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Kevin Costner’s mediocre box office results for “Horizon”: Movies are not television

It is presumptuous to expect moviegoers to show up for a 10-hour miniseries

There’s an old saying in Hollywood that you shouldn’t put your own money into a movie. But I’ve always had a lot of respect for anyone who does. It’s clearly a sign of their commitment — that they care enough about what they’re doing to get something out of it. I also believe there’s an exhilarating payoff: If you put your own money into a movie, your investment could hit the jackpot. (It happened with Mel Gibson and “The Passion of the Christ” and George Lucas with “Star Wars.”) And of course there’s the admirable idea of ​​those who are self-financing trying to get a movie to market that a corporate studio has said no to. That’s how motion pictures can remain adventurous.

So I can understand the reckless and dedicated bravery that Kevin Costner showed in investing $38 million of his own money in Horizon: An American Saga. In fact, Costner eventually admitted, it might have been closer to $50 million; perhaps he was initially a little shy about admitting this bizarre personal investment because (to repeat) you shouldn’t do that.

But obviously Costner can afford it. All actors who do this kind of thing can. They have plenty of money to spare. (That’s one reason I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.) Costner has always been the definition of a star who cares about life, who acts in and directs worthy projects, and who has a reverence for the art of film. There’s something purifying about him putting his own money into a sprawling Western magnum opus.

Still, it would be hard to imagine another film that confirms the old wisdom as much as “Horizon.”

The box office numbers for Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 are now in, and by and large, as an indicator of where the saga is headed, the numbers aren’t pretty. I suspected they wouldn’t be when I saw the film at Cannes, where I was one of many critics who gave it a mixed to scathing review. What made this case special was that the three-hour film only makes up a quarter of the total project. Chapter 2 is due to be released in August. Chapter 3 is currently being shot. And Chapter 4 is, at this point, a frontier castle in the air – an idea for a film hanging on Kevin Costner’s balance sheet.

That means that Horizon, with a likely opening weekend of $12 million and a production cost of $100 million (not for the whole saga, just for Chapter 1), has the potential to be not only a financial disaster, but a disaster that plays out in slow motion over the course of months. In the case of Chapter 3, it’s about building the train just as it’s about to crash. That’s a lot of box office trouble for $38 million.

Costner knew what he was doing when he took that risk, and he’ll be fine. Maybe the money will even come back to him in royalties. But when a big movie opens with a bang like that, you have to ask yourself what happened and whether there are any lessons to be learned. In this case, there is an important lesson. And it’s this: Don’t make movies into television.

Because that’s exactly what Costner tried to do, and that was his folly. His star had faded in the 2010s, but it came back with a bang with “Yellowstone,” Taylor Sheridan’s television series that began in 2018. It’s obvious that Costner was inspired by the show’s extraordinary success when he decided to make “Horizon” an episodic drama that will (theoretically) last more than 10 hours. It’s not a 10-hour drama. Movieexactly. It’s a series – or, as I described “Chapter 1” in my review, “the seeds of a mini-series.” Because when you watch “Chapter 1,” you feel like you’ve met all these characters, but you haven’t even gotten to the heart of the matter. That can work on TV. But in the cinema, it’s fatal. I would say a film has to captivate you in the first 40 minutes or it’s toast.

Is the problem with “Chapter 1” that there is no better Miniseries? Possibly. But I still think it’s a problem of form. The discursive, anecdotal, muddled drama of “Horizon” feels like homework for at least the first three hours, and I don’t think that’s because I’m not enough of a “Democratic State audience person” to understand that. It’s because writing TV scripts is different from writing movies. TV episodes, especially ensemble pieces, are often open-ended. They have a certain “dip-in/dip-out” quality. Movies, on the other hand, require a sense of resolution. And there’s a certain hubris in “Horizon’s” four-chapter concept, because when people not If you’re going to attend Chapter 1, who in God’s name is going to be interested in Chapter 2? In August, that audience will probably be even smaller.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that you don’t need to have seen Chapter 1 to enjoy Chapter 2, or that Chapter 2 will prove better. Maybe in two months this movie will take on a life of its own. But I don’t think that’s what Kevin Costner had in mind. He wants his audience to be fully engaged. And he’s always been a leisurely dramatist. (The original version of Dances with Wolves was five hours long.) Investing your own money in a film is, in my opinion, an honorable and even brave thing to do, but the problem with the level of investment Costner has put into Horizon is that he’s already made the film more important than any film should claim to be. The drama of whether the audience will come now transcends the drama on the screen. Sure, Horizon is “big” and “sprawling” and “epic,” but so far it’s more busy and fragmented than great. I suspect that, one way or another, the film’s journey will ultimately end on the small screen: where it was always meant to be.

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