One of the luckiest things that ever happened to Terrence Malick was Fox Searchlight falling in love with his labor of love "The Tree of Life." Imagine the fate of that film in just about anyone else's hands. Who else would have lavished so much care and attention on a film that topped out at $13.3 million domestic? Nobody made money on that deal.
I'm not dissing Magnolia Pictures, which has bought U.S. rights to Malick's latest, "To the Wonder," out of Venice and Toronto for 2013 release. But the new deal these days is that distributors –while they do spend substantial marketing dollars in theatrical releease –increasingly are engaged in an economic model that demands volume.
Magnolia Pictures has released over the past year Lars von Trier’s "Melancholia," Kevin Macdonald’s biopic "Marley," David Gelb’s "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," Scandinavian thriller "Headhunters," Sarah Polley’s "Take This Waltz," Julie Delpy’s "2 Days in New York," Craig Zobel’s "Compliance" and Lauren Greenfield’s "The Queen of Versailles." Still to come, among other titles, are noir-thriller "Deadfall," "A Royal Affair" and "The Hunt" with Mads Mikkelsen, Ry Russo-Young’s "Nobody Walks," and the documentaries "A Place at the Table" and "No Place on Earth."
Magnolia and IFC and others who are also pursuing VOD eyeballs can't expend that much of their resources in the care and nurturing of one little movie. I am not saying there isn't smart canny inventive innovative marketing going on, or that IFC won't double down on a big title for them like awards play "On the Road." All of this takes skill.
But few companies these days have the time and wherewithall to mount the kind of campaign that Oscar-bound "The Tree of Life" had. And "To the Wonder," which is a slight sliver of what "Tree of Life" was, a spiritual tone poem, an improvisational reflective ode to broken relationships starring Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko, may do far better on VOD than demanding the time and energy theatrical marketing requires. All power to Focus Features, Weinstein Co., Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight, who still believe in the theatrical model. They can still afford it.
“It is an honor and a dream come true to be working with Terrence Malick, one of our greatest living filmmakers,” said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles. “' To the Wonder' is a romantic, haunting and beautiful film that will be endlessly rewarding for movie lovers.”
In "To the Wonder" Marina (Kurylenko) and Neil (Affleck) meet in France (in the stunningly beautiful first section of the film) and move to Oklahoma to live together. But this cultivated French woman and her young daughter don't fit into this bleak American landscape. Malick uses the same technique as "Tree of Life," repetitively, of voiceover meditative narration over silent scenes of people romping around outdoors. Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem also star.
Produced by "Tree of Life"'s Sarah Green and Nicolas Gonda and gorgeously shot by Malick regular Emmanuel Lubezki, the film was executive produced by Glen Basner of FilmNation, who raised funding for it overseas, and Jason Krigsfeld and Joseph Krigsfeld of Brothers K Productions.