Staff Reporter

DreamWorks SKG is having its headaches.

The much-heralded film arm of the studio founded by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg has now released three films, none of which looks to be the kind of box-office smash some people in Hollywood had expected.

Its latest offering, "Mouse Hunt," a comedy starring Nathan Lane, opened in 2,152 theaters nationally Dec. 19, but drew only $6 million for its first weekend. The Paramount-Fox film "Titanic" took in $28.6 million and MGM's 007 thriller "Tomorrow Never Dies" opened at $25.1 million.

"The opening of 'Mouse Hunt' was clearly soft," said Arthur Rockwell, an analyst for Los Angeles-based Yeager Capital Markets.

With "Mouse Hunt," DreamWorks obviously was looking to make a splash with families and young children during the all-important Christmas season.

"It was well marketed and advertised," said Rockwell. "It at least did better than 'Home Alone 3' and 'Anastasia.' But this is not an auspicious beginning."

The tepid opening comes in the wake of the disappointing performance of "Peacemaker," the company's first film. And Spielberg's directorial debut for the company, "Amistad" is doing only modest business in limited release.

Steve Cesinger, managing director media/entertainment for Los Angeles-based Grief & Co., said DreamWorks is not dismayed by the early returns. The company, he said, has a strong management team that goes beyond Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg. Such strength will prevail in the long run, he said.

Cesinger added that DreamWorks has the deep financial pockets to withstand growing pains. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, for example, has invested $500 million in the company.

"A Paul Allen can sit back for 10 or 15 years and not worry about current cash flow," Cesinger said.

He said an undercapitalized company would have more strains at this point to deliver hits.

"If Moe, Larry or Curly were running this company, they would have to hit some good home runs immediately or they wouldn't last," Cesinger said. "You can't last that long in this business because it consumes capital so quickly."

So far, DreamWorks has been hitting singles and doubles not the home runs expected from three Hollywood titans.

"Peacemaker," for example, which starred George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, cost $50 million to make and generated $41.3 million domestically at the box office. Although it earned $100 million worldwide, industry observers said it would have had to make $100 million domestically to become a hit.


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