Frustration: Great Movies in Vacant Theaters

MH900399275It was a combination of mild frustration and bewilderment — something I’d be getting used to as part of a repeated pattern in my life: surveying a theater sprawling emptily around me, wondering why ticket-buyers weren’t lining up for a conspicuously superior film.

Nearly eight years ago, it was The Great Raid — a second-world-war flick, billed as “the most daring rescue mission of our time … a story that has never been told”. True enough,  Raid portrayed the audacious 1945 rescue of five-hundred American POW’s from a Japanese prison camp —  in broad daylight — over an open plain — a plot so outlandish, it simply had to be true; which, in fact, it was. 

Raid boasted an impressive cast. The “good guys” of this tale? American military men embarked on a chivalrous, selfless quest. Thematically, aesthetically, educationally and inspirationally it was a worthy product.
  
Costing around $80,000,000 to be brought to the screen, it snagged just over a paltry $10,000,000 in receipts. The box-office math? Catastrophe.

The “story that has never been told” irksomely remains one few have seen. 

I don’t recall what fart-and-booby sex-farce garnered financial gold that year, but I suspect there were several. 

The_Road_movie_posterFour and a half years later (2010)  it was The Road that thrilled (and grieved) me — but not many others. Based on Cormac McCartney’s harrowing and  magisterial  apocalyptic novel, and starring a mesmerizing Viggo Mortensen and remarkable, twelve-year-old  Kodi Smit-McPhee, it’s a movie experience that haunts me even today. I sobbed through the last few pages of the book and part of its filmic counterpart, to boot.

My boys and I hazarded a forty-five minute drive through the snow to find a cineplex screening 
The Road. Counting us, I think there were five people in the seedy auditorium that Sunday afternoon.

A disturbing movie, difficult to watch throughout, The Road is not recommended for those whose tastes strictly go to Hallmark Channel fare or zany, Seth-Rogan romps. I suppose you could categorize it a kind of horror movie, albeit the “horror” is not throat-savaging vampires or shambling zombies munching on intestines — but a dead world without warmth or food. Yet, as a searing portrait of a father’s frantic devotion to his boy? Unsurpassed.

And passed over by almost everyone.  

One year later The Way Back slipped unheralded into a few theaters, and slunk away, disregarded, a week or two later. This is another film that can trace its bones, supposedly, to actual events — although there is some debate about that. What’s not subject to much debate is its deeply-affecting power: a motley group of  wretches escape a Siberian gulag and, defying murderous winter, trek incomprehensible distances into  Mongolia, then India, then freedom. Its final, fleeting scene will stop your heart; it left me briefly speechless. 

Although recognizable, big-screen personalities like Ed Harris and Colin Farrell adorn the cast., Hollywood seemed weirdly listless about promoting The Way Back. Perhaps because it, incongruously for modern Tinseltown, takes a respectful angle on the Christian religion and a contemptuous one on Communism? Perhaps for less sinister motives? Whatever the case, the film’s production budget clocked in at $30 million; it’s domestic take less than 10% of that. Yikes. 

Steve Pauwels

About the author, Steve Pauwels: Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH, opinions editor at ClashDaily.com and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake. View all articles by Steve Pauwels

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