Friday, October 24, 2008

What's in a Release Date?

This has been a rather frustrating year for me and the movies; this frustration is mainly due to what I think is off shoots from the WGA strike earlier this year. While I think that they WGA had every right to strike and they probably should have, the strike and the current economic mêlée has begun to take a very disturbing toll on the movies that I love so much. A perfect example of this is the fact that since about August release dates have meant nothing.

Typically, film release dates are almost set in stone; the only time they change is if a studio realizes they can get awards attention for a film, or move it into a prime release date like a major holiday. This year release dates have been bouncing around so much that I can no longer keep track of what is coming out when or exactly why a release date changed. I can only assume that studios are reeling from a lack of product due to the strike (and possibly a pending SAG strike) and a money crunch because people are not spending as much. Still, not all of the release date decisions make sense.

Let’s start with the first one I remember that started early this year – Valkyrie. Currently, Valkyrie is scheduled for a December release date. This movie has always been on my radar because Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie made one of my favorite films of all time and were reuniting for this one, but so many people doubted Tom Cruise who has been a bit of a pariah lately. So this movie had a release date of summer 2008, but Tom’s PR didn’t get any better and the studio balked and moved the film to October 2008, then December 2008, it seemed for awhile that Tom Cruises’ PR got even worse and the film was shoved to February 2009 (and February is when you dump date movies and movies you have no faith in as a studio).

Finally, a little movie called Tropic Thunder started to screen and Tom Cruise was the huge surprise in that film, people began to buzz about the quality of Valkyrie and before you knew it Valkyrie was back in December 2008. Even though Valkyrie’s release date has been bounced around like a yo-yo I think it ended up in the films favor, and in mine. I get to see the movie I’ve wanted so badly long before I thought I’d get to.

One that also made me sad, but didn’t totally surprise me was the release date change for the new Star Trek film. I have an original, Comic-Con exclusive poster that has a release date of December 2008 for that one. However, the studio realized not that they couldn’t get the film out in time but that Star Trek is a potential blockbuster and they can maximize their return in summer by making it a tent pole film; as such Star Trek was moved to May 2009. So far that one is firmly staying there.

One that’s not quite so bad is the new Daniel Craig vehicle Defiance which I’ve been seeing trailers for the film for at least a year now. While this one has not been shoved into no man’s land it was finally decided that it will be released in limited release in December of this year (just in time for awards consideration) and will go wide in January 2009. The film has been finished for a very long time so I am glad any decision was reached.

Now you come to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince which is perhaps the most controversial of the release date changes. Early in the summer David Yates proudly announced that editing was complete on the film and they were on schedule for their November release date – keep in mind this film would be released day and date worldwide. This was good news.

Now comes the maddening part. A bit over a month ago Warner Brothers came out and announced that due to the WGA strike they had no real summer tent pole films for 2009 and they had decided to move Half-Blood Prince into the slot The Dark Knight had for 2008. This is surrounded by much controversy; it is true that the strike affected them, but the decision to make the move strikes more of greed than an actual need. Everyone saw that The Dark Knight made an obscene amount of money and it seems pretty obvious that Warner’s wants to see if they can duplicate that. This one actually does make me quite angry; after all, they had already begun marketing the film.

When Warner’s made this announcement Summit Entertainment breathed a sigh of relief and decided to take advantage of it and move their fall/winter tent pole Twilight into the hole left by Harry Potter getting Twilight to audiences weeks earlier than it was originally slated. They were very smart no matter what my opinions on this movie are.

Another odd ball decision on the part of Warner Brothers is a film that has been treated in a completely illogical way – Trick ‘R Treat. For this film I also began to see trailers for this film about a year ago but never heard a release date. Naturally, based on the title and genre I assumed that the film was scheduled to be released this Halloween.

Apparently, Warner’s must be afraid of the film because while it has been acclaimed as one of the best horror films in years, and this has been an October almost devoid of horror films yet Trick ‘R Treat sat without a release date for a good long while. Finally, Trick ‘R Treat was given a release date of October 31; while this may look good on paper you have to think about it logically. This would be like giving the upcoming Four Christmases a release date of December 25. Your audience is not going to be interested in driving to the theatre to see that film for very long because by the time it is released people are over the “season” it takes place in. Again, the release date just doesn’t make much sense – but that’s become a trend.

However, the newest one that has pushed me over the edge is the release date of The Soloist. The film had a prime release date right before Thanksgiving, was being advertised and getting awards buzz. It was recently announced that the release date was changing from this November to March of 2009 with no explanation.

What confuses me the most is that all these release date decisions is not just that there seems to be no logic behind them but they are taking a toll on awards season. I cannot think of a single film besides The Dark Knight that I would nominate for best picture. While it is maddening for someone like me who anticipates movies months before they are released it is going to be interesting to see what happens to awards season. I can only hope and pray that SAG does not strike further damaging upcoming releases. I just want my release date calendar to stay somewhat the same, I don’t think that is too much to ask.


FilmNinja said...

see - Dark Knight is going to clean up : )

I agree . . . I mark movies on my calendar when they are set to come out, and numerous times, I've been ticked because I look like an idiot when I say a movie is coming out, and I'm wrong. ERRR

Adam said...

I'd be ok with the Star Trek debacle never coming out, personally. I think it's a big mistake. The bridge of the Enterprise is NOT supposed to look like the Apple store!

I agree that the change in release dates can be very frustrating. It's particularly hard when you wait for the summer doldrums to end, and some REAL movies to arrive that don't involve 20 gazillion explosions . . . and they don't show up.

Anonymous said...

That is crazy! I have that Comic Con poster too btw.

I think the Harry Potter one is aggravating as its a purely financial decision. I wasn't crazy about them splitting the last film int two either.