With Memorial Day upon us, the summer film season has begun. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which opened last Friday, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Summer is the prime season in the film industry for one obvious reason: Kids are out of school and are thus more likely to succeed in getting their parents to take them out to see a film during that time than they would at any other time of the year.
But this blog entry isn't about this year's films. Right now, I'd like to rant about Universal Pictures' denying millions of filmgoers the chance to see a great film, just by releasing it in the dead of winter: The 1993 Joe Dante film, Matinee, a film that only seems to get better with age--that's assuming you've seen it before.
I first learned about this film because I was a huge fan of Kellie Martin, who had a supporting role in the film. Kellie, at that time, played Becca Thacher in the ABC drama Life Goes On. (Haven't heard of it? That's because it was on Sundays at 7pm, the same time slot as CBS' newsmagazine juggernaut, 60 Minutes. Consequently, it didn't do very well in the Nielsen ratings, and ABC's chief of TV programming at the time, Robert Iger, couldn't be botherered to move it to a better time slot--say, Friday nights at 9pm. If anyone needed her first notable film appearance to be released in the summer, it was Kellie, both a talented actress and a dazzingly beautiful young woman.)
Matinee was released on January 29, 1993, and did poorly at the box office (earning $9.5 million), and in my estimation, the ill-timed release was the #1 reason. I mean, here's a film set in the FLORIDA KEYS, for Heaven's sake--it just screams out "put it out during the summer, or the spring at the earliest." I wonder if maybe Universal was afraid that releasing Matinee at or around the same time as its blockbuster, Jurassic Park, would steal the latter's box office thunder.
Also, I think the marketing folks should have promoted it more as an "ensemble cast" vehicle (the way New Line Cinema did with Pleasantville in 1998), rather than have "John Goodman" in bold letters at the top of the posters/ads. Don't get me wrong, Goodman is a fine actor, and I enjoyed his performance in Matinee. But strictly from a marketing perspective, he has no "star power." The marketing guys should have placed a greater emphasis on the story, rather than emphasize whichever name was the most recognizable among the cast.
I also wonder: Had Matinee been released around Memorial Day in 1993, would Kellie have ended up getting some of the roles that Drew Barrymore ended up getting (Never Been Kissed, Ever After, and let's not forget Charlie's Angels alongside Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar). (Wait, you mean those two didn't get cast in that film, either??!) I bet she would have. Or Liv Tyler's role in Armageddon, at least. Certainly, she would not have needed to do all those made-for-TV movies for NBC, Lifetime and Hallmark Channel--going that route wrecked Valerie Bertinelli's career (so a fan of hers has told me), and it may have derailed Kellie's as well.
Fifteen years later, my displeasure with Universal extends to its release of Matinee on DVD. Universal thought so little of Matinee after its poor performance the box office that it sold the DVD rights to a little-known company called Image Entertainment, which produced such a small quantity of the DVD and let it go out of print.
UPDATE: Universal Pictures has re-released Matinee on DVD (good news: no longer have to pay an arm and a leg for a copy; bad news: like the DVD version Image Entertainment released in 1998, there are no bonus features whatsoever, not even the "film within the film" MANT! which is reportedly available on the Laser Disc version).
Well, that's all the venting I have for now. Thanks for listening.