I’m told that, right now, early tracking shows that Santa Clause 3 will be bigger at the box office than the much hyped comedy Borat. “The middle of the country is not in on the Borat joke yet,” one movie marketing expert explained to me today. Few pics have received as much pre-release publicity as Sacha Baron Cohen’s satire, whose full title is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Though the Fox flick opens on November 3rd, it started making waves at the Cannes Film Festival and wowed audiences at September’s Toronto Film festival. Recently, Cohen, in character as a fictional TV reporter, Borat Sagdiyev, the “sixth most famous man in Kazakhstan”, staged various Washington D.C. publicity stunts outside the White House gates and Kazakh Embassy during a state visit by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayevin (who was not amused). The media ate it up, and since then Cohen, already a cult figure as Ali G. on HBO, has been red hot in Hollywood. But Internet hype does not necessarily translate into box office hype, as New Line’s Snakes On A Plane showed. The satire of Borat, lampooning Kazakh culture with anti-Semitic mockumentaries, may be too elitist for Middle America, as the tracking is starting to show. But Fox claims now it didn’t think Borat could beat the sequel and acknowledges the satire will start out as a “big hit” on college campuses and then build momentum. “Don’t look at our opening numbers, look at our finishing numbers,” an exec told me today. By contrast, few pics could be as low concept as Disney’s “G”-rated Santa Clause 3, which comes out the same day as Borat. Starring middle-aged, middle-of-the-road Tim Allen, audiences don’t appear to be tiring yet of this franchise which has inexplicably made money from its first day out. Santa Clause 3 is tracking better as well against Dreamworks’ animated Flushed Away, which also opens November 3rd. The buzz on this kiddie fare about a pet mouse-meets-sewer rat is that it’s not Dreamworks’ best, even though made by Aardman Animations, the creators of Wallace and Gromit. But Flushed Away doesn’t incorporate Aardman’s usual claymation; it’s CGI created. In this coming weekend’s tracking news, Clint Eastwood’s Flags Of Our Fathers from Warner Bros./Dreamworks about the battle for Iwo Jima, should open No. 1, but it’ll get heavy adult competition from Warner’s other adult fare, Marty Scorsese’s The Departed which is demonstrating it has legs. So Flags may not finish the weekend with more than $20 million. The other big pic opening this weekend is Disney/Buena Vista’s The Prestige starring those two comic book heroes Hugh Jackman (X-Men) and Christian Bale (Batman Begins). Even though the ad campaign for this film about rival magicians is a winner, marketing experts tell me it probably won’t score numbers better than in the teens.
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