A midwinter release date does not mean that “Shutter Island” is a disaster. At least we think it doesn’t.
Are you ready for a nice fresh group of movies in 2010? Well, maybe not quite so fresh–an article in the New York Times points out that a number of the films being released in the first quarter of 2010 were actually made in 2008 (the article says “at least 16 of 28″ of the films being released in January through March were completed in 2008 or earlier).
Now usually when you hear about a film’s release being delayed, you suspect something has gone wrong. Then, if the film is put out in January or February, instead of, say, the October-December Oscar period, audiences really regard it with caution, as the first two months of the year are the traditional dumping ground for films that a studio considers bad and embarrassing; a prestige pic gone wrong, or simply not good enough to compete with the stronger end-of-year material.
But there are some pretty big names that were shuttled to early 2010, notably Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and big budget film “The Wolfman.” These are cases where the science of finding just exactly the right date for a film release has so narrowed potential opening dates that producers get easily scared off. No one wants to face off against a “Twilight” or “Harry Potter” film, even if the film is targeted at a different audience, because the title will simply be buried in the publicity onslaughts of the teen-oriented films, or adults will be stuck driving their kids to see one of these rather than going to a movie themselves. No one wants to be on the schedule the same weekend as big-budgeted star-laden films like “Avatar” or “Sherlock Holmes” or heaven forbid, both (James Cameron is the star of “Avatar,” of course)–not to mention the adult-targeted “It’s Complicated.” So now three weekends are off that October to December Oscar/adult audience calendar. Then once a few other films lay claim to three or four more weekends, a film like “Shutter Island” is starting to scramble. Do you want to put it up against “Invictus,” whose Eastwood-Damon tandem are similar to Scorses-DiCaprio? After a while, there’s nothing left but these options: risk opening the film on an already heavily scheduled weekend where it might get lost, put it out in the bad reputation early new year zone, or wait another whole year. None are attractive. Some choose to wait the whole year, which is why we’re getting some “old” films now (not to mention old stars–the NY Times article points out that this January’s “Youth in Revolt” was filmed when Michael Cera was still actually a youth, a teenager; he’s now almost 22).
Here’s a great quote from the article:
In a recent interview, Brad Grey, Paramount’s chairman, said it was not easy telling Mr. Scorsese that his movie would sit on the shelf for a while. “I had to make a difficult judgment, and I did, and I explained that to Marty,” he said of the decision to let “Shutter Island,” shot in mid-2008, slide into 2010.
Some of the glut of films is due to the writers’ strike in 2007 (remember that?). Scripts that were ready to shoot got backed up and once the strike was over, a whole bunch filmed at once, resulting in a jam in the pipeline. In some cases, this caused particular problems. “The Green Zone,” starring Matt Damon, was a very of the moment, Iraq war/Bush era film that was shot in early 2008; released in early 2010, it seems much less of the moment than the recession-oriented “Up in the Air,” which filmed just last spring (and now any Iraq films risk comparison to the heavily praised “The Hurt Locker”). In some cases, this may be a benefit–”Daybreakers” a vampire film, was shot in 2007, before vampires became the hottest thing in pop culture (before the current cycle of vampire hotness, that is).
The upshot of all this (and yes, I did actually have a point) is that this is one year in particular where it’s probably unfair to label a film a bust just because it’s being released in January or February. Who knows, there may even be some gems coming out in the next few weeks…which will likely be forgotten by next year’s Oscar race.