A green Christmas

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas is the time of year to see old friends and family, to catch up on all that happened in the year past, and for many people, to spend two or three hours with their favorite Hollywood stars and starlets.

With all the leisure time Americans have around Christmas, the motion-picture industry is banking on the fact they'll go visit their local movie theaters, as they have in the past, and share some of the Christmas green.

At least that's what Kevin Dillon, general manager of Cape West 14 Cine, is wishing for this Christmas.

"On Christmas we see a lot of large families," Dillon said. "Selling 10 to 15 tickets at a time is not uncommon.

Dillon also said many families make it a tradition to get out and catch a movie on Christmas night. "The business we do is comparable to that of a very good weekend, and it's not uncommon for us to sell out some movies that night," Dillon said. "We'll get a spike on Christmas Day and the week after."

Typically the ones that sell big locally are family-oriented PG films, commonly with holiday themes, such as "Christmas with the Kranks," Dillon said.

This Christmas, Hollywood and the local theaters are hoping people will turn out in droves to see stories of an evil count in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," an eccentric billionaire in "The Aviator," an overweight cartoon character in "Fat Albert," cheating lovers in "Closer" and a family with a questionable name in "Meet the Fockers."

But those movies are just a small part of the Christmas film season that started around Thanksgiving with the release of movies like "The Incredibles" and "Alexander."

It's the variety that those in the industry are hoping will convince people to leave their warm homes to catch a flick with -- or without -- the family.

"This year I think we have a good variety that will attract people from young children to adults," Dillon said. "I think a movie like 'Fat Albert' will do really well because it will attract young children since it's a cartoon as well as the adults who grew up watching it."

The family appeal speaks to Terry Bollinger. Her grandson Zackary is anticipating the opening of "Fat Albert."

"We watch a lot of movies together," Bollinger said as she Zackary were about to see "Lemony Snicket's" Tuesday night. "We go quite a bit around the holidays. The holidays are more family oriented."

Several films will be opening this weekend at Cape West, including "Ocean's Twelve," "Closer," "The Aviator," "The Life Aquatic," "Darkness," "Finding Neverland" and "Fat Albert," while "Meet the Fockers" opened Wednesday at the Town Plaza.

Some of those movies have already starting bringing in the crowds.

"Now there's a whole spate of new movies I'd like to see," said Roy Keller, who also went to see "Lemony Snicket's" Tuesday night.

Keller is a professor of mass communication at Southeast Missouri State University. "During school there's not much time to watch movies," he said, "so on breaks I like to catch up."

Kenny Foor said he won't be visiting his local theater on Christmas Day, but at least one movie this season has caught his attention.

"I have a brother visiting from Iowa, so we're going to go fishing in the ice and snow," said Foor. "I have watched movies on Christmas in the past. If I was going to go this year I would watch 'Darkness.' I love ghost stories."

Foor already caught one movie this holiday season, and it's another ghost flick: "The Grudge." He was less than impressed.

"There's just something about a haunted house in Japan that doesn't quite take with me," Foor said.

No more 'Rings'

It seems doubtful this year's holiday box-office receipts will come anywhere close to those of 2003 for at least one big reason: There won't be a "Lord of the Rings" movie to draw in the huge crowds.

The signs have already become apparent, as last week's box office was down 22 percent from that of last year at the same time. "Lemony Snicket's" was in the lead with a weekend gross of more than $30 million. In contrast, "The Return of the King" opened last year with $72.6 million in receipts.

Not to mention Hollywood has to deal with other competition, such as loved ones.

"We're usually too busy celebrating on Christmas night to go to the movies, since we have a lot of family in," said Teresa Maurer of Cape Girardeau. "But it depends on the mood everybody's in and what's playing."

Maurer's example also points to another form of competition theaters face on the holidays. Her family will be watching at least one movie, but it will be a rental playing on her own television.

"We're going to stay home and watch 'Elf' one night," Maurer said.

Heather Morelan, who took her daughter, Veronica, to see "Lemony Snicket's" Tuesday night, said she sometimes does the same thing.

"It's not really a tradition to watch movies on Christmas night," said Morelan. "We sometimes rent movies and stay home."

Dillon, however, thinks that even with the absence of "Lord of the Rings" and the competition from loved ones and rentals, Christmas 2004 will still be a green one for the movie business.

"I believe it will be on par with previous years," Dillon said. "In past years we had 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Harry Potter,' but this year we have a variety."

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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