Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern is one of the most special-effects heavy films of the year and with only a little over six weeks until the film’s June 17th release date, Warner Bros. is spending more money to get all of the effects work finished. Variety reports that the studios is spending an additional $9 million and has new visual effects houses working overtime to make the film’s release date. But this isn’t an anomaly in Hollywood. When it comes to tentpole movies, it’s become the norm and a dangerous one at that. The problem is that studios are setting release dates and then rushing films to make sure that date is met. Hit the jump for more on this troubling trend.
The studios are playing a dangerous game by setting their release dates in the near future and then crunching their tentpole features to make that date. Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class started filming in September of last year in order to make a June 3rd release date. I suspect that the reason we haven’t seen a new domestic trailer for the film is because the studio is rushing to get all of the effects work finished and can’t put together a trailer of new footage if that footage has incomplete FX. Keep in mind: studios don’t seem to care if the effects work is high-quality. 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine featured worse visual effects than the 2000’s X-Men, especially when it came to Wolvie’s claws, but hey, at least that movie met its release date.
So why are studios so adamant on holding onto something as fungible as a release date when it’s clearly driving up production costs and risks lowering quality? Because there’s a perception that the ideal release date will net the biggest opening weekend and that any additional costs to meet that date will be balanced out by the box office tally. Furthermore, the amount spent on marketing and merchandising all centers around the date so you can’t just sit on a bunch of Green Lantern toys and posters reading “June 17, 2011” and then kick the film down the road.
Of course, this raises the question of why doesn’t a studio keep mum on a release date until they have a better idea of the ideal time to send a movie into theaters. Surely Green Lantern could easily make a holiday 2011 release date, but I suspect that the rush to put it in the summer is that the faster you get a film out, the faster you can get to making the sequel.
And Green Lantern isn’t alone in its crunch to make a release date. Variety reports that Captain America: The First Avenger is on a shorter schedule and for Transformers: Dark of the Moon “at least one vfx studio has gone to seven-day weeks, 12 hours a day, and canceled the Easter Sunday holiday for its vfx artists.” (I really hope those folks are getting paid overtime).
And then you have to factor in the added cost of 3D. Last year, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on giving the 3D treatment to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 because there wasn’t enough time to do a proper post-conversion. The film only ended up making a measly $954 million worldwide, and was the third-highest domestic gross for a Harry Potter film. Part 2 is currently set to be released in 3D.
This trend isn’t going away any time soon. The Avengers started filming today and it’s due out on May 4, 2012. The Hunger Games is still casting, but it’s got a release date for March 23, 2012. The Dark Knight Rises starts shooting in May or June for a July 20, 2012 release date. I have seriously reservations that Star Trek 2 can make its current June 29, 2012 release date if filming doesn’t start until late summer or early fall. But the solution at this point for the studios is to simply throw money at the problem and this issue is likely to continue until some FX house drops the ball and a studio has to reschedule a tentpole flick. And even then, I doubt this practice will change. If anything, I see the trend of movies getting more expensive and more effects houses popping up to accommodate the extra work. I just hope those visual effects artists are willing to give up their weekends and holidays.