Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Movie setbacks: Harry Potter 6 and Watchmen

Last week brought news that the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie, originally slated to be released on November 21, had been bumped back to next July. I had been looking forward to seeing it this fall, but since I already know what happens--since I'm no longer dying to know who this mysterious "prince" is or which of the major characters is going to die, as I was over three years ago now--I think I'll survive the extra wait. Granted, 8 months is a considerable wait. But the move makes perfect sense, after all. The problem isn't that the special effects took longer than anticipated, or something else held up post-production and the movie isn't going to be satisfactorily ready in time for the November release date. The problem, like many other current problems in Hollywood, is largely due to last winter's WGA strike. No writers in the winter affected the number of movies Warner Bros. has in store for next summer. They rely on big summer tentpoles to bring in blockbuster revenue. They had a summer opening, and Harry Potter is a fitting franchise to fill it.

But some Harry Potter fans, outraged at the delay, are campaigning against this move, with tens of thousands signing an online petition for Warner Bros. to consider moving the release back to November. The first thing that gets me is this: What are they saying? That they'll boycott the movie if the studio makes them wait until July? That these people, who are so anxious for the movie to come out that they can't bear to wait an extra 8 months, would be willing to miss the movie entirely to spite the studio? I suppose they could boycott the studio's other movies. Maybe they aren't making any threats, simply trying to appeal to the benevolence of the studio. And that's related to the second thing that gets me: One fan is quoted as saying, "They are doing this for no other reason than to make money," (IMDb). After all, the studio's original purpose was to bring joy to the hearts of millions of children across the globe. Oh wait, that was Santa Claus and, sorry kids, Santa doesn't exist (Blasphemy! I know). What gave this fan (and any others who agreed with his/her complaint) the idea that Warner Bros. wasn't doing this for the purpose of making money? Sure, I think many if not most of the people involved in making the Harry Potter movies are doing it for a passion for entertainment and making people happy through that entertainment. Partially. But movies are a business, businesses must make money, and smart businesses must make more money. Yes, we're disappointed, but maybe the wait will make the prize sweeter in the end. There's not much we can do about it, and what little we can do about it, I don't think we should. By the way, Summit Entertainment has now moved its Twilight movie from December 12th to the November 21st slot left open by the Harry Potter move. I think this move was done for no other reason than to make more money. Maybe I should petition them to kick Twilight back to December.

In a more troubling movie setback, 20th Century Fox is suing Warner Bros. for producing the new Watchmen movie, which is supposed to be released March 6, 2009. They claim that, because Fox never gave up the rights to the franchise, "Warner Bros.' production and anticipated release of 'The Watchmen' (sic) motion picture violates 20th Century Fox's long-standing motion picture rights in 'The Watchmen' property," (Variety). I don't know the merits of their argument, but a judge has denied Warner's motion to dismiss the case, so it can't be totally bogus, though Warner Bros. insists they are still confident they will win the case. What's more worrisome is that Fox claims it's not just out to gain a chunk of the money Warner hopes to make from the movie; it wants to prevent the movie from even being released. This would be a mean blow to Warner Bros., since the film was hardly a cheap one to make. It would also be a tough blow to fans. The movie has been gaining considerable buzz since Comic-Con, with an Entertainment Weekly cover and reports that sales of the graphic novel have skyrocketed. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing it. What a shame it would be if it is never released. All of that work, writing, filming, CGI, etc.--gone to waste? Speaking of which, how did it get this far? Filming is done, we're half a year away from the release date, and now they're taking this case before the court? Why did Fox take this long to act? They must have known about the project for years. And how did Warners fail to see any ambiguity in their rights? Don't they all have legions of Hollywood lawyers to do these sorts of things?

For the sake of the movie, I hope that Warner Bros. wins the case. If Fox wins, I hope they're just bluffing about not letting it be released so they can negotiate a better cut of the profits. The only reason I can think of not to allow it to be released (other than cruel spite) is if Fox, which hasn't exercised any Watchmen movie rights in the nearly 20 years they've supposedly had them, hopes to make a Watchmen film of their own. But that would put them in a tough spot, because that film had better be a hell of a lot better than the Warner Bros. movie looks like it might be--and it looks like it might be terrific--and Fox had better be willing to face boycotts on their other movies. Because even if the current film isn't actually any good, if it is never released, fans will only know the glowing promise of its trailer and Kevin Smith's rave review. And that Fox screwed it over. And I daresay comic fans can be a mite more vengeful than Potter fans. Especially Watchmen fans.

> Update: I track the resolution of the Watchmen case in this post.

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