Hollywood's Xmas hopes on Christmas filmgoers

Is Jim Carrey recession-proof? Can Kate Winslet help to turn the economy around? Will consumers shell out for Brad Pitt or Will Smith? Is trusty Clint Eastwood counter-cyclical?

If you are a Hollywood studio executive the answer is yes, yes, yes and yes. As Hollywood struggles through the recession studios are hoping that a full-scale cinematic onslaught over the Christmas season will bounce the movie industry out of the doldrums.

Unlike much of the rest of the economy, the signs are cautiously optimistic. This year a record number of big releases are scheduled for the crucial holiday season, with 11 major films packing major stars set for release between December 12 and 26.

Carrey pops up in Yes Man, an affirmative tale about a loser who becomes a winner thanks to a self-help guide.
Winslet caters to a different demographic, playing a Nazi opposite Ralph Fiennes in Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of The Reader. Winslet also rekindles her career-defining chemistry with Leonardo DiCaprio, this time in suburbia rather than on the high seas, in Revolutionary Road, due out in the United States on December 26.

Meanwhile, Will Smith plays a man trying to make amends for his past in Seven Pounds. Eastwood, in Gran Torino, plays a Korean war veteran learning to get along with his Korean-American neighbours.

With a mix of highbrow, lowbrow, middle-brow, comedy, romance, historical drama, politics, animal action, sci-fi, animation and musicals, Hollywood is throwing just about every trick in its book at cinemagoers in an attempt to draw them into the multiplex and the arthouse.

Christmas has become the new summer for film executives. Last year, when 10 major films were released during the holiday period, $853,4-million was handed over at the US box office, including $63,2-million on Christmas Day. In 2006, according to the industry magazine Variety, the figure was $58,5-million.

Although box office takings in the US so far this year have been on a par with last year—thanks in part to inflation—much else in Hollywood is gloom. Every day film industry trade magazines warn of downturns and layoffs: this week alone Viacom/Paramount announced 850 redundancies and NBC Universal dropped 500 staff, 70 of whom were from the company’s film division, as it announced it was aiming to reduce spending by $500-million next year.

Even the trade magazines reporting on these events are not immune. According to film industry website, Deadline Hollywood Daily, Variety is shutting down its Washington bureau, and the Hollywood Reporter is losing up to half of its staff.

But never fear, filmgoers. The season to attend is upon you. So flock, starting on Friday, to the remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, featuring Keanu Reeves as an alien robot.

If Reeves acting the part of a talking robot is not enough to save Hollywood, then we might as well all stay at home.—

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