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The Hugh Jackman cat is out of the bag, as a workprint of X-Men Origins: Wolverine dated March 2nd (the film’s release date is currently scheduled for May 1st.) is now roaming the Internet. The copy is being called “DVD quality,” because it’s clearly a straight digital transfer with no visible watermarks or timecode. But I’d say it’s a stretch to call something DVD quality when you can see the wire work and much of special effects are missing (though the New Zealand locations are stunning as usual).
Twentieth Century Fox has already armed and fired the propaganda cannon in response, but will this really affect the market?
It’s certainly a neat look behind the curtain at how a summer blockbuster is put together. While reports on message boards claim there are no scenes missing, there were reshoots just a few months ago that likely just haven’t made the cut yet. And in the wake of this release I wouldn’t be surprised if the storyline was edited further.
There is a basic problem, however, with suggestions that the leak will hurt box-office business. Films don’t really make most of their money in ticket sales any more — DVD sales are where it’s at. Would studios accuse theaters doing banner business of hurting the DVD market? No. And the second the DVD is out, it will be all over the Internet anyway. Will it still sell millions of DVDs, leak or no leak, boffo B.O. or no boffo B.O.? Yes.
The other problem with these assumptions is that commenters on Mininova and other torrent distribution sites almost unanimously say they’ll be going to see the movie in theaters. Since, after all, most potential fans aren’t slavering to see Hugh Jackman’s finely textured performance as an actor. If they wanted to see a middle-aged Australian prancing about without any bloody stabbing or explosions, they would have bought tickets for The Boy from Oz.
The highlight of the day comes from comments made to Deadline Hollywood Daily by unnamed studio officials: “Twentieth Century Fox claims it’s an old rough cut without FX, music, etc — and may contain an April Fool’s virus,” writes DHD reporter Nikke Finke.
While a few malefactors might try to capitalize on the opportunity to post fake files that are virus-laden, the file-sharing community is usually pretty quick to sniff these out, and certainly the Xvid-encoded versions that are racking up tens of thousands of downloads within 12 hours of release can’t spawn any viruses or malware.
Rather than representing the modern threat of the Internet to existing business models, the leak simply represents the expansion of the movie business fueled by digital technology. Where once only Angelenos in the biz had access to early leaks, with the occassional New Yorker seeing a third-generation videocasette dub, now it’s worldwide. In this case, the workprint is from Australian company that’s involved in an American film shot in New Zealand and Canada. You can’t have that digitally enabled globalization cake and not have to eat it once in a while, too.
If Hollywood is serious about stopping these sorts of leaks, it should stop complaining about the Internet and give employees and subcontractors stakes in the profits. After all, post-production crew working long hours and earning day rates could really care less if a movie does well in the market. And trust me, this one will still make plenty of money.