Beyond the Screen #3: Mario Casting, Netflix Buys Roald Dahl and Disney Contract Negotiation

We take a look back at news of note in the world of film.

Mario Casting Leaves Fans Scratching Their Heads

Though no-one could be blamed for getting excited to finally see an animated Super Mario Bros. movie in theatres, some filmgoers in the know had already begun to have doubts when they saw the name of the studio tackling Nintendo’s classic title: Illumination. The vile forces behind the Minions films and a deluge of further appallingly lazy ‘inoffensive talking animals’ kids movies, Illumination has become, to some, a shorthand for the worst characteristics of the modern animation scene. Concerns were not alleviated when Nintendo recently announced the film’s all-star cast: Chris Pratt as Mario, Charlie Day as Luigi, Anya-Taylor Joy as Princess Peach, Jack Black as Bowser, and Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong. The bill of actors has quickly become the internet’s favourite punching bag, with much speculation as to how Pratt specifically will be approaching Mario’s accent. There’s little doubt that with a cast like that, and a name as recognizable as Mario, the film will be a financial success, but whether or not fans will embrace the final product remains to be seen.

Dune Has Promising Start in Foreign Markets

In order to avoid the sort of large-scale piracy and immediate drop-off in box office potential that arises from putting out a film day-and-date, Warner has opted to release Dune in select international markets ahead of its American release, where it will premiere simultaneously on streaming service HBO Max. This has turned out to be a superb idea, as Dune is performing better than any other 2021 release has in many of these territories (including France, Russia, Germany and the UAE), occasionally outpacing Denis Villeneuve’s previous release, Blade Runner 2049, despite these markets being slow on recovery from their Covid-19 induced lockdowns. Its run is developing excellent word-of-mouth, and Dune’s chances at not only gaining a strong American audience, but also in having its sequel greenlit, have improved massively. The film will have to make around $400 million to have safely turned a profit.

Elsewhere in the box-office, stymied by abysmal reviews, Broadway musical adaptation Dear Evan Hansen has failed to debut at number 1, falling behind Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in its fourth week. Competition will be heating up in the next few weeks as a slate of big releases and smaller contenders is due to drop, including No Time To Die, Venom, The Addams Family 2, Halloween Kills, Last Night in Soho and The French Dispatch.

Pioneer Melvin Van Peebles Dies Aged 89

Melvin Van Peebles was a multi-talented artist (actor, playwright, composer, painter, etc.), who launched his own career by adapting his French language novel into his debut film; The Story of the Three-Day Pass. Hollywood supported his provocative mixture of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Black Like Me (Watermelon Man), but what would become his most famous film was too radical, too violent, and too black for the system. So, he became an independent filmmaker, and released Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, launching the blaxploitation genre and the careers of Earth, Wind and Fire, in a single swoop. Huey Newton declared the results “the first truly revolutionary black film made”, required viewing for Black Panthers.

Van Peebles once accurately described himself as the “the Rosa Parks of the industry”, but his talents encompassed more than paving the way for black artists in the American film-world, directing 9 films in the midst of his many extra-directorial ventures, among them musicals, comedies, crime dramas, and the absurdist bildungsroman starring the then 77 year-old Van Peebles; ConfessionsOfa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha. Criterion recently released a Blu-ray box-set of his essential films.

Netflix Buys Complete Roald Dahl Catalogue

Looking to keep up its end of the Streaming Wars, Netflix has purchased the Roald Dahl Story Company for a reported £500 million, likely to square up against their biggest competitor, Disney Plus’, huge well of children’s entertainment. Dahl’s stories have extraordinary potential, of course, but his peculiar vision requires a deft hand and a complete understanding of the whimsy and playful ghastliness that kids can’t get enough of. Going off of what Netflix has yet announced, there is little hope for magic: “…a unique universe across animated and live action films and TV, publishing, games, immersive experiences, live theatre, consumer products and more.” If Roald’s works get bludgeoned into another homogeneous cinematic universe, each addition a commercial for the rest, let’s hope the company can stop-their-gobs, and that this particular Bogthumper isn’t everlasting.

Disney Renegotiating Contracts

Scarlett Johansson’s contract dispute with Disney seems to have come to a head. Bob Chapek, the Disney CEO who has overseen much tumult in his short time at the top, announced at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference that wage negotiations were undergoing a reset, since those “cut three or four years ago” are out of step with the current (and likely future) model of release windows. Seemingly learning from their previous mistakes, Disney made no explicit reference to Johansson, or the on-going legal battle between the two parties.

“Right now, we’ve got sort of this middle position where we’re trying to do right by the talent. I think the talent’s trying to do right by us, and we’re just sort of figuring out our way to bridge the gap.” Chapek’s statement also seemed to imply that deals moving forward would make for a better line of renegotiation, should another radical shake-up occur. “Certainly, the world is changing, and the talent deals going forward will have to reflect the fact that the world is changing.”

P.T. Anderson Trailer Now Online

The trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s next film, Licorice Pizza, which was previously reported on Beyond the Screen to be showing at select theatres around the world, has been officially uploaded. The film looks to be more in line with P.T.A.’s earlier films, Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love, than his recent austere dramas.