2 million against $3 million, and promptly set Adam Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison (HQ’d at Sony), onto the project, effectively reuniting most of their “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” production team to get “Zookeeper” made. Unfortunately, in the interim, MGM was hit with big money woes, and the film was included in a deal which gave Sony distribution rights to the next two James Bond films as well. The deal with Sony may just get the struggling studio back into regular production, but MGM’s possible future slate looks more like a ‘blast from the past,’ relying heavily on remakes of MGM properties like “Red Dawn,” “RoboCop,” “Mr. Mom” and “Poltergeist.” 

And that’s just the Halfling of it…

Another long-stalled, high-profile MGM project, “The Hobbit,” has finally begun production. Well – sort of. It’s a ‘good news, bad news’ kind of thing for MGM: MGM’s “The Hobbit,” long planned to be a pair of films directed (and co-written) by Guillermo del Toro and produced by ‘Lord of the Rings’ director Peter Jackson, ended up morphing into a giant pair of  Warner Brothers (corporate successor to New Line) 3-D movies, directed by Jackson after MGM’s money woes caused del Toro to move on (after 2 years of work) and MGM to unload its rights, retaining only broadcast TV rights. Peter Jackson has largely reunited his ‘Lord of the Rings’ principals; they support British actor Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo Baggins. In early press, Jackson points out that these things rarely get easier: the shooting schedule for both ‘Hobbit’ movies is only 12 days less than all 3 of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, and the $500 million budget is 40% more than the three earlier films. The first of the two 3-D ‘Hobbit’ films, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” is due in theaters in December, 2012. The second film, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” is set for a year later in December, 2013.

Never say ‘Never Again’…

The other jewel in MGM’s crown (after the hard-won ‘Hobbit’ rights, which involved years of legal wrangling with Saul Zaentz) is James Bond. ‘James Bond 23,’ the as-yet-untitled next chapter in the spy series, was held up due to – what else? – MGM’s financial troubles. With the resolution of MGM’s debt situation, they are free to make the next James Bond movie. Well – sort of.

Due to a deal set up with MGM in 2004, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment distributed all of MGM’s theatrical feature films and  home video, accordingly, including the rebooted Bond franchise’s highly-successful “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace.” However, MGM exercised an option in 2006 which allowed it to transfer distribution of its product to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. This left the distribution of the next Bond movie up in the air when MGM ran out of money; now Sony has stepped in and agreed to distribute both ‘Bond 23’ and ‘Bond 24,’ in addition to co-financing both films. This solves several problems: Sony stays in the Bond business, and MGM has a partner well-versed in dealing with EON Productions, the ‘power behind the throne’ of the Bond franchise. Oscar winner Sam Mendes is set to direct, and Daniel Craig will return as James Bond. ‘James Bond 23’ has a release date of November 9, 2012.

It’s Too Darn Hot!

It is hot out there. Why not go into a nice air-conditioned movie theater? This weekend, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is the latest 3-D superhero to grace movie screens, and it should be interesting to see if he battles boy wizards as well as he does Nazis. It takes guts to go up against such tough foes… And if good versus evil isn’t your thing, check out “Friends With Benefits,” which should benefit producer Screen Gems via its clever (2-D, superhero-free) counter-programming… Sort of.

Arrivederci, Dino!

November 11th, 2010 1 comment

Dino DeLaurentiis, legendary Italian film producer and flamboyant impresario, died Wednesday evening at his home in Beverly Hills, his daughter Raffaella DeLaurentiis reported today. DeLaurentiis, 91, became a pivotal figure in Italian cinema during the early days of post WWII neo-realism, and eventually produced numerous films, including “La Strada,” “Barbarella” and “U-571.”

In the 1970s Dino moved to Los Angeles and produced “Serpico,” which earned two Oscar nominations (DeLaurentiis already held Oscars for Italian films “La Strada” and “Nights of Cabiria”). A long string of films followed, including “Three Days of the Condor,” “Death Wish,” “Ragtime” and “Blue Velvet.” An artist at international film financing, DeLaurentiis produced films for esteemed directors Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman and even a young David Lynch, pre-selling rights outside the U.S. to finance the international co-productions.

Not a stranger to failure, DeLaurentiis survived some mega-flops, including David Lynch’s largely-panned (and expensive) “Dune,” as well as an update of “King Kong” that was reviled by audiences and critics alike (until Peter Jackson upped the ante, that is…) Tragedy also struck his family: in 1981 his son Federico, 26, was killed in a plane crash in Alaska while preparing a movie, a loss which affected Dino for the rest of his life.

Dino is survived by five of his six children. His daughter Raffaella is also a film producer, as is nephew Aurelio DeLaurentiis. Granddaughter Giada DeLaurentiis is a celebrity TV chef with several cookbooks to her credit.

On a personal note, I met Dino DeLaurentiis on a number of occasions when he operated out of his DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group offices in Beverly Hills in the early 1990s. He was a tiny man, but radiated a magnetism and confidence that were impressive. His English, while serviceable, could be a challenge to comprehend, particularly in light of his thick accent. And he was ‘old school’ through-and-through: while I knew him, he kept his long-time barber on staff to provide a quick haircut whenever he desired. An on-call barber? Now that’s what I call ‘old Hollywood!’

Dino DeLaurentiis kept producing well into his 80s, exercising his rights from author Thomas Harris’ “Manhunter” to produce  sequels to “The Silence of the Lambs,” which DeLaurentiis passed on producing. Realizing the popularity of the Hannibal Lecter character, Dino produced the “Manhunter” remake “Red Dragon,” (Harris’ book’s original title), as well as “Hannibal” and “Hannibal Rising.” In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed upon him the Irving R. Thalberg Memorial Award in honor of his lifelong devotion to world film.

A lover of wine, women and cinema, Dino DeLaurentiis lived life to the fullest. He will certainly be missed. Ciao, bello!

No, Mr. Bond… I expect you to LIVE!

April 20th, 2010 No comments

Auric Goldfinger couldn’t do it…

Ernst Stravro Blofeld failed a bunch of times… Rosa Klebb… Even the nefarious agents of SMERSH and SPECTRE never got it together.

But it looks like MGM’s money woes have done something James Bond’s storied villains could only dream of: stop him in his tracks. Who knows? Maybe they’ve killed him altogether. But I seriously doubt it. You see, this ‘corpse’ is STILL worth a lot of money.

To understand the Bond franchise is to comprehend a family money-making machine so powerful it is practically the last  feather (to strain a metaphor) in the cap atop MGM’s Leo the Lion’s fleabitten brow… “Bond 23,” the latest planned Bond picture, is tightly controlled – as most have been – by original producer’s Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and her stepbrother Michael Wilson; they control the family business, the billion-dollar Bond franchise, since ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s death in 1996. The next film was set to be scripted by Peter Morgan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade; Purvis and Wade were the scriptwriters who rebooted the franchise with “Casino Royale” in 2006, and the recent “Quantum of Solace.” But the Bond franchise would be about the only other franchise the aging lion has to offer in a sale. Sure, they have the “Pink Panther” series, but the two best cards MGM/UA still holds in the interests of a possible sale are its rights in the Bond franchise and two planned “Hobbit” films, all of which are potentially hamstrung by MGM’s never-ending sale process. Although it’s unlikely the “Hobbit” powers that be, namely Peter Jackson and New Line Pictures (New Line was recently re-absorbed by Time/Warner), won’t let that happen, either.

But never count-out a British secret agent – or a wily hobbit. In the end, although it will certainly mean the end of the MGM imprimatur, the ailing for-sale studio will probably auction off its last valuable properties, leaving it only with a ‘famous’ logo and a popular (if aging) film library.