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Cheap thrills!

August 20, 2004 17:02 IST

A still from Open WaterIn a season filled with the big time debacle of ultra expensive films such as King Arthur and Around The World In 80 Days, two ridiculously budgeted films are earning mega bucks. Talk of cheap thrills!

You have Open Water, which was made for about $150,000. After playing in limited release for two weeks and earning $3 million in a few North American cities, the aquatic thriller expands from 50 screens to almost 2,000 today. 

The second is Napoleon Dynamite, made for about $200,000. It has already earned about $16 million in 10 weeks, and looks like it will hang around for quite a few months.

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There are half a dozen films including Dodgeball and A Cinderella Story, each costing about $20 million, on their way to end their profitable runs. The former has grossed about $112 million and the latter, $49 million.

Box office experts expect Open Water to gross at least $11 million over the weekend. Some even believe the film will not be scared by The Exorcist: The Beginning, a prequel to the enormously successful film made nearly 30 years ago.

The new film, which was not screened to the critics, has received a lot of negative publicity. A full-length version of the film, directed by Paul Schrader, was thrown out by the production company Morgan Creek because it was too cerebral. Morgan Creek then got Renny Harlin to direct an entire new version. The two versions cost the company some $90 million.

In the first film, which became a worldwide phenomenon, an older priest fights to exercise the devil from a young girl. The new movie is supposed to look at the younger years of the priest and how he battled the devil.

There is a general perception that Open Water, being a more scary film, will have a far longer life at the box office than the new Exorcist.

In Open Water, a couple goes on a scuba diving expedition and is accidentally left behind to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters.

Director Chris Kentis scares us up silly, providing genuine scares that are far more effective than what M Night Shyamalan offers in his $60 million The Village.

Industry experts have compared Open Water to the phenomenal Blair Witch Project that became a sensation five years ago. It was made for about $35,000 and grossed about $200 million worldwide. But Open Water is a far more effective and honest film than the much-hyped Blair Witch Project. Even if were to make one fourth of the money the latter earned, it would be still be a much-envied venture.

A still from Napoleon DynamiteMany influential reviewers gave the film medium to rave reviews.

'The film's budget didn't allow for CGI trickery or protective cages. That we're seeing the reality of two actors in the water surrounded by sharks further ratchets up the tension,' Ty Butt wrote in The Boston Globe.
Despite the 'low-rent cinematography, writing, and performances,' the movie succeeds, he added.

Like Open Water, which became a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Napoleon Dynamite also received huge word-of-mouth publicity at the Utah film event.

Directed by a recent film graduate Jared Hess, the film was written with his wife Jerusha.

The title character (Jon Heder) lives in a ranch house in Idaho and does not complain about the misery around him, including his dirt-biking grandma (Sandy Martin), her pet llama, and his 32-year-old brother Kip (Aaron Ruell). Much of the film concerns with Napoleon's efforts to have a social life.

Despite snobbish critics panning the film, its fans believe it is one of the most sublimely silly films about nerds.
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr called it 'an inspired dead-end stunt that keeps delivering snarky laughs far longer than it has any right to.'

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert complained the movie has 'a kind of studied stupidity that sometimes passes as humour.'

Ebert was reminded of  Welcome To The Dollhouse, Todd Solondz's mesmerising 1996 film, starring Heather Matarazzo as an unpopular junior high school girl. 'But that film was informed by anger and passion, and the character fought back,' Ebert wrote. 'Napoleon seems to passively invite ridicule, and his attempts to succeed have a studied indifference, as if he is mocking his own efforts.'

The fact that Napoleon has already made far more money than Dollhouse, and that it continues to add more theaters each week (it is now in 600) shows that it is an audience-pleaser.

Arthur J Pais