What do you do when your big sweeping Oscar-hopeful epic that cost $130 million dollars does a shallow swan dive at the box office? You completely change the party line on the entire movie! Well, that's what Fox is doing about Australia—Baz Luhrmann's continental Nicole Kidman/Hugh Jackman period romance—at least. Though the film initially was being thrust at us as Titanic but with Aborigines and a lot more plastic surgery, it's now been shifted (or downgraded) to an artsy "adult" (not that kind of adult) flick. So its disappointing $20 million Thanksgiving numbers aren't disappointing at all anymore!
Chris Aronson, a senior vice president with the studio, said he believed the opening promised a strong run through the holiday season, when movies tend to remain in theaters for many weeks. “These are great numbers for an adult film,” Mr. Aronson said.
Yeah, they're great numbers for like a Diane Lane dramedy about coming to terms with things. But for a Nicole Kidman meets shirtless Hugh Jackman while music swells and then planes fly in and things blow up holiday movie? Not so much. At least Fox is padded a little bit because of the crazy $50 million-worth of tax incentives and whatnot they got from the Australian government, which is placing high hopes on the film to reinvigorate their flailing tourism industry. We don't blame Aronson and Co. for trying to save face, but it seems a little silly, coming off of the big marketing blitz they rolled out in the lead up (I mean, have you seen that soaring strings and running fast trailer?), to now say "Oh, yeah. This was studio art house all the way. We're The English Patient, but, you know, really expensive."
And, yes, in the end Australia could chug along and rack up a steady stream of American dollars (plus it's bound to do better overseas) as the early winter rolls by, but it'll still be hurt by the stain of its initial duddery—it was too long, too naive, and too much about another country when all Americans can think about these days is themselves. Think about it. Would Titanic have been Titanic with a British love story?
Not on yer life, mate.