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How Paramount/Hasbro’s decision to delay G.I. JOE puts film fans last

Gabriel Ruzin

by:
May 24th, 2012

Dwayne Johnson & Bruce Willis in GI JOE: REDEMPTION

Film crews, film studios, and film fans have a necessarily symbiotic relationship. In the process of making a successful movie, artists of varied description come together to create a product, the studios market and distribute said product, and the fans (who are hopefully sufficiently enticed to see it) go see the final result, delivering a huge stream of cash that makes the crews and studios feel that all of their hard work was worthwhile. This is the way of things.

But Hollywood is a strange enterprise. Although the above relationship is clear to even the greenest of industry followers, there is an unspoken rule that serves to protect the film trade's aura of artistry and creativity. And that rule is this: you're not really supposed to tell the public that you're making movies to make money. It doesn't matter that everybody knows, to varying degrees, that it really is about the money. As a film executive or spokesperson, it's not about the dollar signs. It's about breathtaking artistry, the excitement of scope, the incredible actors. Making hundreds of millions of dollars is historically treated as a happy side effect, at least in public; the deserving result of a job well done.

Turns out that the folks at Paramount Pictures and Hasbro lost their copy of the memo.

Yesterday's decision to push back the release date of G.I. JOE: RETALIATION from a looming June 29, 2012 to a distant March 29, 2013 has created shock waves across the summer blockbuster landscape, as rival studios scramble to assess what that means for their respective calendars. So why this unforeseen decision? Is there something wrong with the film? Have there been unanticipated problems with pick-ups or post-production? The film is good to go. They just decided, at the last minute, that it needs some fancy 3-D.

Hasbro addressed the issue in this recent press release:

"It is increasingly evident that 3D resonates with movie-goers globally and together with Paramount, we made the decision to bring fans an even more immersive entertainment experience," said Brian Goldner, Hasbro's President and CEO.

"In 2012, we continue to have several strong motion picture and television entertainment backed properties that are selling well at retail and our entertainment strategy remains strong and on-track," Goldner said. "Through our own Hasbro Studios for television and in partnership with several movie studios including Paramount, Universal, Sony and Relativity, we are creating entertainment experiences around many of our highly popular iconic brands. For the full year 2012, we continue to believe, absent the impact of foreign exchange, we will again grow revenues and earnings per share."

Far be it from me to be critical of a powerful company's CEO, but I doubt that I'm the only one who sees the irony in the above first paragraph's sincere-seeming focus on the entertainment consumer experience holding sway over all, while the very next paragraph switches to allaying stockholder fears that their money is in jeopardy. Reading a press release that is crafted in such a way makes me suspicious, especially considering that Hasbro's only other foray into Hollywood, BATTLESHIP, is currently enduring box office numbers that are sinking faster than its eponymous plastic game pieces.

According to Deadline, an anonymous Paramount exec was quoted (off the record) as saying that the studio is taking tips from TITANIC's huge 3-D re-release earlier this spring as a template for successful post-production conversions. Even more tellingly, a big reason for going forward with the conversion is its current massive popularity in the overseas markets. In other words, Paramount is all but giving up on G.I. JOE's North American market potential, because 3-D is where the money's at and 3-D money happens to be elsewhere these days. Fine. Business is business and that's all well and good. But this explanation raises as many questions as it answers.

If 3-D converting is the real reason for G.I. JOE's delay, then why wait until five weeks before its release to pull the trigger? The Hollywood Reporter published an amusing piece yesterday that contains a portion of a recent interview (conducted before the news of the delay) with director Jon Chu. In it, Chu admits to initially feeling a bit of confusion when asked to helm the GI JOE sequel. Why? Because as the director of recent films that heavily featured the use of 3-D, such as STEP UP 3-D and JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER, Chu assumed that he was pegged for the project because of his experience in 3-D filming. Turns out, though, that when Chu laid out the cost estimates for filming RETALIATION in 3-D, Paramount & Hasbro balked and ordered a regular 35mm print instead.

Whoops.

With that in mind, it's extremely difficult to look at yesterday's announcement as anything but the culmination of a series of extremely knee-jerk and wishy-washy decisions on the part of one or more highly placed executives. The movie is finished. Ready to ship. But the same executives (presumably) who first hired a director for his 3-D skills and then changed their minds and told him that 3-D was too expensive have now changed their minds again, practically grabbed the prints out of the back of the vans headed to the airport, and said "You know what? We need to 3-D this shiz now. And make it snappy!"

More disturbing is that there are other possibilities behind this announcement which make my above sarcasm look good by comparison - possibilities like Paramount staring 2012's competing summer blockbusters in the face and blinking in a huge and enormously embarrassing way. Disney/Pixar's next big animated feature BRAVE debuts on June 22, while THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comes out two weeks later on July 3. Rumors are flying that being book-ended by two powerhouses had Paramount executives on edge and that this figured in heavily with G.I. JOE's retreat.

Another whispered-about supposition is, of course, that the film just plain sucks. While attempting to allay concerns about G.I. JOE's pushback yesterday, Dwayne Johnson tweeted this:

You read that right. Question: why are new scenes needing to be shot if all that is being done to the film is a simple, albeit time-consuming, 3-D conversion? I mean that rhetorically, of course, as such a query would never be answered by anyone involved in a troubled production. If Mr. The Rock's tweet is accurate, and I have no reason to believe that it isn't, then the cast and crew are literally being called back to a wrapped production to film more scenes. Is it because the studio wants to quickly spice things up with some 3-D-able eye candy or is it because Paramount took one look at it the final print and panicked?

Either way, Paramount is in severely dire straits when it comes to this year's summer schedule. And by that I mean that Paramount, after its decision to delay G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, is left with zero summer films that could be considered "blockbusters" (over $100 million in production costs). Zero. For this studio, the dog days of summer have already begun, without a thing to show for it.

So where do the fans factor into all this? Well obviously, they suffer most, as everything tends to at the bottom of its particular food chain. 2009's G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA did moderately well, raking in just over $300 million on a $175 million budget. I didn't see it; not my particular cup of tea. But $300 million is still a huge chunk of change and it speaks of a fairly broad market that did see it, many of whom were undoubtedly looking forward to the sequel this summer. And now it's gone.

Gone because, if you take their word via the best case scenario, Paramount and Hasbro executives crunched the numbers and thought that GI JOE: RETALIATION wouldn't make enough money the old-fashioned way. Between mortification towards the final product, fear of potentially stronger competitors, or the overriding desire to vacuum in dollar bills, the company suits chose the money as their excuse.

Money. Somebody forgot to remind them you're not supposed to talk about that.

Source Hasbro New York Times Deadline THR

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