Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois on August 4, 2005 · Page 2-3
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Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois · Page 2-3

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Thursday, August 4, 2005
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123456 AUGUST4,2005THURSDAYMWSECTION2CHICAGO TRIBUNE 3 TEMPO ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT By Elaine Dutka Tribune Newspapers When the Walt Disney Co. released “The Return of Jafar” in 1994, the lowly direct-to-video category was associated with erotic thrillers, cheap comedies and material that had been targeted for theaters but wasn’t good enough. That movie, based on characters from the studio’s animated hit “Aladdin,” sold 15 million units, taking in nearly $300 million worldwide. Along with Universal’s “The Land Before Time II,” another straight-to-video success that year, it became a social climber, distancing the category from its lackluster past. Propelled by the advent of the DVD, the straight-to-video market is now a $3-billion-a- year infusion into a maturing business, gaining creative legitimacy and making financial waves. Nearly every major studio has a division devoted to DVD “originals” or “premieres,” as the studios prefer to call this cost-effective revenue stream. “If they wanted to go theatrical with one of my films, they could,” said president of Disney- Toon Studios Sharon Morrill, who has sent out more than 25 made-for-video titles since “Jafar” took off. With special effects more affordable and recognizable talent signing on, the line separating big-screen movies and original DVD fare is becoming increasingly blurred, agrees Kevin Kasha, senior vice president of acquisitions and programming for New Line Home Entertainment. Studios are not only producing titles, they’re also acquiring material at film festivals as well. That can make all the difference for an off-center feature that previously would have been consigned to late-night cable. Times have changed “When I started out in the mid-1980s, a direct-to-video movie was an action-adventure-horror piece like ‘Ice- Pick in the Eye, Part 12,” said Kasha, who was hired last year to build the company’s “exclusive to DVD” programming. A-list producers such as Joel Silver (“The Matrix,” “Lethal Weapon”) and John Davis (“I, Robot,” “The Firm”) have climbed aboard and, although the stigma has not fully evaporated, some stars are following suit. Oscar winner Hilary Swank appears with Patrick Swayze in New Line’s “11:14,” a film on which the actress is also a producer. Phil Collins composed songs for Disney’s “Tarzan 2.” Whoopi Goldberg and Matthew Broderick reprised their roles in “Lion King 1½.” And Steven Seagal’s Steamroller Productions turns out DVD originals such as “Belly of the Beast” with budgets of $15 million to $20 million. “When that caliber of talent gets involved, the rest of the industry starts noticing,” said Scott Hettrick, editor in chief of the trade publication DVD Exclusive. Amid the scramble for perennial “tent-pole” movies such as “Batman” and “Star Wars,” studios are exploring low-budget products and ways of maximizing their properties. And at prices ranging from $2 million to $20 million, made-for-DVD movies are a bargain. They don’t require costly film prints, $300,000 premieres and $50-million marketing budgets. But like their big-screen counterparts, they have profitable ancillary afterlives. Sci-fi and horror titles are staples on domestic cable channels and international TV. In May, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment sent out “Sandlot 2,” the first title from its division dedicated to DVD exclusives, and it became the year’s top-selling live-action title in the straight-to-DVD category, with more than a million units sold. When things kick into gear, the studio hopes to release four or five DVD premieres annually. Upcoming titles include sequels to “Behind Enemy Lines,” “Like Mike” and “Wrong Turn.” Although shoots are shorter and money tighter, these projects can be talent-friendly, said Tom Siegrist, vice president of production for the company. “Filmmakers are viewing DVD originals as a place where they have more creative control,” he said. “And they’re finding that when we decide to make a movie, we do. Our development- to-production ratio is higher and faster because of known quantity in our library’s brands.” The studio’s straight-to-DVD promotional budgets, he said, fall into the “seven digits.” Nice profit margin Producer Davis had hoped there would be a third big-screen installment of his “Dr. Doolittle” series. Fox shot down the idea in favor of direct-to-video, however, and he opted to sign on. He’s creating a partnership that would bring 3-D animation, produced offshore, to feature films and send out two direct-to-DVD titles a year. “Dr. Doolittle 3,” which cost about $6 million to make, could take in $12 million to $15 million, Davis said. Family fare has dominated the direct-to-video market since the early days of VHS. Universal broke the $1billion mark with its “The Land Before Time” series and has been successful with its “Balto” and “Beethoven” franchises. Disney’s “Mulan II” is the No. 1animated direct- to-DVD of 2005, and “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride” is the top-selling direct-to-video release of all time, with $464.5 million worldwide in sales and rentals. The market diversified with the advent of DVDs. And, with DVD players now in 75 million households, the public appetite is even broader. Los Angeles Times MOVIES Straight-to-video: Straight to the bank “The Return of Jafar” went straight to video in 1994, taking in nearly $300 million worldwide. By Sid Smith Tribune arts critic Two new television comedies are on the same cable network, and both are created and written by the performers who star in them. Both are nervy, gutsy with a ground-shifting sensibility, a bit crass and borderline repugnant. But both “Starved” ( 9 p.m. Thursday on FX ) and the self-mockingly titled “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” ( 9:30 p.m. Thursday on FX ) are also funny, refreshing and bold. The first is probably the more offensive in pushing the sitcom envelope, steeped in four-letter language and scatological humor in its look at a Seinfeldesque quartet who met at an eating disorder self-help group. But even the tamer “Philadelphia” begins with a no-holds-barred segment on the nascent racism and homophobia of a trio of working- class pals who run an Irish bar in the comedy’s titular city. It’s unfair, in a way, to compare this fare with today’s mostly moribund network sitcom offering. The networks couldn’t employ the adult topics and lingo in play here. Nevertheless, the ingenious masterminds behind these two shows prove that TV comedy is very alive and can be as surprising and progressive as ever. “Starved” is the real shocker, relentless in exploring the sexual hedonism and culinary indulgence of its anti-hero, Sam (creator-writer Eric Schaeffer). Sam douses his chocolate cakes with powdered cleanser as a guard against eat- ing them, and then wolfs them down anyway, explaining that the icing masks the detergent. He surfs the Internet for pick-ups, and even seduces a woman he meets on the subway, a less than brilliant 26-year-old (Sam’s 38) whom he tries to make over to be like the English model in a British cookie commercial. Sam is no saint, or even all that likable, but he’s an amusing urban smart aleck, whether lecturing a lesbian pal (Laura Benanti) from the support group or joining two men friends weighing their private parts on a food scale under the table at the diner where they all hang out. Adam (Sterling K. Brown), a cop, chases down a Chinese delivery man, threatening a false ticket unless he gives up his food, which Adam laterregurgitates on top of a homeless man. Nice? No way, but much of the time laugh-out- loud outrageous. Schaeffer and company deliver his acerbic script with non-stop energy and fearless comic self-confidence. In a later episode, Sam insults his colonic technician, who abandons him mid-enema, leaving him to crawl around the crowded waiting room in a grotesque charade right out of “There’s Something About Mary”: unforgivable, unlikely and hilarious. The foursome in “Philadelphia” — tavern owners Mac (Rob McElhenney), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Charlie (Charlie Day) and the sister who tends bar for them (Kaitlin Olson) — aren’t nearly as neurotic, but they’re every bit as unpredictably droll and effortlessly improvisational. In the first episode, their awkward friendship with an African-American leads them to hire him as a bouncer, unaware of his true sexuality or plans to turn their Irish pub into a gay bar. “Can we get rid of all these shamrocks?” he asks. “This Irish stuff makes my people very nervous.” sismith@tribune.com TELEVISION 2 FX sitcoms may redefine standards for humor, taste Rob McElhenney (from left), Kaitlin Olson, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton operate a tavern in the nervy new sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which airs at 9:30 p.m. Thursday on FX. While a bit crass and borderline repugnant, the show also is funny, refreshing and bold. Del Pentecost and Sterling K. Brown star in the sitcom “Starved,” which airs at 9 p.m. Thursdayon FX. LIVE BEAUTIFULLY. TOGOSofa Collection. Design:Michel Ducaroy 56 E. Walton Street 312.867.1207 www.ligne-roset-usa.com ® *Offer valid on all High Sierra. Styles and colors vary by store. Expires 8/21/05. 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