"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).
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.