Saturday, July 16, 2011

Instant carmageddon's gonna ... help you?

If you live in Los Angeles, there's only one word on your lips this week:


If you live elsewhere, it's possible you need an explanation for what's going on.

A section of the most heavily used and traffic-filled freeway in the country (citation needed), the 405 freeway, also (never) known as the San Diego Freeway, is closing down from midnight Friday night to 5 a.m. Monday morning. It's so they can blow up a bridge that runs across it, widen some lanes, and set a record for the most amount of work ever accomplished in a 53-hour period. In fact, so much emphasis is being placed on getting the work done in a timely matter, the contractor is being charged $6,000 for every ten minutes the freeway reopens late. They've been warning us about it for months, and about six weeks ago I started hearing it referred to as "Carmageddon." (See, we love our cars in L.A., so if you take them away from us, it's the end of the world as we know it.)

This means that the hundreds of thousands of cars that usually run along the freeway on a given summer weekend are going to be doing other things, if they're smart. The authorities are encouraging us to stay home -- not literally in the house, but in our home neighborhoods. In fact, it's being used as an excuse to promote local businesses. We are being encouraged to explore our local neighborhoods and see what they have to offer.

And when we explore them and decide that they offer nothing of interest, we will go to the movies.

I know my wife and I are planning to go to the movies, anyway. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part II opens this weekend (duh), and after we see the penultimate Potter movie tonight, we're going to divide and conquer for the rest of the weekend: She'll see the final movie one day, I'll see it the next. Or vice versa. We haven't gotten that specific in the planning yet.

Of course, we're not the only ones who have this idea. It stands to reason that this could be the biggest opening for any Potter movie since the first one. What I'm wondering is: Will it be even bigger because of Carmageddon?

Let's think about it. Los Angeles is basically the largest metropolitan area in the country, in part because the borders of what people consider to be Los Angeles are so sprawling. Not to mention that Angelenos tend to be more movie-crazed in general, because so many people who work in the industry also live here. Add in the fact that we're spoiled by summer weather for most of the year, meaning we don't care about sacrificing some prime afternoon weather on a summer weekend to go to the movies, and then add in Carmageddon, and you could see the overall box office of Harry Potter rise slightly just because of a highway construction project.

Of course, it's very difficult to measure the impact of a real-world event on box office because you don't have a baseline. Not until a movie opens can you really be sure how successful its advertising campaign has been. With box office, you're never in a position to say "Harry Potter would have made $117.2 million this weekend. Because of Carmageddon, it made $118.6 million."

But I do think it's interesting to ponder. And with a movie like Winnie the Pooh, the only major movie brave enough to go up against Potter, you can posit a bit more of a relationship between the real-world event and the box office. I mean, over 90% of the available seats for Potter were going to be taken this weekend anyway. Carmageddon might mean this number goes from 93% to 98% in LA.

Pooh? It's hard to say. I mean, I'm not in the 0-3 age demographic it's targeting, but I can't really say there's much anticipation out there for this one. Past Winnie the Pooh movies have been notable for being five years behind the current standards for both animation technology and pop culture references inserted into the script, and in keeping the exact same animation style for this one, it doesn't feel like any kind of earth-shattering reboot of the concept.

So if Pooh rakes in more money than we think it will, is it possible we could blame LA's automotive outage for that one? Or will it just be that younger kids who didn't get tickets for Potter will accept Pooh as a (distant) second choice?

I suppose, before any of my readers take me too seriously, I should insert a paragraph referencing the fact that I'm being a bit disingenuous here. I know the LA market is such a small part of the overall domestic box office that any difference made by Carmageddon wouldn't even be felt. Besides, adults are the ones who are not going to be driving. Many adults without kids will not be seeing Potter, and most if not all adults without kids will not be seeing Pooh.

Still, though -- if you're like me, and you live in LA, and are planning to go to the movies this weekend ... plan ahead. Even movies like Bad Teacher and Green Lantern may be selling out.

Forget the movies, though -- the best show this weekend might be getting to watch them blow up the Mulholland Bridge. I'd pay movie ticket prices to see that one.

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