Monday, September 18, 2006

Dahlia Droops After Opening Weekend


Josh Hartnett and Hilary Swank in The Black Dahlia.

We’ve been anticipating the opening of The Black Dahlia, the Brian De Palma film based on the 1987 James Ellroy novel of the same title. While we waited, we gave the whole thing some thought, including articles by J. Kingston Pierce, here and here, and also here.

Well, the first reviews are in now and--overall--they’re not good. In fact, some of them are more violent than the R-rated film itself.

Here, for example, from IF Magazine: “The Black Dahlia is one of the most convoluted, cobbled-up, wastes of film that has been released in recent months.”

(Yes, but do you think they had an opinion?)

The Washington Post could have spared itself the review; the paper said it all in its headline, “Black Dahlia Withers Fast,” though the review’s final line summarizes the film brutally: “Here's the lowdown, the q.t., the true gen: The Black Dahlia is a big nowhere.”

The Times of London’s headline was so nifty, one couldn’t help but wonder if it had been pondered well before the viewing of this film. How much more succinct could it get than “L.A. Inconsequential,” a title that not only lets us know exactly what the reviewer thought of the movie, but also references another Ellroy novel that made a much smoother transition to the silver screen.

Mike Straka from Fox News said: “Are you having trouble sleeping at night? Do you toss and turn, count sheep and nothing helps you put your tired eyes and body to rest? Well, fear not. Coming to a theater near you is The Black Dahlia ...”

There are more, but I’ll stop. You get the general idea: I don’t know yet if viewers have been enjoying the movie, but reviewers sure haven’t so far.

* * *

The Los Angeles Times reports that the film took in $10.4 million at the box-office during its opening weekend, coming in second place behind Gridiron Gang’s $15 million.
Analysts said the second-place showing was a disappointment for Universal Studios, which had pushed the film with a marketing blitz that included reprints of Los Angeles Times articles about the original case and a virtual tour of “Black Dahlia” sites on America Online.
In fairness, the article also mentions that box office totals were down 11.8 percent from the same period last year. Even so, it can’t have been fun for De Palma to get trashed by a movie starring The Rock.

The Houston Chronicle’s Louis B. Parks looks at The Black Dahlia from a different place. He saves his bullets for another day and instead compares De Palma’s flick to Hollywoodland, another recently released period piece that fictionalizes a different real Hollywood death--in this case, that of early Superman star, George Reeves, surprisingly well played here by Ben Affleck. Then Parks looks at how and where both movies fit into the film noir oeuvre. The piece is a must-read for those who enjoy noir and would like a better understanding of it.

The reviewers mostly agree: Ellroy’s novel is classic, untouchable. De Palma’s film, however, is beautiful but incomprehensible. Yet, despite the serious trash talking, I can hardly wait to see it for myself. I’ve got a hunch that other fans of crime fiction will agree.

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