Call it the "John Carter Effect." Yet another studio has moved a major title out of the line of fire. Universal pushed back "47 Ronin" and Paramount delayed the summer opening for the latest "G.I. Joe" installment, "Retaliation," because both big-budget tentpoles needed reshoots and more time in the editing room. And Warners has already moved to 2013 super-violent "Gangster Squad," because of an unfortunate scene of a shooting in a movie theater, as well as Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi extravaganza "Gravity," starring Sandra Bullock. Both were originally set for the awards-friendly fall season.
Now Warner Bros. is also pushing back Baz Luhrmann's 3-D drama "The Great Gatsby," adapted from the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, which they introduced with great fanfare at CinemaCon this spring. I was underwhelmed by what I saw of this $127-million period drama with literary aspirations starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan, which was set to open December 25.
Warners has now pushed it to summer 2013. According to Warners distribution chief Dan Fellman, the studio looked at the film and decided it would play better in the summer frame: "We saw phenomenal parties, gorgeous mansions and sunny days. It was a summer movie that could play to a big broad audience at the heart of summer. It's a very big movie that we feel could perform better on a global basis."
Luhrmann was on board, Fellman said. "He could have made Christmas. He's finished. He has to fine-tune the music and visual effects. But the movie's done."
Is "The Great Gatsby" in 3-D better off as a summer movie? Warners tends to be pragmatic about not chasing awards at the expense of popular success, which paid off handsomely with such late-breaking awards contenders as "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Departed." But still, it's one thing to take a commercial actioner and try to make it better in the editing room. It's another to pull a movie with all the hallmarks of an Oscar contender out of the holiday frame. It means the movie can't cut it, won't be able to compete in the shape that it's in. It spells a lack of confidence.
"My job is to generate the most revenue I can with every movie," says Fellman. "Over the last 15 to 16 years five or six summer movies have won the Academy Award. There's no magic to fall and winter. We are definitely going to position this as an Academy movie. But to maximize revenue we felt summer was the best time. The biggest-grossing movies with few exceptions open in summer."
"The Great Gatsby" is the sort of movie that needs a push from critics and Academy voters, and if Warners doesn't think that's coming, they figure they'll make the movie as good as it can be–as they did with "Where the Wild Things Are"– and go for audiences outside the awards fray. They don't want bad reviews to cook their Gatsby goose.