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‘Dinosaur’ Gets a Colossal Jump on Summer

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Box office temperatures rose to mid-summer levels over the pre-Memorial Day weekend with the top 12 movies grossing more than $100 million, led by Disney’s rampaging “Dinosaur.” The technologically daring computer-animated film stomped its way to a gigantic $38.6-million debut, the year’s biggest opening so far.

For slightly older kids, “Road Trip” grossed-out its way to a sizable $15-million opening, behind the still formidable “Gladiator,” which took in $19.1 million. And even Woody Allen’s comedy “Small Time Crooks” made it to the big time with a good $3.8 million on only 865 screens.

Meanwhile, the much-maligned “Battlefield Earth” was already history in its second weekend, plummeting a disastrous 67% from its shaky debut to a minuscule $3.8 million in 3,307 nearly empty theaters. “Dinosaur,” which has been in production for nearly a decade with a reported $200-million budget, wowed critics with its technical achievements even if the story was found wanting. But the Disney formula proved unstoppable, and the groundbreaking mixture of computer animation and live-action backgrounds seems to have justified its mammoth cost--which includes constructing an expensive digital studio.

Opening night brought in $10.8 million, mostly from adults, and the film exploded on Saturday, with $16 million from family audiences. Disney was predicting $11.6 million for Sunday, which competitors said might be low. As far as high-water marks go, “Dinosaur” didn’t measure up to “Toy Story 2’s” $57.4-million three-day opening weekend or “The Lion King’s” $40-million-plus debut; the former, a sequel, debuted over Thanksgiving, and the latter was a midsummer debut.

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Still, “Dinosaur” looks to be another Disney family-film powerhouse that will attract kids and adults for many repeat showings, sell like hot cakes on home video and spawn merchandise sales, sequels and theme-park rides. The studio wisely got to theaters at the front end of the animation-heavy summer with more than a month to establish itself before the competition gets heavy with such upcoming fare as “Chicken Run” and “Titan A.E.”

“Road Trip,” which stars MTV’s Tom Green, took in just about what the film cost in its first weekend. Predictably, half the film’s audience was under 21, and it has the bad-taste audience pretty much to itself until “Big Momma’s House” opens in early June. DreamWorks’ other wide release, “Small Time Crooks,” benefited from a national TV ad campaign emphasizing the antic aspects of Woody Allen’s first out-and-out comedy in years. It managed to pull in Allen’s loyal urban fans as well as the suburban family audience, according to DreamWorks distribution chief Jim Tharp. Upbeat reviews give the film a chance of topping the $10-million level, where even Allen’s best recent efforts have stalled.

DreamWorks’ third feature currently in theaters, “Gladiator” (a co-venture with Universal) took only three weeks to top $100 million. But “Gladiator” has thus far lacked any formidable opponents. The coming weekend brings two feisty contenders, Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible 2,” which is expected to hit with the force of a hurricane, and the Jackie Chan comedy-western “Shanghai Noon,” which is performing well in previews. Both movies are likely to put a dent in “Gladiator,” though the long holiday weekend is one of the high points of the film-attendance year and there may be room for everyone. And with $103 million in the pot, “Gladiator” is already in the winner’s circle.

Word of mouth on Universal’s “U-571" remains rock-solid, keeping the World War II submarine film very much in the game after five weeks. The past weekend is estimated at $4.6 million for a strong $64.4 million so far, excellent for a film lacking big box-office names. The same applies to “Frequency” which, in its fourth weekend, fell a scant 13% to $4.3 million and has just passed the $30-million mark.

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But “Battlefield Earth” is now officially a disaster, with word-of-mouth spreading like poison; it averaged only $1,100 a screen in its second weekend. Teenage girls remained fairly loyal to “Center Stage” and “Where the Heart Is.” Second weekend on the dance drama was a reasonably good $3.3 million for a modest 10-day total of $9.2 million. “Heart” was still ticking with $2.9 million in its fourth weekend and $25.8 million in one month of release.

At the bottom of the top 10 was the “Flintstones” sequel, which reacted to the debut of “Dinosaur” as if it had been hit by a meteor shower. Fourth weekend was down almost 50% to only $2.5 million and a disappointing $27.8 million to date.

In limited engagements, the third weekend on the Michael Jordan Imax movie held steadily with $467,543 on only 45 screens and a 17-day total of $2.1 million. The millennium version of “Hamlet,” set in New York, broadened slightly to 13 screens and grossed $99,200 for a two-week total of almost $200,000.


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