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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 5th September 2004

Tom Hanks's Career is Terminal

Is it time Tom Hanks was put out to grass? His latest film, The Terminal, which came out on Friday, is a damp squib. He plays Victor Navorski, an Eastern European who lands at JFK and then, for some unexplained reason, elects not to leave the airport. After a year or so has passed, he does leave--but only to visit a New York jazz club for ten minutes, after which he returns to the airport and flies home. It's one of the most bizarrely pointless big budget films I've ever seen and, so far, has only managed to muster ,073,959 at the American box office, a disappointment considering it was directed by Stephen Spielberg and co-stars Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Judging from the trailer, his career is unlikely to get a shot in the arm from his next film, The Polar Express. Due for release on December 10, this is an animated feature based on Chris Van Allburg's children's book about a boy who embarks on a fantasy trip to the North Pole aboard a magical train. It relies on the same technology that was used in The Lord of the Rings trilogy to create the character of Gollum, whereby the actors are filmed and then transformed into digital creations.

This new-fangled technique, known as "performance capture", is prohibitively expensive. According to Variety, the estimated production budget of The Polar Express--which is being directed by Robert Zemeckis--is $165 million. Once you factor in the marketing cost, usually estimated at 50% of the production budget, The Polar Express will have set its producers back $247.5 million. The rule of thumb in Hollywood is that a film has to make two-and-a-half times its cost in order to break even, which means Hanks's next movie will have to rack up box office receipts of $618.75 before it starts to turn a profit. To put this in perspective, Tom Hanks's last film, The Ladykillers, took only $39,700,191 in America.

Of course, the doomsayers were equally pessimistic about Titanic and that film went on to become one of the biggest money-spinners of all time. Unlike Titanic, though, The Polar Express is not pretty to look at. The digital characters, while recognisably based on their human counterparts, look strangely lifeless, as though all the blood has been drained from their bodies. Hanks plays "The Conductor", a paternal figure who's supposed to be introducing the boy to a wonderful world of adventure, yet he looks very green at the gills, as if he's just eaten a bad oyster.

If The Polar Express does hit the buffers it might well be the end of the line for Hanks. He's been ranked among the 10 biggest box office stars for 20 years when he had his first hit with Splash, which isn't a bad run by any measure. Perhaps it's time he wheeled himself into the engine shed for a well-earned retirement.

Celebrity Death Match

Last week's Republican Convention in New York saw a surprising number of celebrities come out in favour of George W Bush, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Britney Spears, Bruce Willis, Jessica Simpson, Ron Silver, Lara Flynn Boyle, Charlton Heston and Mel Gibson. In part, this was a response to all the A-list stars who have thrown their weight behind John Kerry, including Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Barbra Streisand, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen and Scarlett Johansson.

If the choice in November was between these two sets of celebrities, rather than the two Presidential candidates, I'd have no hesitation in voting for the former. There's something deeply hypocritical about a bunch of overpaid Hollywood liberals wringing their hands about the plight of the poor and the dispossessed, whereas you'd expect a group of not very distinguished action stars to be in favour of kicking Saddam's ass. If, like me, you prefer your celebrities straightforward and unpretentious, without any desire to change the world, Bush's supporters win hands down.

The sight of all these stars lining up against each other is like a mega version of MTV Celebrity Death Match in which animatronic versions of famous entertainers square off against each other in the ring. Wouldn't it be great if, instead of an endless succession of Presidential debates, we were treated to a series of boxing matches between the two candidates' celebrity supporters? I'd pay good money to see Arnold Schwarzenegger duke it out with Tim Robbins. The left-wing filmmaker is one humanoid the Governor of California would have no difficulty in terminating.

Victory? What Victory?

The idea of holding a victory parade for the British Olympic squad is preposterous. I'm happy that our athletes performed better than they have done since 1924, but, surely, Britain hasn't sunk so low in the world that coming in 10th, behind France, Italy and Germany, among other nations, is a cause for rejoicing. What's next? Will Tim Henman get a knighthood when he crashes out of Wimbledon in 2005? Will the England football team come home to a heroes welcome when they fail to get beyond the first round in the 2006 World Cup?

Apart from everything else, it diminishes the value of honouring our national teams when they actually win something. How will Johnny Wilkinson feel if our Olympic athletes are given the same rousing reception that he received when England won the Rugby World Cup? It won't seem like such a day to remember if every national squad gets the red carpet treatment from now on, win or lose.

At the risk of sounding controversial, I think victory parades should be reserved for when one of our teams actually comes first.

The Funny Farm

The Farm, a new Channel Five reality show, sounds like a disaster-in-the-making. The idea, apparently, is that a bunch of Z-list celebrities, including Paul Daniels, Debbie McGee and Sophie Anderton, will pretend to be farmers for three weeks.

Are the powers-that-be at Channel Five unaware that the British farming industry is facing a crisis on the same scale as the foot-and-mouth epidemic following the freak rainstorms we've experienced this summer? Isn't it a little insensitive to show a group of pampered, overfed celebrities slipping about in the mud when real live farmers are losing their livelihoods? The Farm is the equivalent of Marie Antoinette and her friends playing at being milkmaids while the French peasantry died of starvation.

Let's hope that the British farming community don't take this insult lying down. I look forward to the first episode of The Farm in which a group of local agricultural labourers arm themselves with some shovels and pitchforks and send these ghastly publicity-seekers back where they came from.

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