Co. looks to hero pic as financial savior
This year, the date is July 2.That’s the day Spider-Man will swing back into theaters, two years after the masked web crawler took the movie industry, and the country, by storm and in one weekend became more than a blockbuster: “Spider-Man” became a cultural phenom. Not only did Spidey break the opening weekend record by grossing $115 million (it ultimately minted $821 million worldwide), it transcended demographic categories by appealing both to kids and adults, many of whom came back to see the pic again. Two years later, the question for Sony is: How to do it again? There is no way to get around the expectation factor that did not previously exist, and as the final “Matrix” installment proved, too much hype can kill. Furthermore, the first Spidey pic was hailed for its transformation of the main character from geek to super-hero — an aspect of the story that the sequel cannot retell. Rather than bringing lovebirds together — recall that classic upside-down kiss — in the second film, Peter Parker is at college and MJ is on Broadway. There’s also a new suitor who shakes things up. Overall the pic is said to be darker than the original, with villainy being handled by the tentacled Doc Ock (Alfred Molina). With Laura Ziskin again producing, and Sam Raimi back to helm, the look of the film remains slick and hyper-real. It is no brooding-toned “Batman.” “Spider-Man 2″ was written by a series of scribes, including novelist Michael Chabon; the original was written by David Koepp. Also facing Sony are increased costs: $200 million vs. $120 million the first time round. Sequelization always means a price hike, but “Spider-Man 2″ had the added, costly ills of production delays related to Tobey Maguire’s “Seabiscuit” schedule — at one point Jake Gyllenhaal was poised to replace him — which pushed the skedded May release back to the Fourth of July weekend. More bling was also doled out to talent: Maguire got $17 million upfront vs. $4 million the first time round. Thus, Sony is once again betting on Parker to save the day, in more ways than one. The first “Spider-Man” provided a major bounce for Sony and burnished the reputations of then-Columbia Pictures chairwoman Amy Pascal (she is now chairwoman of SPE’s motion picture group), Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment president Yair Landau and Sony worldwide marketing and distribution president Jeff Blake — all of whom were promptly promoted to create a ruling triumvirate. Two years later, the trio’s leadership has been unsettled by newly installed SPE chairman Michael Lynton, and the studio is in need of a financial jolt. Operating income dropped 82% at SPE in the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31, and last summer’s tentpoles were a mix of double-headers and duds. As one producer on the lot says, “The thinking is that if Sony can just make it to July, everything will be fine. It’s the juggernaut movie.” Granted, the studio has other strong contenders coming up, such as the Johnny Depp starrer “Secret Window” and Revolution’s “13 Going on 30,” with Jennifer Garner, but nothing on the level of “Spider-Man 2.” To this end, the studio will appeal directly to exhibitors at ShoWest this month, where a new “Spider-Man 2″ trailer will premiere. (Last December the first trailer was launched on Yahoo.com in 13 different countries.) It’s also lining up new corporate sponsors and ramping up on its worldwide marketing; Sony won’t elaborate, but Marvel says the plans are more ambitious than those for the original movie. “We have a very solid global marketing program that is unfolding and will be unveiled,” says Tim Rothwell, president of worldwide consumer products marketing for Marvel Enterprises. “It’ll be bigger in the number of partners and number of media dollars going into supporting the franchise.” Even so, Sony is concerned about going overboard, and declined to run a “Spider-Man 2″ trailer during the Super Bowl. “Overkill is a danger,” says Blake. “We certainly don’t have an awareness problem. Everybody knows Spider-Man.” Despite all elaborate plans and calculations, though, even Blake admits that at some point you have to just let go. “You can drive yourself absolutely crazy with this stuff, but at the end of the day, no matter what you do … you have to let it do what it’s going to do,” he says. “We know it’s going to end up in a very good place. How it gets there we’re going to leave to the movie gods.”
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