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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Paramount's Double Feature Gambit: See "World War Z" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" on a combined ticket

If you missed "World War Z" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" in theaters this summer, Paramount is offering both films on a double bill starting Friday. The screenings run from August 30–September 5th across the USA (check here for screening information). For the price of one ticket, moviegoers will get 4 hours and 8 minutes of summer blockbusters featuring Brad Pitt, Benedict Cummerbatch, zombie apocalypses and the final frontier known as space. These showings serve as the last theatrical hurrahs of both films before their DVD releases in September.

Unlike the long gone days of second run theaters and grindhouses, multiple features on a single ticket are now reserved only for special occasions. For example, theaters in New York City and other major markets offered all three films in the Cornetto Trilogy as part of last Thursday's early release of "The World's End." Prior to that, theaters offered marathon screenings of all the Harry Potter films to coincide with the release of the last film in the series. There were screenings of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on the release date of "The Return of the King."

The "Star Trek Into Darkness"/"World War Z" combination differs in that these are both recent releases connected only by the studio that made them. Between the two, Paramount has already collected $900 million in box office sales. The question that arises is why bother with this experiment? Will moviegoers come out to see the films again (or for the first time) knowing that "Star Trek Into Darkness" is already available on Amazon Instant? And if this science fiction double feature picture show works, will other studios follow suit with their own re-releases of recent fare?

By pitching this as an event, Paramount is hoping to drum up the "you are there" type of community experience currently employed by the one-night only movie theater screenings run by Fathom Events. The problem I foresee with the "two current films re-release" concept is that multiplexes want to squeeze in as many showings as possible, and crave the high turnaround that their one-screening only model thrives on. New viewers bring more ticket sales and more concessions sold. When I was a kid in the '70s, you could come and go as you pleased at the theater, and could watch the movie more than once. The double feature thrived because no one was concerned with opening week box office nor the desire (created mostly by social media) to see the film on the weekend it opened.

What could make this worth repeating, that is, besides a boatload of people filling the theaters, is the one-week timeframe. Most multiplexes are willing to give up an auditorium for a week, and the notion of "get it before it's gone" might appeal to some viewers. I think studios would also have to relegate this format to effects-heavy or 3D/IMAX features that demand to be seen outside one's home. I doubt a double feature re-release of "August: Osage County" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler" would command the same box office attention; they're both dramas that can work on television. People who didn't rush out opening weekend might wait for those to hit DVD.

Paramount isn't the first studio to try this concept. Twentieth Century Fox tried the summer blockbuster re-release once before, but that was in 1986 with "The Fly" and "Aliens." I don't remember how that fared, but in 1986, double features of all types were still somewhat commonplace; second run theaters were everywhere. Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find first-run double features in any theatrical habitat besides the few drive-in theaters that still operate. So in addition to the Trekkies and the Pitt lovers, ST/WWZ might get traffic from folks nostalgic for the double and triple bills of their youth.

Of course, my comments on success or failure are all speculative. This experiment might be a huge flop that forces gun-shy Hollywood to never try this again. Or it  might be a moderate success, which also means Hollywood will never try it again. We'll know the outcome at this same time, next week.

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