Where in the World is 'The Road'?

"It essentially comes down to this: if The Road sucks or distributor Dimension Films tosses the movie into a time capsule for release in the next decade... I’m going to have to carefully reconsider my life. We’re talking 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' and a trip to India here, folks. Yet, my oracle talents feel on their game tonight, and I’m saying Cormac McCarthy and Viggo Mortensen can book their hotels and plane tickets for Oscars 2009." -- David Frank (that's me!), 2/27/08

Sometimes I should just leave hyperbole to Harry Knowles and the fortune telling to the cookies sold at The Sushi House across the street. The above quote came from an editorial in which I singled out The Road as my most anticipated film of 2008. We're now heading into year two of "The Road Watch," and my obsession with this novel and film is well on its way to becoming an annual editorial just like "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" -- "Yes Virginia, there is a film based on The Road, and if the world ever sees it, no one will believe in Santa Claus." There's a new calendar hanging on my wall -- with cute pandas wrestling grizzly bears this year -- and one thing remains certain: The Road is the only film I'd crawl through a dozen Tyler Perry movies to see.

But that's assuming it's released in 2009. Last year, I kidded about Dimension Films (a.k.a. The Weinstein Company) dropping the film into a time capsule for Nicolas Cage to find and use to predict the apocalypse (that joke will remain just as unfunny when Knowing comes out), but who knew that'd be the one thing I'd get right. However, this was always a possibility after Dimension became the film's distributor. The Weinstein brothers are infamous for weighing down their vault shelves with films for countless years and then spitting them out on two screens for a week. It's a twisted hobby for them. And I fear the negative for The Road may end up propping up Bob Weinstein's coffee table (probably the same one with the Killshot negative as a coaster).

For those paying attention to more important things such as the economy or the fate of the kiddie actors from Slumdog Millionaire, here's how things went down. The Road's original release date was mid-November 2008. When October rolled by and no official poster or trailer had arrived (although a bland official site found its way onto the Internet), everyone knew something was up. As it turned out, the suspicions were correct. Instead of discussing The Road around the water-cooler in November, I was stuck arguing about how Robert Pattinson styles his hair (kids, the secret is stripper juice). Apparently The Road wasn't quite ready in time, and The Weinstein Company planned to focus all attention on purchasing Oscar nominations for The Reader (which in the end, turned out quite well for Kate Winslet and quite horrible for anyone who can't stomach films unintentionally catering to Holocaust deniers). There was the rumor the Weinsteins might sneak The Road into a late December date with a limited opening to hedge their bets in case The Reader's Oscar-bribing failed, and if December didn't work out, just maybe we'd get it in the first quarter of 2009. Of course neither happened. And BAM! All official news on The Road's release date completely fell off the map (yes, I've been waiting to type that sentence for awhile now).

We know the film has been screened for test audiences in the last few month because several websites have ran those odious, barely literate reader reviews posted by such trusted sources as Kabong or Viper X or some guy just named Dave (seriously, when are certain web masters going to realize how useless that bullshit is?). And according to a recent BBC report -- which features a few notes of Nick Cave's and Warren Ellis' score -- the film is finished and the novel's author, Cormac McCarthy, has seen it and approves. The BBC also guesses that the film may not arrive until fall 2009 to improve its Oscar chances (and knowing the Weinstein brothers' lust for golden bald dudes, that's very likely). But it's just that, a guess. From all appearances, no one outside of the filmmakers has a goddamn clue when the movie will hit the big screen.

Look, I'm happy the film was delayed if it wasn't ready. I'm all for tweaking a film in order to get it right. Nothing worse than rushing a film to make a release date. Yet, the film is finished and now it's time for Dimension Films to get its marketing on. The seed of a decent marketing campaign capitalizing on the novel's prestige had begun last summer with high-profile set visits by the "New York Times" and "Los Angeles Times" (as far I know, none of us lowly web reporters were invited out to the set). Yet, that was some time ago, and the marketing is going to have to hit reset. Here's a suggestion on how to begin the sales pitch: Give us an honest release date. Hell, I'll take a month. No, I'll take a season and a year, as long as the Weinsteins promise to stick to it. After dropping that info, maybe someone can take a day to cut a trailer together.

While The Road cost nickles to make (okay, $20 to $30 million worth of nickels), box-office profit is not guaranteed. The film will be a tough sell to the average moviegoer. After all, the book doesn't leave any hope for mankind's survival and details a world in which people have babies just to cook them on a spit. Yeah, it's a feel-bad movie. From all accounts of those who've read the screenplay, the adaptation closely follows the book and will probably be a violent, quiet, thoughtful piece of filmmaking that doesn't kowtow to the stupid (at least that's a best-case scenario).

Michael K. Williams as The Thief in The Road
Photo: Dimension Films

Yet, the film does have three wildly divergent demographics it can appeal to and bring to the box-office. You've got the arty-farty-smarty literary types wowed by the novel and who already enjoy cerebral independent cinema -- this is who the fancy-pants "New York Times" and "Los Angeles Times" articles were geared towards. Then you have the Oprah Book Club soccer moms who read McCarthy's novel because Commander Oprah ordered them to do so. If some advertising plays towards the parent-child angle, which it must since that's the story's core, then Dimension can probably pull those ladies in. And finally you have the geeks, nerds and fanboys. Sure, this crowd normally doesn't get excited unless a movie has transforming robots or men in leotards, but The Road does have cannibals roaming around the countryside trying to eat children -- and geeks tend to eat that shit up.

Personally, I believe the geeks, nerds and fanboys could be the largest potential demographic for The Road if Dimension Films figures out how to market the film to them (begin by defying all expectations and have a presence at San Diego Comic Con -- okay, I admit that's just a wild dream of mine, but the horror aspect of the story does play for this sort of event). It also doesn't hurt that most of the movie news websites, whose readership consists mainly of geeks, nerds and fanboys, are in The Road's corner -- otherwise, why else would I be writing this editorial. When the rare bit of news on The Road does dribble out, you can count on nearly every major movie-news website covering it, and then whining about the absence of a release date. If Lionsgate can manipulate these websites into whipping up the fanboys for its Saw franchise year after year, I don't see why the powerful Weinsteins couldn't manage the same feat* with a film that also features plenty of gruesome death along with post-apocalyptic destruction and names such as Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron making up the cast. So what if it's a tad more prestigious than torture-porn, no one has to know until the credits roll, and by then they have been washed over by what is hopefully a great movie and won't even care.

Yet, maybe the film sucks and Dimension is playing shadow games with the release date solely for that reason. It's always possible. And while The Road is the only film I've gotten fanboyish over in the last several years (yes, I do feel dirty for attaching myself to that term), I wouldn't back down from calling it a piece of shit if it so happens to turn out that way -- although I'd be crushed, buuuut not I'm-moving-to-India-for-soul-searching type of crushed. Yet, I'm still willing to bet large sums of cash (um, let's say Monopoly cash because I'm cheap) that Dimension has, at the very least, a good film on their hands, if not a great one. But who will ever know if it isn't shown to the public?

* Hey Dimension, maybe some early screenings of the film are in order. Hint hint hint. I have plenty of vacation time and no scheduled court appearance preventing me from traveling outside of the state.

  • Gez

    Having read the book recently, I don't really think it will really translate all that well to film. I still can't wait for the films release and I will be eager to see it on opening night, but my hopes aren't all that high. I'm bracing myself for dissapointment.

  • Ross

    "several websites have ran those odious, barely literate reader reviews posted by such trusted sources as Kabong or Viper X or some guy just named Dave"

    It's funny, but maybe a little unnecessary.
    Other than that dig at people who keep movie websites (like this one) in business I agree with every iota of this piece and cannot wait for this movie to see daylight sometime in 2017.

  • http://wolfsilveroak.insanejournal.com Wolf

    I've been waiting for this movie to come out since I first heard Viggo Mortenson was in it.

    They've already reprinted tje book, with the movie tie-in covers, so really, there's no reason to hold off on releasing the movie, except for the greed of maybe a few more Oscars.}:/

  • E-Money

    Gez, agreed. It's an interesting book but not ripe for a film translation. I see the final product more in the vein of 'Assassination of Jesse James', not an incredible "movie" but a beautiful visual poem that you need to experience at least once.

  • adu

    It's a shame what a sham this whole Road issue has become. Studios should act more responsibly.

  • http://www.theroadrumors.com Laurie Mann

    I'm in general agreement with you, but I'm a bit more optimistic for a release at some point this year.

    I've always felt that this film needed to come out at some of the film festivals, particularly Toronto, before it had a general release. The book is brilliant. Everyone I've talked to about the movie (and, living in Pittsburgh, I've talked to a bunch of folks from the crew over the last year) have extremely positive things to say about the acting, the script and the look of the movie. But it's not exactly a "crowd pleaser" in the way that Slumdog Millionaire, despite its pockets of violence and child abuse, turned out to be. It's the sort of movie with the right marketing could be something like the next Million Dollar Baby or The Unforgiven or Silence of the Lambs - a quiet, intense movie that collects awards and a reasonable box office. But it's highly unlikely to be a blockbuster.

    I also felt that a Thanksgiving weekend national release was a horrible idea; it needs to come out in the fall but not on a holiday weekend.

    So I haven't quite given up hope that the Weinsteins will realize what a gem they have. The snippets of photos and music that have come out look very promising. Most comments about the screenings have been positive.

    I'd rather not see this premiered at ComicCon, though that's a strong personal bias. Nothing against fanboys (hell, I've been a fangirl myself for many years) but this is too quiet a movie for ComicCon. If the Weinsteins wanted a screening at Worldcon...they'd have an extremely appreciative audience up in Montreal this August. But I know that won't happen either - they apparently don't want to "sully" their movie with the term "science fiction" despite the fact it's a post-apocalyptic movie! It would be like telling Hillcoat that The Proposition really isn't a Western because it was shot in Australia!

    I've run into a number of women who don't consider themselves fangirls who've either liked the book or liked Viggo, so I think you might get a few more women in the theater to see this than the distributors think.

    Oh, and it's not that the official Web site for The Road is "bland," it's still, over four months over its launch, completely and utterly blank.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/where-in-the-world-is-the-road davidfrank

    @Laurie Mann: I agree with you about the film festivals (it was on the original Toronto line up last year). And overall, I'm decently sure it will hit screens this year -- it would just be nice for Dimension to confirm a date or at least a month.

    Just as an added note: I don't think it should necessarily premiere or even screen at Comic Con, but I think a presence there -- such as a panel -- would be a wise investment since the story (if it's true to the book, and I have no doubt it is) is a horror film when you get down to it... and fanboys (or girls) is a smart demographic to market to.

  • http://www.theroadrumors.com Laurie Mann

    I remember it was rumored to be on the Chicago Film Festival list last year, but I don't remember that it was ever going to be at Toronto. They were still filming as recently as the end of July (at Mt. St. Helens - though most filming was done by the end of April, with a few days in mid-May).

    I agree that the SF fan demographic is a smart one to market to. The problem is, you have, in general, two kinds of movie fans in that demographic - the people who worship movies like The Dark Knight and the people who want something a little more thoughtful like Children of Men. My perception is that people who go to ComicCon are generally after the big sprawling movies with lots of special effects. That's not The Road.

    Depending on the focus of The Road, it can be a horror movie (there are certainly some memorably horrific images in the book), but I don't think those scenes are going to be emphasized the way they are in movies like The Saw (which, I admit, I've never seen). I have a feeling the writer and the producers don't want the term "horror" associated with it, any more than they'd want "science fiction" associated with it.

  • Dan Baumgart

    Like "No Country for Old Men", to give The Road a genre is like giving life a genre. McCarthy's novels and, in the right hands, films based upon them have such a wide range of feeling and emotion without being obnoxiously overstated, it does appeal to any one certain demographic but rather covers several. I've heard people refer to "No Country" as a horror movie, a violent slasher film. I've heard others call it an action/chase film in the vein of "The Fugitive" (maybe Tommy Lee Jones' presence helped that along). It's been called a Western, a crime/drama, a thriller, even a dark comedy. To me it was as much all of these as none of these. It didn't focus on the formulas of a slasher film or an action yarn, but it definitely adopted their elements originally enough to become something of its own. Such is McCarthy's writing style, and also the Coen brothers' writing/filmmaking stlye, so it was a marriage of genius to me.

    I finished my second reading of The Road last night, and I was just as terrified, moved, and enraged by it as I was the first time, if not moreso. I have to disagree with the original post that it will not translate well into a movie. I think any novel that offers up as much as tihs one lends itself well to film. He describes the landscapes, the dialouge, and the actions with such simple precision that it's hard not not picture it as a movie in your head.

    I'd also have to disagree with whomever posted that it will be similar to Assassination of Jesse James in that it will be a visual poem to likely be appreciated no more than once. Again, with the melding of genres without deliberately switching from one to another, I think, if done well, this movie, like "No Country", could be enjoyed or at least analyzed as a dark drama, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, a harrowing adventure, and dare I say it, a family film (this genre should not be exclusive to Disney and Pixar but could and should exist on a more mature level).

    So the marketability for this film should not be tough after "No Country's" success. There are McCarthy's loyal following, horror fans (comic con wouldn't be a bad idea because they'd definitely be in for a different kind of sci-fi/horror movie, the first convention when they left weeping, changed in some way). Yes, the Oprah Book Club, fans of Viggo, parents who feel that they cannot ever express how much love they have for their kids (it should be done quite literaly many times in the book, so hopefully the film), those who chase the Oscar contenders, it almost seems limitless.

    So I suppose (now that the film has officially been "completed") the real question isn't how to market it to whom but rather when to market it to everyone. Even those who read the book and feel doom for the film will likely want to see it to match their own visions and interpretations of the book to what's on the screen.

    Funny comment about Killshot. I believe I rented Collateral (or something roundabout that year, possibly even older) and saw a preview for Killshot. I wonder now how after successes like Jackie Brown, 3:10 to Yuma, etc., how Elmore Leonard film adaptations sit on the shelf. especially from the director of an Oscar-winning film (Shakespeare in Love) and starring Oscar-nominated actors (Diane Lane and especially Mickey Rourke in the wake of "Wrestler"mania) and fan favorites Thomas Jane and Joseph Gordon Levit (who I think has an incredibly bright future, even if GI Joe blows).

    My apologies for the lengthiness of this post, but I am a fan of McCarthy's work, and I loved No Country For Old Men as a film, so I wonder why some of these producers, studio execs, etc. feel that they do not have to have any professional integrity toward those who will ultimately pay this films debts: the fans. Some waiting eagerly, some dreading the day, but with the hype, it seems like we'll all se it.

  • Jacques Meilleur

    Never mind the other festivals ,The Road should have its premiere at the Cannes festival in May. If it is any good ,it would receive an important boost critically by winning the Palme D'Or(which i feel is just as good as winning Oscar gold). May is just around the corner ,whereas the fall(read oscar) season is still months away...

  • Rolla J

    Well done. With every delay in the release of this movie, my resistance to it grows.

    By the time it finally hits the screen, I will have hundreds of funny, snarky one-liners ready to throw at the audience.

    Can't wait!

  • http://www.theroadrumors.com Laurie Mann

    Michael Chabon discussed "the genre issue" of The Road in his 2007 The New York Review of Books essay on the book: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/article-preview?article_id=19856

    It was revised and reprinted in his recent book of essays Maps and Legends

  • david

    what I am saying is If they dont play the father son angle, the "hoity toity cerebral I'm smarter than you" angle. the sign o the times "post 911" (reason to hate marketers) angle and the zombie angle, then mayby we should start a marketing firm