Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will be bringing a three-SKU helping of director Morten Tyldum's interstellar thriller, Passengers, to market on Mar. 14.
The ARR is an exceptionally quick-to-market 81 days and domestic box office receipts currently stand at $98.6 million.
Before we get to the details of the home entertainment launch (and there is something new to report there as well), it is worth noting that Passengers will be used as an example of theatrical marketing in film schools, if not now, certainly in the very near future. Let me explain.
Tyldum delivered the Oscar-nominated film, The Imitation Game (eight nominations, including Best Picture), in 2014 and that elevated him to A-level status in terms of what he could demand in the way budgetary considerations for his next film or two (success can be fleeting — think: Michael Cimino).
That opportunity presented itself when writer Jon Spaihts’s languishing script (originally penned back in the 2006/2007 timeframe) finally landed in the Sony Pictures barn. Tyldum gets the directing nod and soon big bucks are ponied up for the services of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt … and Passengers is ready to go into production.
However, this is all occurring as Amy Pascal, the studio’s head of production, is heading out the door at Sony (there is some debate as to whether she was fired or not) as former 20th Century-Fox production whiz, Thomas Rothman, is moving over from his TriStar slot to fill her spot (all of this during the spring of 2015). Just after Labor Day the film goes into production and as they say the rest is history.
Here is where the marketing part of Passengers will be taught in film school.
It would be a wonderful experience to be a fly-on-the-wall and know if the powers that be at Sony Pictures actually read Spaiht’s script before pumping over $100 million into the production of the film. The theatrical trailer that was sent out to theatres suggests that the marketing group only found out about what the film was about after it was finished.
Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in a film about morality issues that bordered on stalking and have one of the characters making life choices that lead to dire consequences (read that as something of a “death sentence”).
Clearly you can’t tell potential theatrical audiences that will be drawn to Lawrence and Pratt in an A-list production that sort of thing. So you lie. Well, maybe “lie” is too strong a word. You “fib” a bit; stretch the truth.
OK, that’s not all that uncommon in a theatrical trailer, especially when it comes to comedies. “Wow, that looks like the funniest movie, ever” … until you discover that the three funny scenes in the entire movie are featured in the trailer.
Here’s the deal, a massive space ship by the name of Avalon has been dispatched on a 120-year long interstellar journey to a new planet for colonization. There are something like 5,000 people on board — men and women that represent a cross-section of skills and disciplines that will be needed on their new home world.
In making this type of interstellar journey, filmmakers over the years have wrestled with the problem of time and distance. Planet of the Apes (1968) had Charlton Heston and his fellow passengers go into a hibernation sleep for the long, long journey, while Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek television and film franchise worked around the problem by introducing us to Warp Speed — vast amounts of empty space could be crossed by traveling faster than the speed of light. “Warp Seven … make it so.”
There are many other examples, but you get the point … it’s a problem. Humans probably can’t handle being put in a box at birth, grow up, live for 70, 80 or 90 years and then die in the same box (sure, they’ve covered billions and billions of miles, but to what purpose). So the passengers on the Avalon are all sound asleep, a Rip Van Winkle slumber that will last 120 years, and then they will wake up exactly as they are now and be ready for the adventure of a lifetime on a brand new world.
That’s a great plan, except for Jim Preston (Pratt’s character), who wakes up 90 years early for some reason and finds himself completely alone on the vast space ship. Everyone else is still asleep.
There are no sunrises or sunsets. There are no days, just blank time between heartbeats. This goes on about a year (none of which is even suggested in the trailer) and Preston has finally reached his limit.
The first Twilight Zone episode — aired way back in October of 1959 — dealt with the same terror of being alone that Preston is facing. Earl Holliman awakes to find himself in a town with no people and slowly starts to go insane from the loneliness of it all. It turns out that he is actually part of an experiment to see how long a future astronaut could go before going bonkers.
The limit for Preston, having been reached, takes him to a crossroads. Kill himself or find a companion. So he goes to the database of sleeping travelers and finds an attractive woman with an appealing profile and wakes her up, effectively condemning her to the same fate that befell him. Again, this is not even hinted at in the trailer.
He compounds the problem by lying to her, which she eventually discovers and that turns their relationship from one of companions, friends and lovers to one that embodies hate and distrust. The potential of 50 years of scenes from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? playing out in the cavernous decks of the Avalon are interrupted when the smooth sailing of the ship hits rocky waters.
Now the two must put aside their issues, unite and solve the technical problems facing the ship or everyone on board will die.
The trailer lied to its potential audiences — both genre fans, who would be drawn to an interstellar adventure, and date-night couples looking for a story about two beautiful people having to work together to solve a life-and-death problem — a romantic thriller.
But it is no sin, this lie. Sony Pictures delivered, more or less, what was promised — a romantic thriller starring A-list actors Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. The fact that filmmaker Morten Tyldum provided Sony with a film that was far more complicated than expected, put the onus on the theatrical marketing team to be inventive. And, they were!!! When you gross nearly $100 million you have ample proof that they, the theatrical marketing team, did their job.
Stop for a moment and imagine a film where Chris Pratt’s character is recast along the lines of, say, someone like Anthony Perkins. Play out the same script with Norman Bates selecting a mate to spend their “eternity” together on the Avalon. Creepy or what?
Or, suppose you had another Anthony in the Chris Pratt role … Anthony Hopkins that is, cast as Jim Preston, who periodically wakes up different members of the crew for “dinner.”
You didn’t get any of that. You got a romantic thriller, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, but with a twist. The thing is, as the audience, you didn’t know about the twist until you bought a ticket, grabbed a seat and settled in (with or without popcorn) for the movie.
As to SKU configuration, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has both stand-alone DVD and Blu-ray editions in the mix, plus a 4K Ultra HD/3D-2D Blu-ray Combo Pack version.
Of note — and here is some potential news — the customary black-themed packaging motif that has been used for 4K Ultra HD presentations to date has been abandoned by the home entertainment group for this release in favor of the traditional “Blue” Blu-ray packaging.
This might suggest that the 4K Ultra HD format is not finding favor with either consumers or the Hollywood studios. Or, it could be that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has elected to combine the 4K Ultra HD and the Blu-ray 3D viewing options into just one SKU, since neither has much of an installed base. Let’s hold judgment on this particular issue until the next opportunity to release a 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray Combo Pack comes around.
As to bonus features, there are outtakes, a mock television commercial from the Homestead Company titled “Book Your Passage” and a trio of featurettes — “Casting the Passengers,” “Creating the Avalon” and “On Set with Chris Pratt.” Exclusive to the Hi-Def SKUs are deleted scenes and the additional featurette titled “Space on Screen: The Visual Effects of Passengers.”
In other release news from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, circle Mar. 28 on your calendar as that is the street date for the animated feature-length DVD debut of director Richard Rich’s The Swan Princess: Royally Undercover.
This is the seventh installment in this winning kid-friendly animated series that dates all the way back to 1994 with the release of The Swan Princess.
In this fun-filled adventure, Princess Alise must discover if strangers new to the Kingdom are who they say they are … it’s a royal mystery and every clue is examined and every gadget at her disposal is employed to discover the truth.
The theme song from The Swan Princess: Royally Undercover, “Born to be Me,” is delivered by The X Factor’s Macy Kate, who stars in the bonus featurette titled “In the Recording Studio with Macy Kate.”
And lastly, the official German entry into this year’s Oscar derby for Best Foreign Language Film is writer/director Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, which will be making its DVD debut on Apr. 11.
The ARR for that date works out to 109 days and domestic box office receipts currently stand at $971,287.
Bonus features include commentary featuring the film’s stars, Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller, who are joined by producer Janine Jackowski, plus there is an AFI Festival Q&Q session featuring the aforementioned trio and fellow actor Ingrid Bisu.