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Weinstein Co.'s "Escape From Planet Earth" breaking out later than expected

July 3, 2009 |  5:00 am

Add "Escape From Planet Earth" to The Weinstein Co.'s growing list of headaches.

The computer-animated 3-D stereoscopic movie, which was announced in 2006, has been beset with script problems and won't be ready for release until January 2011, at the earliest. The story about a group of aliens plotting to escape from Area 51, the secret Nevada location famous for visiting non-earthling tourists, "Escape" was previously targeted for a 2010 release.

WEINSTEIN While the studio has had some recent critical success with "The Reader," which took home an Oscar for lead actress for Kate Winslet, the company's annual output of releases has been minimal. "Escape From Planet Earth" is the latest Weinstein Co. film that has been delayed for various reasons, including most recently "All Good Things." Other Weinstein Co. films that have had their release dates pushed back over the last 18 months include "Youth in Revolt," "The Road," "Shanghai" and "Piranha 3D."

Last month, the studio headed by brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein retained financial consulting firm Miller Buckfire & Co. to restructure its debt and raise funds.

In the case of "Escape From Planet Earth," the problems are creative. Production, which is not expected to resume until August or early fall, was halted because of script issues, said several people involved in the production. The film is being written by Tony Leech and Cory Edwards, the writing team behind  "Hoodwinked!," The Weinstein Co.'s 2006 hit release that took in $110 million worldwide. Leech is also directing the movie.

But Leech has not been satisfied with his script and has worked through several rewrites. Most of the movie's 150 animators were sent packing from the Vancouver production facility until the creative issues could be resolved.

The delays are already taking a financial toll on Rainmaker Entertainment Inc., the Canadian-based animation company behind "Escape From Planet Earth." One of the largest producers of CG animation, Rainmaker attributed its 31% decline in animation revenues in the first quarter of this year to the production delays on "Escape From Planet Earth."

"The production schedule is being sorted out," said Warren Franklin, Rainmaker's chief executive officer in an interview. He said the delays due to the reworked story are "very normal for an animated film" and that the film is "gearing up" for a 2011 release during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Although the film is behind schedule and actors have not yet been cast to provide voices, several people involved in the production contend the delays will not jack up the cost of the movie. The Weinstein Co., according to two people close to the production, has already invested close to $20 million into "Escape From Planet Earth" and is not expected to dig deeper into its wallet to finish the project. The Weinstein Co. declined to discuss specific details regarding the financing of the the film.  

In a statement, Tom Ortenberg, president of theatrical films for The Weinstein Co., said the movie is on budget and added that "to have had an independent, animated feature like 'Escape From Planet Earth' ready for a 2010 release was very ambitious."

-- Joe Flint and Richard Verrier

Photo: Harvey Weinstein. Credit: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images.