Anti-Evolution Doc Expelled Really Is Trying for a Theatrical Comeback!

Looks like those vague hints and rumors were indeed authentic: Ben Stein’s anti-science opus Expelled is going to be re-released later this summer.

The rationale, however, strikes be as pure hype:

“We had many individuals and groups who had planned to see the film, but decided not to because the cloud of doubt this lawsuit brought to the film,” noted one of the film’s producers, John Sullivan.

Riiiiight. Because an obscure lawsuit based on copyright claims that few people outside of nuts like myself that follow these things ever heard about had a chilling effect on ordinary moviegoers.

Now, it might have been reasonable for Sullivan to note that the Ono lawsuit hurt the distribution efforts of the film, which it almost certainly did, and that this hurt their momentum.

But this production has always favored incoherently overwrought rhetoric over honest appraisal. Does Sullivan really expect anyone to seriously believe that any moviegoers at all avoided the film because of the lawsuit? Were they afraid that Ono would have thugs stationed outside the theaters threatening anyone who dared to watch it? Conflicted fans of both the Beatles and Ben Stein that held off declaring their allegiances until the legal issues were resolved?

“We came out of the gate with strong momentum only to have our integrity questioned by this frivolous lawsuit. While we’re thrilled with the film’s having earned nearly $8 million during its first run; we’ve heard from enough people and groups who want to see it in their theaters that we’ve agreed to re-release it this time without an undeserved cloud over its head.”

Because, of course, the only “cloud” over the film’s head was an obscure copyright lawsuit and not, well, you know, most critics panning it, sciencebloggers raking it over the coals for its distortions and slander, the ADL condemning it, and so on.

And this paragraph makes the “cloud” reasoning even more ridiculous. People obsessive enough to demand the immediate re-screening of a film which will likely be out on DVD in a few months are not the sort of people who would have stayed away the first time… based on the mere existence of a copyright lawsuit against the film.

“We will not be silenced. In fact it will have the opposite effect: we will re-release it and allow millions of Americans to go to the box office and register their vote against Ms. Ono and her attempt to keep them from watching our film.”

As John Pieret has pointed out, something is funky with the math here. Given that Expelled made about 7.5 million during its run, and ticket prices were generally in the range of 8 dollars and up, then at best the film got about a million viewers (not counting the fact that some percentage of people would have been repeats). The odds are astronomically low that any hypothetical second run would match that, let alone exceed it.

And indeed, despite all the hype, it looks like the producers know that, and that the “re-release” is not quite akin to a remastered Star Wars. At the end of the article, they note that they have 1000 prints of the film ready to go. Which is a rather far cry from “1000 different theaters already booked to show the film”: the sort of thing you might expect from an announcement about an impending re-release. As far as I can tell, this is all just hyperbolic way of announcing that the producers, free from the injunction, are now willing to lease out old prints to anyone who wants them.

Which all strikes me as sort of pathetic coming from an outfit that once seemed to sincerely believe that they would be sparking off a vast nationwide movement. We still don’t know whether the filmmakers actually broke even after their production and marketing costs.

4 Responses to Anti-Evolution Doc Expelled Really Is Trying for a Theatrical Comeback!

  1. John Pieret says:

    Don’t forget that the producers entered into a voluntary temporary injunction to bar distribution beyond theaters it was already in. In short, they probably had already reached the high-water mark of their distribution and knew it. It’s more likely than not that the suit did not harm their original distribution.

  2. pip says:

    Boy, you’d think the producers would use the whole lawsuit thing to excuse their poor box office, and not let the results of a re-release prove what a non-starter the movie really is.

  3. Dave Austin says:

    Ah … I just chalk it up to smart marketing. There was a lawsuit involved which should promote the film, even though it has nothing to do with the film itself. It costs them next to nothing to issue a press release and have a justification to re-release it, especially since it was poorly promoted the first time (I only learned about it through others).

    And about it sparking off a nationwide movement – again: marketing. He knows he’s not Al Gore, and he’s not promoting an issue favorable to either most movie critics, the scientific societies, or Hollywood. Of course producers even personally expected to get mostly bad reviews from all three group – especially from the traditional science community because that is, in fact, what the whole movie is about: prejudice within the traditional scientific community.

    You didn’t actually think he expected an Oscar for material that the acting guild hates as much as they love Al Gore’s material, did you? They knew it wouldn’t be well received by the powers that be, and released it anyway.

    Twice. I think there’s a description for someone who does that: nonconformist, rebel, revolutionist, one who’s been expelled who’s motivations go beyond making money.

  4. Bad says:

    Poorly promoted? They spent many many times on marketing over what most documentaries do, with spots on prime time cable shows that must have cost zillions. They hired the same promotional company that did so well with Passion of the Christ.

    Sometimes getting panned is because you’re just too cool for school. But sometimes, it’s because you flunked, and in this case, I think everyone’s made a perfectly good case that it was the latter. I quite agree that their motivations go beyond money: they seem willing to lose money in order to try and achieve their ends. But so far, looks like they’ve mostly failed to do anything other than preaching to the choir.

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