Film to open in all major territories

LONDON — F/x driven sci-fi remake “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is the widest release at the European box office this weekend by a distance, bowing in all five major territories in line with its domestic launch. Opening frame expectations are big but not whammo.

Iain Softley’s family fantasy “Inkheart” also makes a play for festive auds with bows in the U.K. and Germany. It doesn’t open domestically until Jan. 23.

In the U.K., “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is the key release as festive biz gets into full swing. Pic goes into the weekend with a modest $800,000 banked from Wednesday/Thursday previews.

The underwhelming preview biz has U.K. bookers scaling down their opening weekend projections to between $2.7 million and $3 million from its 470 sites.

The pic has been trashed by the Brit critics, who are mostly no fan of topliner Keanu Reeves.

Brendan Fraser starrer “Inkheart” is the other big bow in Blighty. It faces an uphill battle to open big given it must contend for auds with strong holdover, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” and weekend previews of “The Tale of Despereaux.”

Local bookers expect “Inkheart” to earn more than $1.3 million in its opening three days.

Overall U.K. box office is likely to be dented by the televised “X-Factor” final on Saturday night and by frantic Christmas shopping over the weekend.

Expected to perform pretty well at arthouse sites is Peter O’Toole starrer “Dean Spanley,” which Icon sends out on approximately 50 prints. Pic is boosted by strong reviews.

In Germany, Warners’ “Inkheart” and Fox’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” take on “Escape 2 Africa” for the top spot.

While “Escape 2 Africa” has a good chance of remaining at number one, “Inkheart” looks certain to attract major crowds.

Pic is an adaptation of the bestselling novel by German author Cornelia Funke (who also produced), about a single father and his 13-year-old daughter forced to battle fictional characters inadvertently brought to life from the pages of a novel.

The book is hugely popular in Germany and the film looks set to benefit from the legions of fans despite notably mixed reviews. Munich newspaper Abendzeitung said the film “leaves one oddly unmoved because the story does not flow and partially because it comes across like a parody of a fantasy film.”

Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung complained that “the many subtle twists of the book were sanded away in favor of action-heavy chase scenes.”

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” took similar critical hits, with Sueddeutsche Zeitung saying the film “will certainly not ripen into a beloved classic — not even for the wrong reasons.”

With so much animation and action on offer, local distribs are counterprogramming with high-profile titles and small indie pics alike.

Constantin releases Meg Ryan vehicle “The Women,” Universum rolls out Woody Harrelson thriller “Transsiberian” and X Verleih opens “In jeder Sekunde,” an episodic debut film from cameraman-turned-director Jan Fehse and starring Sebastian Koch (“Black Book”).

Also hitting screens is Aditya Chopra’s new Bollywood extravaganza “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi,” starring Shah Rukh Khan, which goes out via Rapid Eye Movies.

In Italy, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” touches down day-and-date with the U.S. on 500 with a clear field and solid if not stellar prospects.

Reviews for Fox’s remake of the sci-fi classic are mixed. “It’s emotional level is inversely proportional to its use of digital tricks,” sneered La Repubblica. “Fun for those who love the genre,” declared Corriere della Sera.

The Italo frame is sparse in the leadup to the Christmas bonanza due to most distribberies slotting the big guns closer to the actual hols. That means “Saw V,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Happy-Go-Lucky” have space for strong second frame holdover biz.

Gabriele Salvatores’ dark father-and-son drama “As God Commands” launches on 250 via 01 Distribuzione with chances of commanding a nice take given the Italo Oscar-winning helmer’s cachet and presence of local stars Elio Germano and Fabio De Luigi. Bowing in the arthouse arena are Israeli drama “The Lemon Tree,” out on 10 via Teodora Film, and local melodrama “Stare Fuori,” out on six via A.B. Film.

After last weekend’s holiday bonanza, the Spanish B.O. will most likely show a big drop off this time around. “After last weekend’s total haul of $17 million, the best of the year, that’s only normal,” said one exhib.

That said, holdovers “Twilight” and “Escape 2 Africa” are showing good stamina and should buttress biz as the holiday season kicks in.

Among the 12 pictures to open this weekend, Fox’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” seems the best placed to fight for top spot with a 450 print spread. As elsewhere, the critical reaction has been lukewarm at best.

Filmax releases toon “The Hairy Tooth Fairy 2″ on a bold 284 hoping to follow up on the strong perf of the original in the franchise, which did $4.7 million in Spain in 2006. Bookers are optimistic, but a little concerned that the market is overloaded with toon fare.

Other openers include Golem’s French comedy “Comme les autres,” starring Spanish star Pilar Lopez de Ayala, Vertigo’s “My Blueberry Nights” and Wanda’s biopic “Il Divo.”

In France, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” launched on Wednesday into top spot with $598,852 on 606 via Fox. Leading critic Yann Lebecque of L’Ecran Fantastique and Le Figaroscope recommended the actioner, although the critical balance overall was mixed.

French crix drooled over the Coen brothers’ “Burn After Reading” and auds were moths to the flame. It earned 461,101 in 475 theaters for StudioCanal. “What verve in the writing! What precision of mise en scene! What comic talent was brought by the actors,” cooed Serge Kaganski in Les Inrockuptibles.

Elsewhere, French director Philippe Haim’s “Secret Defense” opened to a healthy $250,582 on 260 for UGC International, comedy “L’Emmerdeur” (TFM Distribution) earned $149,807 on 595 and animated fairytale “Mia et le Migou” grossed $119,946 on 304 for Gebeka films.

Additional reporting by Nick Vivarelli (Italy), Ed Meza (Germany), Emilio Mayorga (Spain) and Lauren Seligman (France).

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