Air buds: Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg hope Americans spend time in `The Terminal'
Tom Hanks in DreamWorks' The Terminal.
By Stephen Schaefer
Thursday, June 17, 2004This weekend's $80 million question: Can Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg make America want to spend a year in ``The Terminal''?
Forget Batman and Robin, Lois and Clark, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Hanks and Spielberg are Hollywood's dynamic duo. Together they have scored with ``Saving Private Ryan'' (1998) and ``Catch Me If You Can'' (2002).
With Hanks as the nation's unofficial father figure and Spielberg as Hollywood's most famous and trusted brand-name director, the bar is already raised high along with expectations for ``The Terminal.''
But ``The Terminal,'' inspired by a true story and turned into Spielberg's unique brand of whimsy, sentiment and corn, is a gamble. Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, an Eastern European from a fictional country who, as he is being processed through U.S. customs at an airport that looks like New York's JFK, finds himself suddenly stateless when a civil war erupts back home.
Caught in the no man's land of bureaucracy and politics, Viktor is forced to live in the international lounge for months on end. He learns to speak Euro-accented English, finds employment and meets several people who become close comrades: the African-American baggage handler, the Mexican in the food delivery section and an aged Indian who mops floors and turns out to be a mighty juggler. There is also, for those moonlit nights when the lights from the passing 747s don't drown it out, a tentative romance with Catherine Zeta-Jones' United Airlines flight attendant.
The film, unlike its real-life version, is filled with incident, humor and uplift, but a big question is: Why would anybody, especially a paying audience, want to spend a virtual year in an airline terminal when two hours of the real thing is enough to give people hives?
Boxofficemojo.com box-office analyst Brandon Gray thinks the filmmakers are aware of that issue and combat it successfully in their trailer.
``I don't think people look at an airport terminal in a fond way or a life-affirming way of discovering America,'' Gray said. ``That's tricky, but that's what this movie is selling. It's the movie to go to if you want to feel good.
``The trailer's last clip is this guy shaving in the airport bathroom and he says, `Does it ever feel like you live your whole life in the terminal?' and it shows Tom's reaction, who is living his life in the terminal. It's something that people can relate to, especially those who hate flying or who hate airline terminals. I think that can overcome a lot of that skepticism.''
Gray said ``The Terminal'' could easily be the nation's top box-office picture this weekend, beating new arrivals ``Around the World in 80 Days'' and ``Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story'' for the No. 1 spot.
``It looks like it has the potential of becoming the top adult choice of the summer,'' he said, estimating a $30 million weekend gross.
`` `Terminal' is unusual,'' he said. ``But Hanks and Spielberg have the track record to follow that up; they've had unusual successes in the past. There are very few stars and even fewer directors that people will follow from project to project. Tom Hanks is one, Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise are others. Hanks in `Road to Perdition' was released in summer and did $104 million. No one expected Hanks' `Cast Away' to go over $200 million. That was a phenomenon, and I don't expect `Terminal' to do that. This is not the next `Forrest Gump' or `Cast Away,' but it should find an audience and could be a $100 million movie.''