2006 was the first full year of Cinematical, and it was a very busy year for its bloggers. A lot of big news, shocking news and ongoing news kept us busy as we followed the important stories and passed the significant bits onto you. There was good news, bad news, unexpected news and unbelievable news. There were deaths, births, rebirths and remakes. There was so much going on that it takes an amazing film geek to recall everything (have you tested your memory yet?).
But what was the most important story for film in 2006? The end of the box office slump? The Weinsteins' devilish pact with Blockbuster? Peter Jackson's possibilities of directing The Hobbit? Uwe Boll boxing his critics? Sorry, but none of those affected the consciousness of cinema as much as these other stories from the past 12 months:
- Disney Buys Pixar - When 2006 began, the future of Disney's relationship with Pixar was still uncertain. There had been hint of a new deal between the two companies in the last few days of 2005, but nothing was concrete. Three weeks went by, in which time the new year came in and Pixar's stock prices went up, and then finally the first installment of news came through on January 19: Disney would buy Pixar. Three days later, we were reminded that the deal was not yet done, that it was still awaiting approval from Steve Jobs and the rest of the animation studio's board. On January 23, however, it was in the bag: Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 billion. And John Lasseter was named head of Disney animation.
The story didn't end there. Throughout 2006, the effects of the acquisition continued to be felt. First, Toy Story 3 was killed. But then it was greenlit again. Disney closed its new computer animation studio, Circle 7. Then many months went by before Disney fired a whole lot of people working in its animation departments. Finally, just a few weeks ago, the company announced they'd be trying out the ol' hand-drawn stuff again. By year's end, it felt as though Pixar was the one who owned Disney.
- Day and Date Movies Debut - It was announced in 2005 that Mark Cuban's and Todd Wagner's Magnolia Films would begin releasing movies simultaneously in theaters, on DVD and on the HDNet cable channel. But the first of these movies didn't debut until January, 2006. Steven Soderbergh's Bubble was the first, and it didn't really make much of a mark, bringing in less than $71,000 its first weekend. About the same time as that film's release, IFC announced its own plan to simultaneously release its movies in theaters and on a video-on-demand channel. This led to some conflicts between Cuban's Landmark Theatres chain and IFC, likely out of jealousy that IFC's cable exposure is so much better than HD Net's. Meanwhile the National Association of Theater Owners put up a fuss about day-date releases, along with their complaints about release windows, and so did some filmmakers. So far, the day-date model has not been successful.
- Studios and Audiences Ignore Critics - Two months into 2006, critics had been denied advance screenings for enough movies for there to be a trend. It seemed that Hollywood was giving up on the film critic. By the end of March, 10 movies had been released without being screened for reviewers, and people were discussing the death of film criticism. As the year went on, moviegoers showed more reason that critics might be useless. The Da Vinci Code was panned, but it went on to make a ton of money. Ditto for The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Critics couldn't help out Mission: Impossible III and blog buzz about Snakes on a Plane didn't get people in seats. Still, with Little Miss Sunshine a big hit, there's no denying that reviews don't help some movies. It's a good bet that the first few months of 2007 will see a repeat of early 2006, as the dumping-ground season commences.
- Audiences Respond to Celebrity Controversy - It may be in any year that celebrity controversy can hurt a movie. Just look at Proof of Life or Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But this year saw the biggest test of all as Mission: Impossible III was released to a world no longer drawn to Tom Cruise. Yes, the actor's box office appeal was gone, and Sumner Redstone made sure everyone knew it by removing Cruise/Wagner Productions from Paramount's payroll. Yet, for Mel Gibson, controversy didn't seem to hurt too much. After his shocking behavior following an arrest for drunk driving, his Apocalypto did pretty well, if not spectacular. Considering the film is subtitled, it could have done a lot worse, even without the DUI incident. Lindsay Lohan meanwhile sat somewhere in the middle. Her solo effort, Just My Luck, performed badly, but it came out before her biggest controversy of the year. It was just her luck that her other two films this year featured ensemble casts.
- 3D Makes a Comeback - 2006 didn't mark the return of 3D movies -- Chicken Little was released to some 3D screens back in 2005. But this year saw a much bigger interest in the format, which has advanced technologically since the last time we saw it. More theaters renovated their screens for Real D's 3D equipment and by the time Monster House was released, the animated film performed better on its 3D screens than its 2D screens. Happy Feet didn't end up with a 3D release, but its enormous success without it won't be affecting the continued roll-out of Real D's screens. More and more theaters will be offering the format just in time for the 3D versions of Meet the Robinsons and Beowulf. Beyond that, George Lucas may eventually re-release the Star Wars films in 3D and James Cameron is reportedly working only with 3D from now on. At a time when many are avoiding cinemas, this comeback is surely a new hope for theater owners.
- iTunes Sells Movie Downloads - Legal movie downloading was a big topic in 2006, as Hollywood finally got on board. But there didn't seem to be a lot of appeal to any of the new sites that studios were making deals with. Finally in September, Apple announced its new movie store at iTunes. Only Disney has begun selling movies through the popular download shop (blame Walmart),but it is a start. The movie store was immediately a big hit and many hope that it will help curb online movie piracy the same way it allegedly curbed illegal music downloads.
- Robert Altman Dies - A lot of important film people die every week, but there is no denying that Altman's death was the most upsetting to the film industry in 2006. The filmmaker had a memorable final year. He received a lifetime achievement tribute at the Oscars. Then he put out a movie that really showcased his directorial skills, turning a hokey script and stale premise into a pleasant-enough potpourri and a fair addition to his oeuvre. When he died in November, nearly every cinephile was saddened with the realization that there would be no more Altman films. It is hard to imagine how many other directors alive today would have the same effect on the whole of the film-loving world.