When an unfinished version of the upcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine leaked online late last month, Twentieth Century Fox studio honco Tom Rothman quickly sprung into damage control mode, claiming-
The version that went out is unfinished. It’s about 10 minutes shorter, doesn’t have key scenes, it wasn’t edited, and none of the effects shots were in any remotely final form. It’s a complete misrepresentation of the film and is deeply unfair to the people who have worked on it for years.
Now, however, it is beginning to look like the length of the leaked “rough cut” is the exact same length of the final, released version. Further more, some early internet chatter is stating that bar the unfinished effects and other technical items, Rothman’s exhortations were wrong and, for story telling purposes, the leaked version and the release version are exactly the same movie.
Those who have followed the business side of Hollywood know that the relationship between Rothman’s view of the world and the more commonly held perception of reality is often a contentious one. Genre fans have been dismayed at how comic book and science-fiction franchises have been treated at Fox during Rothman’s tenure. Ongoing rumors state that Rothman returns that disdain, only seeing fans as nothing but cattle who will turn out for any genre movie, no matter the quality. (And to a certain extant, I will grant that he probably is right.) There’s no love lost between the two here.
Rothman has also not done his best to endear himself to the talent he employs. Dark City director Alex Proyas has stated that after making I, Robot for 20th Century Fox, he would never work for the studio again because of interference from Rothman and his “evil minions.” Babylon A.D. director Mathieu Kassovitz complained that severe corporate interefernce turned a movie that he hoped would “teach us that the education of our children will mean the future of our planet” into “pure violence and stupidity.” The Planet Of The Apes, the two Fantastic Four films, Hitman and Alien Vs. Predator are just a few films that have also suffered from Rothman’s heavy-handed approach.
The question is not so much “Did Rothman lie?” as it is “Is anyone surprised that Rothman lied?”
It certainly would be in his interest to try and put a spin on what was rapidly turning into a public relations fiasco for the studio who was already concerned whether the film could turn a decent profit. Many fans were already turned off by the rushed and lackluster X-Men 3. Wolverine star Hugh Jackman’s last film, Australia, died a horrible, but well deserved, death at the box office. Any hoped for anticipation for the movie to be gained by having Jackman hosting the Oscars was quickly trampled under the dancing feet of too many musical numbers that evening.
I have a feeling, however, that deep down Fox maybe feels that it may have been in their best interests that the film did leak. If it flops at the box office, they can point to the leak as the reason why, never mind that maybe people stayed away out of disinterest, a poorly handled marketing campaign or bad word-of-mouth from critics. Wolverine will be sacrificed on the same alter already stained with the blood of A Man Apart, Hostel 2, Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake and Ang Lee’s Hulk. All of these were films whose poor box office receipts were blamed on internet leaks, regardless of the quality of said movies.
All poor box office receipts will do in this case will be to give Big Media lobbyists more ammunition when they start making noises for even stricter copyright legislation than the already draconian and massively flawed Digital Millenium Copyright Act. As such, we’ll see yet another round of grandmothers thrown in jail and further erroding of the concept of Fair Use.
Of course, the argument that piracy negatively impacts box office flies in the face of a movie like Taken. Having been available online since the fall of 2008 thanks to an early European release, the movie – which opened January 30 here in the States – has still pulled in just north of $218 million, according to Box Office Mojo. But as I have pointed out before, Rothman and reality aren’t always the best of friends. The last thing I expect to see from the studios is a sudden rethink about the actual quality of what it turns out and perhaps leaving the artistic side of film to those who didn’t graduate college with a degree in business.
Perhaps I am being a bit alarmist. In fact, I hope I am. I am also hoping that Wolverine is a good film. But based on an early draft of the script I’ve read and some of the early buzz, I’m not so sure that it will be. We’ll all find out next Friday at the theater. See you there.