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Disney counts the cost of The Alamo



Story by: Jack Foley

BELEAGUERED Disney bosses are counting the cost of The Alamo, the flop film version of the ill-fated defence of the Texas fort, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Dennis Quaid and Jason Patric.

The $100-million plus epic opened over the Easter holiday period in America and, somewhat disastrously, only debuted at number three in the charts, with a meagre three-day gross of just $9.2 million. It was roundly beaten by Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which returned to number one, and by Hellboy - which had been released one week previously.

Worse still, it had to vy for third position with low-budget family comedy, Johnson Family Vacation, to prevent any further humiliation.

The film divided US critics between those who find it a worthy examination of the events surrounding one of the key moments in US history, and those who found it boring, uninspired and routine.

But it has placed bosses at Disney under further scrutiny, as the company bids to fight off an unsolicited offer by Comcast Corp, criticism of its CEO, Michael Eisner, and executive upheaval at its struggling ABC network.

The failure of the movie has also led to much head-scratching at the studio, with Chuck Viane, president of domestic theatrical distribution, announcing: "I don't know where we mis-stepped on this one. Writer/director, John Lee Hancock, delivered a really good movie."

But critics have been quick to round on the studio for a lack of conviction surrounding the making of the film, which was intended as a vehicle for Ron Howard, with Russell Crowe billed to star.

Had Howard taken the reigns, film would have been completed as a graphic, R-rated saga, costing about $135 million, but family-friendly Disney got cold feet at spending so much money on a blood and guts epic of American military failure, and decided to make it more family-oriented, employing a less expensive director and cast.

Hence, Hancock joined, with Dennis Quaid, following their successful collaboration on Disney’s own baseball movie, The Rookie.

But Quaid did not get star billing this time around, opting to play the relatively minor role of military commander, Sam Houston, while Billy Bob Thornton took the limelight as Davy Crockett.

Yet while there is nothing new in big budget films flopping (the Easter weekend was packed with financial failures), the repercussions look to have hit Disney especially hard, given its ongoing woes.

According to a report on movie website, IMDB, shares in the company dropped 2.1 per cent, to $25.70, in Wall Street on Monday, as investors paid greater attention to the fact that the $100-movie earned only $9.2 million in its opening weekend than they did to an optimistic forecast by Disney CFO, Thomas Staggs.

Indeed, based on early estimates of overseas performance and DVD sales, entertainment analysts have written off any hope of the film becoming profitable.

And they have added it to the growing list of ‘Disney disappointments’, citing the $100-million animated adventure, Home on the Range, as well as Hidalgo and The Ladykillers, as further examples of films which have failed to perform as expected at the box office.

Indeed, what had been looking like a strong period for the company is rapidly turning into one to forget, especially since it was hoping to use the profits from films such as The Alamo to stave off the threat of competition.

Now, they will be looking to DVD sales of last year’s hits, Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean, to prevent the profits slump from becoming too damaging.

l In what proved to be a genuinely bad weekend for new releases, over Easter, Warner Bros hitman caper, The Whole Ten Yards, which reunites Bruce Willis and Friends star, Matthew Perry, could only manage a number eight slot, with $6.7 million - compared to the opening $13.7 million bow of its 2000 predecessor, The Whole Nine Yards.

And Twentieth Century Fox’s star vehicle for 24 actress, Elisha Cuthbert, entitled The Girl Next Door, also under-performed, despite an extensive advertising campaign, taking only $6 million.

Cuthbert plays a former porn star who falls for a sweet high school nerd (Emile Hirsch) but the film failed to ignite as successfully as planned, even though studio executives were hoping for good word-of-mouth to boost its fortunes over coming weeks.

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