Did Fox tell a whopper about the pirated copy of 'Wolverine'?
20th Century Fox has already survived one PR nightmare, after discovering that someone had stolen a pirated workprint of its much-ballyhooed summer blockbuster "X Men Origins: Wolverine" and put it on the Internet a full month before it was scheduled to hit the theaters (May 1).
The studio managed to weather another embarrassment when a Fox News.com columnist, Roger Friedman, not only reviewed the pirated movie but boasted about how easy it was to download off the Web, prompting a nasty in-house tussle that resulted in Friedman's firing.
The studio has now been embroiled in a new nightmare: Even though Fox Co-Chairman Tom Rothman told Entertainment Weekly shortly after the film leaked that the pirated copy was substantially different from the actual movie, including being "about 10 minutes shorter," people who've now seen the finished film are saying it is -- gulp -- exactly the same length as the pirated copy.
As Aint It Cool News reported today: "Having seen the finished film, the mystery is solved: The workprint version IS in fact identical to the release print, sans effects and some audio work. It's obvious that FOX is trying their darndest to keep this news from getting out, because it will eliminate most of the motivation for people who have seen the workprint to pay for a ticket."
To add insult to injury, the AICN review says the film, while fun, has lackluster visual effects, along with a "non-existing story, horrible dialogue and criminally underdeveloped characters." Ouch!
Bloggers may not get their own facts right much of the time, but boy, are they hard on studios who dissemble to protect their big summer movies. Hilary Lewis at businessinsider.com calls the news about the movie's virtually identical running time a fresh scandal, saying, "Fox is in trouble. Now not only are all of the bad reviews of the workprint version justified, but the studio's been caught in a lie -- which weakens the trust audiences have in the studio and might lead to more people watching the pirated versions of Fox's films, including 'Wolverine.' "
I'm not sure the situation is really that dire. The bad buzz from the Internet could put a crimp in the film's opening weekend onslaught, but history has shown that most fans, especially devotees of visual effects films, want to see the movie on the big screen. Still, I can't say Fox has done a great job of combating this latest onslaught of bad news. After waiting for hours, I finally got a bland statement that doesn't address at all the issue of how Rothman could say roughly 10 minutes were missing when, in fact, the running time of the finished film -- 107 minutes, according to those who've seen it -- is the same running time as the pirated version.
All Fox said was that the pirated workprint "is substantially different than the release version. The pirated version had over 400 unfinished effects, dozens of unrefined scenes and no sound or score or color work done at all and is not remotely representative of the experience that moviegoers will have when the film is finally released theatrically."
Fox insiders also say theatergoers will get an "Easter egg" surprise at the end of the film, with the arrival of two versions of new narrative footage (i.e. not outtakes) that will push the storyline forward. Half of the prints around the country will have one version, half will have the other.
I'm eager to hear from "Wolverine" fans on this issue: Is this a tempest in a teapot? Or do you feel the studio has been playing fast and loose with the facts?
Photo of Hugh Jackman in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" by Michael Muller / 20th Century Fox