The entire career of Breakbeat Era spanned about a year at the end of the last millennium. It was a unique collaboration between drum and bass producers Roni Size and DJ Die, fronted by captivating singer Leonie Laws. Their only album, Ultra-Obscene saw the light of day in 1999, peaking at #31 on the UK charts and, like pretty much every electronic album ever made, it barely registered in North America. Yet, to my mind, it remains not only one of the best drum’n'bass albums ever made, essential for anyone who finds Pendulum remotely interesting, but one of the all-time greatest electronic records in general. This video speaks for itself.
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Rumors have the final cost cruising somewhere close to $100 million, an amazing amount considering what eventually ended up on the screen. The stars have been plugging away, making the talk show circuit their marketing bitch for upwards of the last three weeks. Will Ferrell has been everywhere, even turning up on, of all places, Bear Grylls survival show Man vs. Wild. So clearly, Universal knew it had some rough critical and commercial waters ahead when it sent the famous Krofft clan on the routine expedition into the Land of the Lost. And when the trailer arrived a few months back, the worst fears of purists were easily realized. Clearly, the 2009 take on the mid ‘70s Saturday morning series was going for post-modern irony, not big budget nostalgia. Instead of emphasizing the show’s crazy camp spirit, current Hollywood went for a star on the marquee and lots of inappropriate humor.
So it’s no surprise then that in a weekend which saw two other titles - The Hangover and Up - vying for first place with nearly $42 million in tickets, Land of the Lost could barely muster $20 million. Indeed, the film landed far belong projections, even with a steady stream of positive reviews leading the title to a 28% rating at Rotten Tomatoes (it started on Thursday in single digits - ouch!). Yet on messageboards everywhere, Nerd Nation has spoken, and the verdict is not good. While some could cotton to Ferrell and costar Danny McBride’s weird-ass wavelength when it came to tone and satiric trajectory, others argued that this was nothing more than a Family Guy style spoof fixed to some very juvenile jokes. And just like that most subjective of cinematic sciences - the effect of word of mouth - what apparently helped the no-star Vegas bachelor party romp rake in the dough seems to have killed off the Kroffts dreams of a motion picture empire before it could even be built.
So where does that leave things? What does a piss poor outing for a film that was once seen as one of the Summer’s surest hits mean to everyone involved? As much as they love money, studio suits enjoy sorting blame even more. Of, when something is a success, everyone reaps the benefits. But a flop needs a scapegoat, less it drag everyone else down to hack Hell with it. As we do every once in a while, SE&L will speculate on how a measly return on a massive celluloid outlay will reverberate among the many creative parties involved. As you will soon see, it’s not a question of fault as much as the proper alignment of same. Among the current commercial rabble, there are people still paying for their huge cinematic bombs, but they don’t lose as much as relocate to a different part of the motion picture paradigm. Let’s begin where the buck usually stops - the company behind the project:
While spending close to $100 million on a project that looks to recoup no more than half seems fairly seismic in the slip-up department, Universal will abide. They already have Drag Me to Hell doing decent numbers, and with Public Enemies and Bruno waiting in the wings, their summer is far from shot. Still, it’s hard to imagine the studio taking the overwhelming poor performance of what was thought to be a family film tentpole lightly. What should have been a competitor for Night at the Museum, et. al., ends up striking most as a massive miscalculation - of talent, of resources, and of material. Perhaps we’ll see another “reboot” sometime in the future, a new filmmaker taking a more respectful look at the Kroffts’ serio-comic sci-fi source as the infinite fount on possibilities it really is. Clearly, cockiness and irreverence just didn’t sell this time out.
Sid and Marty Krofft
Remember those rumors floating around that H.R. Pufnstuf was on tap as the next big Krofft catalog title to get the special silver screen update? Can you say “Not so fast…” While the famous puppeteers have nothing to be ashamed of from a public perception, those behind the scenes realize that the failure of Land of the Lost comes directly from their desire to retrofit their nostalgia for a perceived post-modern crowd. If they do the same for the classic kiddie show, complete with a crass take on the series’ oversized dragon mayor and that young boy Jimmy who adores his talking flute, they could destroy the last remaining vestiges of their already lagging Tinsel Town credibility. Still, never underestimate the blame game. If the Kroffts can convince the suits that, while their idea, the execution of Lost was all director and stars, they could come out of this with a new three-picture commitment. After all, there is nothing Hollywood likes better than the art of second-guessing.
Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas
With a solid foundation in TV behind them - Henchy in episodic sitcoms, McNicholas as part of SNL - there is little doubt that this duo will land on their feet. Even better is the critical suspicion that most of their written material was dumped on the green-screened soundstages so that stars Will Ferrell and Danny McBride could adlib their way to mediocrity. Next up for the pair - something called The Last Janitor with Borat‘s Larry Charles attached. With his pedigree behind their project, the Land of the Lost backlash will be long in coming - if ever. Still, if everyone manages to come out of this with their career intact, it will be Henchy and McNicholas that are targeted as the unknown quantity in this otherwise ‘quality’ mix. Then all future spec script bets are off.
As with McG and Terminator Salvation, Silberling was not the right man for this material. Sure, he showed how production design and quirk could elevate Lemony Snicket to pure Potter also-ran status (and that was five years ago - a lifetime in Tinsel Town), but the rest of his oeuvre suggests someone uncomfortable with pleasant popcorn fodder. From his boob tube work to the less than impressive combination of Caspar, City of Angels, and Moonlight Mile, he’s a filmmaker that fosters praise for everything else in his movies except his work behind the lens. Land of the Lost won’t be any different. From the horribly uneven tone to the tendency to let his stars ramble on without a great deal of flash or funny business focus, 2009 will be known as the year Silberling had a chance to own part of the Summer cash cow - and instead, slaughtered the beast before it even got out of the Cineplex pen.
Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel
Ferrell has been failing a lot, as of recent. Sure, Stepbrothers preserved his big fat frat boy believability, but that doesn’t take away the taint of Semi-Pro, or attempts at pseudo seriousness like Stranger than Fiction. Still, he will bounce back, if only because Hollywood can’t give up on those who made them a mint - no matter how far in the past said profit was. McBride, on the other hand, is about ready to come out of his second banana “peel” and pull off the major studio lead he’s been building up to. It’s just a matter of waiting and seeing. And with Pushing Daises cancelled, Ms. Friel can now go back to the UK and reestablish her movie star patina. Of all three main stars here, Ferrell has the most to lose. If there is a perception, sometime after the faults are figured out and levied, that he was mostly responsible for the film’s commercial crash and burn, he’ll be back to making shorts with Adam McKay before you know - and they will probably be funnier than this.
Land of the Lost 2?
Like most of the comedy in the movie - DOA and left to rot. This will more than likely be the last time we see Marshall, Will, and Holly traveling to the land of Cha-ka, Grumpy, and Sleestaks.
Making the approach down the brick path from the parking lot, the new configuration was barely discernible.
Positioned as it was to the left, just inside the glassed doors, the table might have been visible, but for someone who had been away for ten days, its nature and meaning were difficult to decipher.
And even as I reached to pull the handle on the door that would provide entry into my office building, the bottle positioned dead center atop the formica seemed an alien object: a sphere for speculation, a privileged marker, an icon of mystical knowledge.
An outsider, a newcomer—hey, even an absent insider like me—might have legitimately wondered: “what
Captain America stands as perhaps the most richly-textured superhero in American popular culture, in that he enjoys not one, but two origin stories.
Originally created in 1941 by writer Joe Simon and seminal artist Jack Kirby, “Cap” was patriotism writ large. As one of the three Invaders he infiltrated Nazi-occupied Europe and launched counter-insurgence operations. His first issue closed with him soundly planting a fist on the jaw of Adolf Hitler. But the end of the Second World War saw a drop in circulation and the inevitable discontinuation of Captain America from publication.
It was during the 1960’s that then Editor-In-Chief at Marvel sought to resurrect the original Captain America character. In Avengers issue #4, it was discovered that Cap had indeed survived the War, frozen in a block of ice. It was the Avengers who discovered Cap and thawed him out.
It was this decision by Stan Lee that would make Captain America a complex tapestry of meaning. The bright, gaudy Cap who knew only the certainty of enemies that could be confronted with a strong right hook would forever be changed. Boldly-clad Captain America would now become a character negotiating an equally garish future.
It is this sense of alienation, an innovation of Stan Lee’s, that connects Cap with two popular literary figures; Washington Irving’s Rip van Winkle, who slept away a generation, and Philip Nowlan’s Buck Rogers, a twentieth century astronaut catapulted forward five centuries. But which character provides a better analog for Cap?
In this coming Wednesday’s “Iconographies” feature, we explore the 2007 Death of Captain America, and the impact of this iconic character.
Economics blogger Matthew Rognile (who was recently and deservedly touted by Tyler Cowen) pinpoints what is bothersome about Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational and the extrapolations he makes from the slew of ingenious studies he details in the book.
The more general philosophical issue here is the tradeoff between internal and external validity. If you’re concerned about internal validity, Ariely’s work is great. Small sample size notwithstanding, I have very little doubt that if I set up an identical experiment measuring the effects of bonuses on laboratory tasks in India, my results will be similar to Ariely’s, and that if prodding lab subjects to perform contrived tasks ever becomes a critical policy goal, this knowledge will prove predictive and invaluable. In this limited sense, I have far more confidence in randomized economic experiments than I do in, say, the correctness of a particular regression specification.
Unfortunately, we are also concerned about external validity—whether our results extend to a more realistic setting—and here we are forced to indulge massive leaps in analysis.
This seems such an obvious problem—that people act differently in lab studies than in the course of their ordinary lives—but it also seems that the sorts of clever and pleasing conclusions Ariely typically draws are hard to resist and function well as story or conversation hooks. I’m wary of elevating the idea of revealed preference to the end-all and be-all of studies of decisionmaking; there are too many variables in play to read to much into a fait accopmli decision. But isolating the decision-making process artificially and attempting to control the variables would seem to yield equally limited results. I have the same skepticism about the neurological-scan based studies that Jonah Lehrer details in How We Decide.
Maybe I’m just creeped out more and more by the attempt to reduce decisionmaking to an object of exact science, so that human responses can be better predicted, and inevitably, better programmed in advance.