After a quiet week last week, the big guns come rolling out for the rest of the year. The remainder of December is jam-packed with wannabe blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls. And with Christmas falling on the traditional “event” release day of Wednesday, studios are really going to ramp up the hype to make their movies part of everyone’s holiday, even the ones already in release by that time. It’s a concentrated dose of summer in the middle of winter, and hopefully we got some good movies out of it.
But first, there’s Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas. And Perry has really topped himself this time around. He’s managed to snag Larry the Cable Guy for a starring role. This is truly a cinematic Christmas gift to us all. Because, if nothing else, it prevented the likelihood of a separate Larry the Cable Guy Christmas movie. So I suppose we should be eternally grateful to Perry for sparing us from that. Seriously though, whatever I may think about Perry and his signature character, Madea has an audience, and they’re going to show up, and in enough numbers to more than cover the relatively inexpensive amount of money these cost to make. And if that audience has a few laughs — despite the presence of Larry the Cable Guy — well, who am I to be a Grinch about it this time of year?
Besides, I’ll be over her in Middle-earth. A year ago, I was reluctantly off to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, still cranky over the relatively small and simple book being blown up into three films. Now, I’m bouncing off the walls for the second part, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, especially after recently watching the extended version of the first film. I guess I’ve just accepted that this is the version we’re going to get, and the depth and breadth of what Peter Jackson is doing won me over, particularly when seeing all the behind-the-scenes footage from the appendices on the disc. Jackson might be over-indulging, but you can’t argue that he and his crew and his actors aren’t putting forth the same effort here they did on the Lord of the Rings films. Whether that effort was called on such a much slighter story is an argument whose ship has sailed at this point; these is the cinematic Hobbit we’re getting and there’s nothing to be done about it.
What remains to be seen is how audiences respond to this. The first film grossed just over $300 million domestically, but Warner Brothers dragged it over that threshold kicking and screaming; it didn’t reach that number until the middle of this past February, whereas The Two Towers and The Return of the King got there within a few weeks of their December openings. Remember what I said in my piece about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest? A sequel’s opening is more about how much people liked the preceding film than how excited they are for the new one. Well, you could argue that people didn’t go crazy for An Unexpected Journey, so don’t be surprised is The Desolation of Smaug opens lower. The first film also didn’t have strong holdovers like Catching Fire and Frozen to compete with. Oh, Smaug will still make $300 million — unless it’s a complete disaster, Warner Brothers won’t let it out of theaters until it does — but you can tell by the way the dragon and the elves have been center stage that they’re trying to hype this up on more than just, “Hey, look, more Middle-earth!” We’re getting the third film no matter what, but how this one does is going to say a lot about how the release of the final chapter is handled.
All of which is apart from whether this is a good movie. The majority of early reviews indicate it’s better than the first film, even if the bloat that Jackson’s been guilty of since The Fellowship of the Ring took off is still on display. But it’s apparently beautifully done, entertaining bloat, which is as fine a metaphor for the Christmas season as you’re likely to find. He’s just over-spending on a Christmas present, that’s all.