I’m becoming a big fan of Fathom Events. They’ve reinvigorated what going to the movie theater means for me.
For a while, revivals and reissues were completely dead. There was no point in going to the theater to watch an old movie anymore. There was home video, cable, and later streaming. At first this was supposed to be the great savior of films. Anyone would have the power to watch whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.
But it had the effect of cheapening movies for a lot of people. Now, I and a lot of other film geeks were raised on home video. But it turned movies into a sort of background distraction for a lot of people. Once something was available to everyone, it became less valuable. When you’re paying to watch something in the theater, you’re required to pay attention. If it’s on a TV screen, it’s almost not worth paying attention to.
But something that is constantly in the background sticks with you. Just ask anyone suffering a mild headache. People began to view these films as comfort food, which is what spawned the ongoing reboot craze.
Fathom Events doesn’t spend millions of dollars remaking anything. It has a simpler model. “Remember that time when studios would just re-release films in theaters?” the company asks. “Let’s just do that again.”
And that model is doing very well. A special re-release of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth grossed $1,592 per screen. By comparison, Solo: A Star Wars Story grossed $103,000,000 in its opening weekend, which leads to a gross of $7,838 per screen per day. Yet it played in 6.7 times as many theaters, had a much larger advertising budget, and played for three days across the entire day as opposed to one showing at night.
There’s an audience for these re-releases. I was one of the people in that Labyrinth screening, and the theater was packed. People weren’t sure if they still had to follow traditional etiquette and not belt out “Magic Dance” at the top of their lungs. There was applause when the credits rolled. And people were reminiscing on their favorite moments at the end of the screening. Did that happen after Ocean’s 8 rolled credits? It didn’t even happen after 2017’s Best Picture winner The Shape of Water rolled credits.
Throughout 2018, there are going to be a lot of Fathom Events re-releases are worth checking out more than, say, Hotel Transylvania 3 or that Mamma Mia! sequel.
The Sandlot (July 22, 24) – The Sandlot has become a sort of millennial classic, with “You’re Killing Me, Smalls!” as the shorthand for frustration. The Sandlot is, at its core, a rip off of Stand By Me. But it’s a great, effective rip off of Stand By Me.
This year, the film celebrates its 25th anniversary so a re-release makes sense. (Jesus, we’re getting old.) But then, that also means that the film could just as easily be released in 4K with an exclusive new five-minute featurette with Patrick Renna. So, what does putting it back on the big screen do? After all, the film was shrugged at in 1993 – it grossed $4 million in its opening weekend and critics patted it on the back as a good try. Maybe the filmmakers are finally going to receive the victory lap they deserve?
I don’t think the re-release is that cynical. I think it’s because the movie only artistically works when it’s presented in the context of nostalgia, youth, and a summer gone by. Screening for its now adult audience in the middle of summer is likely to be the most effective screening possible.
The Big Lebowski (Aug 5, 8) – When it was first released, The Big Lebowski was considered a huge disappointment. In the same way that The Coen Brothers followed up their Oscar winning No Country for Old Men with the screwball comedy Burn After Reading, Lebowski was a follow up to their Oscar winning classic Fargo. People weren’t sure what to make of it. The same duo that ended a film showing someone being ground up in a woodchipper was now making a stoner comedy?
But The Big Lebowski found its audience, with its Pynchonesque plot and its quotable one-liners. Lebowski-fests are held now, and the movie has summarized Jeff Bridges’ career for the last twenty years.
This is one event that I’m not sure can work as well, because any screening will have to be a Rocky Horror style participation event. People will be unwilling to not join in and sing “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” But people are also too aware of theater etiquette.
Yet Lebowski isn’t just a movie anymore and the theater provides the perfect space for a communal event. That’s the one difference between a theater and home video – the shared experience. Hopefully something as beloved as The Big Lebowski will remind people of what that means.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Oct 14, 17) – For some reason, Fathom Events is broadcasting a week and a half after something called The Trump Prophecy. Perhaps this re-release is a strange sort of penance? Or maybe it’s a reminder of a time when someone who had no clue what they were doing being elected to higher office was a storyline that was celebrated.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is shorthand for classic Hollywood – the story of a simple, but kind man who is appointed Senator and proceeds to break up a corrupt political machine through his hometown wisdom. But it takes on another meaning today, for the reasons I outlined above. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington would not be made as it was. They’d keep the House of Cards style manipulation that Jim Taylor uses. But there is no way that anyone would view Mr. Smith as a hero. We’re too cynical now because we’ve seen what happens when an outsider like “Mr. Smith” goes to Washington – he’s all to eager to make the political machine even worse if it benefits him.
That’s also why people need to see Mr. Smith Goes to Washington again – to remind them of a time when there was still hope for the political system and when positive change could happen. And maybe if people are reminded of that, they’ll be determined to bring those ideas back.
Spirited Away (October 28, 29) – Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki is a national treasure in his native Japan and has slowly but surely garnered a global audience that respects his impressive work. He was only the second person to ever win the Oscar for Best Animated film and his movies are cited as an inspiration for Disney.
Fathom Events loves re-releasing Miyazaki films. They still feel like an event for the U.S. His films are some of the most popular films ever made in Japan, but over here he revered by a cult audience. It’s a shame, because these are the sort of films I wish Disney would make. They’re made for children, but they don’t talk down to anyone. Disney wants to take the safe approach, while Miyazaki understands that childhood is just as complex as adulthood.
Spirited Away is one of Miyazaki’s best films. It perfectly captures the confusion between the child’s world (in which spirits exist and adults can turn into pigs) and the adult world (in which your work ethic will save you). Chihiro is forced to work in a bathhouse for the spirits after her parents are turned into pigs. She’s trying to save her family but, at the same time, is not sure if she can handle her workload.
Those who’ve seen Spirited Away already know how effective it is. It’s an animated film that doesn’t cut corners. It looks amazing and creates an enormous mythology that most live action films can’t create.
But the question remains – why re-release it in theaters? The animation will look more impressive, for one. For another, it goes against the trend of American animated films. They’re largely forgettable, thinking that the kids in the audience won’t care about quality. Spirited Away has no patience for this trend. It respects childhood and knows how to reward its audience. If only there were more Spirited Aways than Minions in the world.
Frankenstein (Oct 22, 29) – This is not a re-release of the 1931 James Whale classic. Rather, it is an encore broadcast of the National Theater’s play version featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and John Lee Miller. They would switch roles during the production – Cumberbatch would play the Creature one night, John Lee Miller the next. I’ve seen the play before and it’s probably the best version of Frankenstein I’ve seen.
James Whale changed much of Mary Shelley’s context for the novel. She wrote it to explain her fear of motherhood and the idea that her offspring would lead to her destruction. (Death in childbirth was more common back then.) It was something that a woman could easily understand, but not a man. So, she invented a man who would have to face those fears.
It’s the same plot – scientist builds creature that grows to hate him – but the play captures all the additional subtext, making it seem fresh and exciting. The Creature emerges from a giant womb on stage. Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancé wonders why he couldn’t make a human with her “the old-fashioned way.” And the creature acts like an abused child – still trying to be nice but growing to hate the father who treats him as a burden.
This also showcases one of the great inventions of cinema. It’s an encore presentation, but this was initial broadcast as it happened from the National Theater. If you told someone living in Shelley’s era that we would one day be able to do that, she’d have considered it even more fantastic than creating a new human from scratch. But here we are, and it’s a novelty that still hasn’t lost its punch.
Die Hard (Nov 11,14) – It’s Die Hard. Shouldn’t that be enough?
Die Hard has become the template that every other action film, no matter how dumb, copied. Yet it still retains its power because of how it portrays Detective John McClane. He’s not a superhero. He acts like a cowboy but he’s a scared man who knows he’s more than likely going to die during his fight with the terrorists who have invaded Nakatomi Plaza.
I can’t imagine what it was like to watch it in theaters, because the whole idea was seemingly a joke that shouldn’t have succeeded. The filmmakers took a sitcom actor and promised to turn him into an action hero of Schwarzeneggerian level. It cast an unknown theater actor as its villain. But the film was a huge hit and became one of the most influential genre films of all time.
To me, watching Die Hard on TV emphasized how claustrophic a film it is. People have described the Nakatomi Plaza as a jungle, but I could never see it. I also couldn’t understand McClane’s plight after the first act. He took up most the screen and Bruce Willis was already a well-known action star to me.
Watching Die Hard on the big screen emphasizes that urban jungle and McClane’s helplessness. Plus, they really don’t make films like Die Hard anymore. There’s an emphasis now CGI produced fight scenes that are as bloodless as possible. Die Hard is gritty and not glamorous at all. That’s why it’s being brought back – to remind people what action films should be.