'Evan Almighty' Is Most Expensive Comedy
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Universal Pictures is trying to sell a new take on a very old story. In "Evan Almighty," the guy building an ark to get ready for a flood is a congressman in Washington, D.C. The movie is packed with biblical references, and of course wildlife.
It's being released this Friday, and as NPR's Kim Masters reports it is the most expensive comedy ever made.
KIM MASTERS: The thing about animals, as the makers of "Evan Almighty" learned...
(Soundbite of monkey)
MASTERS: ...is that they don't really march two by two.
(Soundbite of camel)
MASTERS: In fact, there was a very hostile camel, though apparently they're always a nightmare on the set. There was a lion that briefly went missing and what one executive generally describes as predator versus prey issues.
(Soundbite of lion roaring)
MASTERS: All that, and the animals were only part of the picture, so to speak. Mark Shmuger is chairman of Universal Pictures.
Mr. MARK SHMUGER (Chairman, Universal Pictures): Yeah, animals, water, children, gigantic construction, you know, building a Bible-sized ark. It pretty much had every challenge that a production can have.
MASTERS: And director Tom Shadyac insisted on using real animals whenever possible. Shmuger thinks that made the film the most complicated production of this magnitude with animals that's ever been attempted. The film also involved one of the biggest ticket items in moviemaking.
(Soundbite of movie, "Evan Almighty")
MASTERS: Special effects, including a biblical flood in the nation's capital. "Evan Almighty" cost about $175 million, if you believe Universal's numbers. That may not seem so high in a world where the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" runs more than $300 million. But "Evan Almighty" is a comedy.
(Soundbite of movie, "Evan Almighty")
Ms. LAUREN GRAHAM (Actor): (As Joan Baxter) Is that a llama with a hammer?
MASTERS: Humor can be very specific to a particular culture. That's why, according to Walt Disney studio chairman Dick Cook, it's unusual for a studio to make a big investment in movies that are supposed to be funny.
Mr. DICK COOK (Walt Disney): When you start getting up into those numbers, those are movies that have to work and they have to work everywhere. And comedies in particular - sometimes they can translate and sometimes they don't translate at all.
MASTERS: A comedy like "Wedding Crashers," for example, made most of its money in the U.S. That was okay. It had a relatively modest price tag. But big-budget movies need foreign box office. This summer, in particular, movies like "Spiderman" have had huge openings and then plummeted in the U.S. while overseas, the revenue kept pouring in. But Universal's Shmuger believes "Evan Almighty" will cross borders. For one thing, it's a sequel of sorts to "Bruce Almighty," though Steve Carell has replaced Jim Carrey. The original grossed about $500 million, about half of which came from overseas.
Mr. SHMUGER: This franchise has already shown that it has worldwide appeal and the root of it is a Bible story, which is universal in its appeal. The Noah's Ark story travels everywhere.
MASTERS: Stacey Snyder gave the green light to "Evan Almighty" when she was chairman of Universal. She's moved on to run DreamWorks. Like Shmuger, she believes Evan is not just a comedy, but part of a new genre.
Ms. STACEY SNYDER (DreamWorks): The genre that Evan represents is most easily compared to "Night at the Museum," where it is combining the star-driven comedy and a wonderful, imaginative effects-laden world.
(Soundbite of movie, "Night at the Museum")
MASTERS: "Night at the Museum," about a night watchman dealing with exhibits that come to life, made more than half of its $570 million gross overseas. But Disney's Dick Cook points out that "Night at the Museum" opened in a holiday season packed with adult films.
Mr. COOK: With a lack of much competition and a marketplace all to themselves, they just rolled up, you know, gigantic numbers. So it clearly can be done.
MASTERS: The question is whether in a summer packed with blockbusters, "Evan Almighty" can do it too.
(Soundbite of elephant)
Kim Masters, NPR News.
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