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April 6, 2009

1

Shiver Me Timbers! Or how 20th Century Fox blew a gasket…

by Master Pillow

Pirate slang aside, after a couple of political posts it’s time for a change of pace as I veer back to entertainment and movies in general. Looking at the above picture you can’t help but notice Hugh Jackman is raging mad with steely intensity almost as if he’s about to skewer someone with his pair of razor sharp claws. I have a hunch I know just who he is intending to enact physical violence on. If you didn’t already know 20th Century Fox is reeling from an obviously unsupported leak to the Internet of an unfinished print of their summer blockbuster X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Yes, you heard that right. The entire rough cut of the movie is illegally available on the net about an entire month before its premiere. This is not some amateur camcorder recording but an almost DVD quality pristine cut of the upcoming film.

Fox executives are livid that this has occurred and with good reason as the movie is their tentpole summer blockbuster and this breach of security will no doubt impact the final gross. This is no laughing matter and they have already called the FBI for assistance. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is also a film which diehard comic book fans have been following for a while now but much of the buzz surrounding the production has been lukewarm at best making potential moviegoers guarded as to its overall quality. This leak will do nothing but exacerbate the situation. In the highly competitive summer movie season a potential blockbuster with an enormous production budget cannot afford these types of stumbles and this leak could be potentially damaging in its ability to generate enough money to cover costs.

This is not the first time a high profile leak has occurred as it happened recently with Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith as well as Ang Lee’s Hulk. Star Wars went on to gross $380 million USD in the US alone but the Hulk did not even make enough to cover its estimated budget of $130 Million USD. Of course, the biggest factor to a film’s success is the WOM, better known as word of mouth. If the public enjoys it they’ll tell their friends and the movie will play well for a longer period of time. Conversely, if their opinions are negative it will cause others to avoid it like the bubonic plague. WOM can actually be mathematically calculated and anyone who follows box office predictions and trends will tell you that after the first weekend most prognosticators will be able to figure out the movie’s final gross within a few percentage points. After two weekends and that final estimate is almost a lock.

However, this is not a post about WOM but about the movie leak which proves piracy of any sort is rampant just about anywhere in the world. This sort of action be it undertaken by a lone culprit or group of people is obviously against the law but it also shows absolutely no regard to the vast cast and crew that has been working months on the project in order to deliver the best product possible. It doesn’t matter if the film is any good but this action is an affront to all those people who poured their sweat and tears into this film in order to bring it to the silver screen so it could be enjoyed by the public.

Whatever the motivations are behind this leak there’s no justification for this action. That said, I have no doubt that peer-to-peer sites are strained to the limit as people attempt to download the print to their computers. This is one of those situations that you run into in ethics class 101. If you spot a dropped wallet filled with cash in the middle of a shopping mall, what do you do? What would your reaction be if you were walking down a street and a laptop fell off the back of the truck?

The answer is of course, up to each individual. We all have to face our demons at some point and eventually be judged by a higher power – if you do believe in one. Regardless, even if you don’t it’s still a question of morality. Do you download Wolverine and watch it knowing it is illegal and is a rough cut or do you wait for the pristine finished product to be shown in a cinema?

I’ve always been a cinephile all my life as I just plain love watching movies. When I was in high school my friends and I made it a point to see as many movies as possible. It didn’t usually matter who was in it or what was it about we just reveled in the act of going to the cinema. Nowadays, I rarely venture out to the cinema unless it is something I truly have a strong interest in. If not, I’ll just stay at home and watch it on DVD or Blu-Ray when it is released months later. However, as good as recent Plasma and Flatscreen LCDs have become I truly believe that the only place to get the true cinematic experience is in a proper theatre.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was one of those films that I was leaning to see mainly based on my previous experience watching the three previous X-men movies. I must admit that once I heard of this leak my first impression was akin to, “Where do I watch this?” This was followed by a period of quiet meditation as I realized that it really wasn’t worth it as this is the type of loud summer blockbuster best experienced in a darkened cinema with blasting THX or Dolby sound systems. My moral center won over and I went on my merry way doing something else content with the knowledge that I would be watching a superior product in less than a month.

Whatever your taste in movies, this sort of piracy is just unacceptable and though I have no doubt that many are downloading this as I speak the comments I’ve read on many forums just boggle the mind. I actually don’t care if someone is frank and comes right out and doesn’t hide behind mirrors by saying they’ve gone and downloaded it because they just can’t wait even though they know it is wrong. I might not approve but at least the commenter is flatly telling the truth about their actions. In their case the inner demon won but they don’t try in any way to justify their illegal download past the point that they just need to see it immediately to satiate their desire.

The ones which really irk me are those who throw out the rather obtuse excuse that since 20th Century Fox and the filmmakers are already making millions of dollars that that fact alone gives them justification for illegally downloading the film precisely so that they can watch for free and deny the corporation any money.

This is inherently a broken argument that functions as nothing more than false reassurance to the person making the comment who suddenly pictures themselves as some sort of rebel standing up to corporate America in protest. In reality, they are only deluding themselves into placing justification onto an illegal action.

There are others who claim that they are using this as a learning tool as this leaked release is suppose to be a rough cut replete with missing or unfinished special effects, editing marks with timers, and a placeholder soundtrack. 20th Century Fox has also revealed that it is missing a sizable chunk of footage that amounts to over ten minutes that was filmed as part of recent reshoots in February. While ten minutes might not seem like much it’s more than enough to make huge differences in the narrative that might drastically alter or enhance what you find in this leaked copy.

While I understand that a cut such as this one can aid film students or cinephiles in general to appreciate the actual filmmaking and editing process it is still not a valid justification to download the illegal release. Those who are looking for such a tool or view into the editing process can hope that it is included in the eventual DVD/Blu-Ray release along with director and or cast commentary. If Fox decides to release the film to the home market with none of these special features it might be lamentable or a missed opportunity but that decision lies with them not the consumer and certainly not by those who have pirated this film.

Fox’s biggest nightmare is bad WOM and judging from the comments floating around the net by those who have actually downloaded and watched the copy the reaction is leaning negative. I would take that with a grain of salt as I have a hunch that many of these commentators are people who were previously predisposed to “hating” the movie based solely on previous bad press. It’s not usually a good sign to be doing extensive reshoots so close to the launch date but there have been many cases where it has managed to fix key scenes or enhance exposition to flesh things out. Watching such a rough cut of the movie is akin to stealing a writer’s manuscript that is nowhere close to being a final draft as there are so many variables that could change that fundamentally alter the end result.

As an analogy whenever I look at high price athletes in the major US sports of football, basketball, baseball or hockey I sometimes blanch whenever I hear what they are making but I accept it precisely because I can’t fault a player for negotiating a contract that pays them exactly that high amount. If an owner gives the thumbs up to the contract then all the more power to the athlete and his agent for a successful negotiation. Now, I do think that athletes get paid way too much but as long as the owners want to I have no objection since they all can manage their own money without consulting me. I wish they did but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. If they want to spend those millions on a player then so be it. However, I’m not going to protest by running up to the stadium and stealing their gate receipts, or the zamboni that clears the ice, or brandishing a large crowbar in a vain effort to cap someone’s knee. In short, if I don’t want them to get my money I’m not going to resort to illegal means to deny them their profit. I’ll just spend my cash on another form of entertainment.

In the end, it’s not my place to chastise people. Everyone can make their own decisions about this issue but how would you react if you had spent half a year working long hours on a product and had it stolen from you mere weeks before it was put on sale? If you download the movie it’s not like I’m going to get on my soapbox and throw profanity at you but whatever your decision please don’t try to justify it as some sort of protest against corporate America. If you think they don’t deserve the money then just don’t go and see it in the cinema. If you want to save money just wait for the home release. You can protest with your wallet by not spending money on their product but that in no way gives you the right to embark in illegal activities.

© 2009 The Galactic Pillow

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. evie
    Apr 15 2009

    Piracy is definitely Not good.

    Making a movie is a business with high risks. We don’t hear much about flops, but we often hear movies and actors who makes so much money that makes them filthy rich, that people don’t really care about watching a pirate movie or two.

    I only watch Blue-ray and HD-DVD movies with my hubby nowadays. ;-))

    Reply

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