'Island' Could Sink DreamWorks Sale

'The Island' | 'On the Road' | Geoffrey Holder

'Island' Could Sink DreamWorks Sale

Few people visited "The Island" (search) this weekend, and that's not good.

Many in the movie industry were also asking this weekend: what exactly is DreamWorks (search), the studio that released it, worth? And why exactly would Universal aka General Electric buy it?

Those are pretty interesting questions, considering David Geffen's statements last February at a panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y in New York City that people are still talking about.

That was the talk at which Geffen admitted that DreamWorks had come close to bankruptcy twice, thanks to a $125 million loss on "Sinbad." He also said: "Live-action film is not a great business. Especially if you don't have an HBO or TNT, it is hard to succeed."

What is DreamWorks really worth? Considering the situation at hand this morning, everyone involved with the mini-studio must be shuddering to know the answer.

"The Island," directed by Michael Bay, who is usually successful at making diverting junk, is now an unbelievable financial disaster.

The cost of the movie was about $150 million. As of yesterday, it's taken in only $24 million. "The Island" has also dropped to No. 7 on the box-office list, and will be out of the top 10 shortly.

By next week, DreamWorks will have to cut the number of theaters it's in, too. "The Island" will be lucky to draw in another $10 million before it heads to oblivion.

DreamWorks has otherwise had an iffy summer. They've had a nice-sized success with "Madagascar," but that's an animated film, and those have been spun off to their now-troubled public company DreamWorks Animation.

"War of the Worlds" is a split between DreamWorks and Paramount, with the latter first in line to reap any benefits, if they exist. "War of the Worlds," the way things look right now, will be lucky to break even.

One problem with DreamWorks is that they don't have much in their home video library.

True, the library contains some prestige titles like "American Beauty," "Gladiator," "Shrek," "Catch Me If You Can," "Saving Private Ryan," "Collateral," "Galaxy Quest," and "Amistad."

They also have "Old School," one of the company's true financial bonanzas and a film that probably has a life on DVD as an out-and-out cult comedy.

But DreamWorks Home Entertainment also contains two pretty bad Woody Allen movies ("Small Time Crooks," "Hollywood Ending") and their original awful film, "The Peacemaker," plus the flops "The Last Castle" and "The Mexican."

That's not enough to merit a bonanza by any means. And the problems go on from there. As has been pointed out in other places, DreamWorks depends largely on Steven Spielberg to make hits for them. But each of those hits is a joint venture with other studios.

Often the partner is an entity other than Universal simply because someone else owns the material Spielberg is interested in. "War of the Worlds" is Paramount, for example. "Indiana Jones 4," the movie everyone's waiting for Spielberg to make, is also completely Paramount. So Universal is not exclusively guaranteed Spielberg's services.

Geffen's comments at that 92nd Street Y panel may yet come to haunt him in negotiations with GE.

"I wouldn't go into the entertainment industry [if I started again] today," he said. "[Content] is too expensive to produce, and it's getting more and more difficult to find home runs."

With GE/Universal already smarting from losses in their most recent DreamWorks co-venture, Ron Howard's "Cinderella Man," those words should reverberate over phone lines in coming days.

'On the Road': Kerouac Classic Revving Up

Will we finally have a film version of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road"?

The answer is maybe, but a strong maybe.

Director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera, the men behind "The Motorcycle Diaries," are busy preparing a script for producer Francis Ford Coppola. If it's deemed acceptable, Focus Features will make the film for Universal.

When "Motorcycle Diaries" debuted at Sundance in January 2004, a lot of people compared it to "On the Road." In this column on Jan. 19, 2004, I wrote that Salles would be the perfect director for the beat classic. Well, I won't be able to complain now, will I?

Billy Crudup for a long time has been attached to play Kerouac, and he remains an excellent choice. (This was back when Joel Schumacher , of all people, was set to direct.)

The rest of the casting will be one of those things that everyone second-guesses. If the Focus people are smart, they'll consult some of the Kerouac experts who are out there.

Those would include Joyce Johnson, author of the important and award-winning memoir "Minor Characters." Johnson has just finished a screenplay adaptation of her 1983 National Book Critics Circle winner about her experiences as Kerouac's girlfriend at the time "On the Road" was published.

Scarlett Johansson or Chloe Sevigny would be excellent choices to play Johnson. A number of independent film companies should be lining up to get involved in this project as well.

Famous 'Chocolate Factory' Narrator

Maybe you thought Morgan Freeman narrated every movie lately. He's even intoning over "War of the Worlds." When Freeman's voice is heard, people get scared something bad is going to happen.

But Freeman is not the voice of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," the biggest movie of the summer. That distinction is held by the talented and beloved Geoffrey Holder. Holder, best known as a James Bond villain in "Live or Let Die," is one of those remarkable figures from movies, theater and TV who never quite gets his due.

That's all about to change. Nick Doob, the filmmaker who's worked for years with D.A. Pennebaker, is shopping a documentary about Holder this month. He's been working on it for a couple of years and recently wrapped.

Holder, who's Trinidadian, won Tony awards for his work on the Broadway musical "The Wiz," and is also known for being "The Un-cola Man" in 7-Up commercials. Doob's film is a natural for PBS, Bravo, IFC, Ovation or Trio — call them and demand to see it!