Yesterday’s announcement that Paramount are delaying the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation until March next year has caused many to speculate the film must be terrible. I argue that this isn’t necessarily the case.
Delaying a film is always a risky proposition for filmmakers and distributors. Release dates are set up for some films years in advance, and while these are liable to be shifted a few weeks, once the marketing starts coming out for them, it gets harder and harder to blink and push them back. The news that with only around a month to go, Paramount were rescheduling the latest G.I. Joe film for March of next year caused a bit of a shit-storm on Twitter last night and the reaction I saw coming from most people was “Well, it’s obviously terrible then” or some such things. The official explanation for the delay is so 3D post-conversion work can be done to the film, in an effort to make more money internationally, an excuse few seem to believe. I also have my suspicions about that, but here are my thoughts as to why this doesn’t have to mean the film itself is bad, at least on the evidence we have to go on so far.
1. If a film is made for a specific date, it’s often terrible. If a film misses that date… it’s also terrible?
While bored at work of late I’ve been reading Tom Shone’s fantastic Blockbuster, a self-declared answer back to Peter Biskind’s assertion in Easy Riders Raging Bulls that the blockbuster basically killed good filmmaking in America. In this he looks at the various factors which can affect a blockbuster’s production and marketing, and one thing which rears its head multiple times is the idea of a film having to make a release date. Dates are staked out no matter if a screenplay has been written or not, often leading some films to shoot whilst essentially being made up on the spot; recent examples of this include Iron Man 2 and the middle two installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
The reason I bring this up is that I find it genuinely funny that now this film is not going to make its release date, that this somehow infers to the Twitter-verse that the film is shit. In 99% of case,s blockbusters come out whether they’re good or not and in some cases whether they’re even finished or not. Indeed NO-ONE could have looked at The Mummy Returns on the day it came out and proclaimed that the infamous The Rock-based CG climax looked even anything like ready for the public. There’s every chance that G.I. Joe: Retaliation will be terrible, but this article is not a defence of the film specifically. That said, I will tell you one thing: If I’m offered the choice of a film being pushed back or released with major issues of its construction and subsequent quality, or the “Men In Black 2 Syndrome” as I’d like to christen it, I know which one I’m going to take.
2. Paramount have form in this, and an unexpected example it is…
A few years back, Martin Scorsese had his latest film ready. Following up his Oscar winner The Departed, he was taking one of his stars of that film, adapting a famous novel and was releasing his first straight-up horror/thriller in October, a time of the year where this stuff would have been eaten up. When Paramount then announced a delay, was there a question of quality? No. Were people disappointed? Yes. And what was the reason for this? A small thing really… Paramount didn’t have the available funds to market the thing! Pushing back to early in 2010 allowed Paramount to use funds from a different time of year on the film, and they gave it an extensive campaign as a result.
Again, I’m not saying this is the case with G.I. Joe. Paramount were open as to the reasons in that case, but what I would venture is that this is a studio which, when they play chicken, they’re in the car which hasn’t gone off the bridge into the icy depths. For me, there’s a sense that – shock, horror! – maybe they are thinking about the long-term good of the film. Just maybe they are taking the short-term flack on a move which is pretty unheard of for a summer release, at least this close to release, so that they can achieve long-term gains. And this leads me into my final point…
3. Maybe they’re telling the truth!
It’s easy to be cynical in this day and age. The studios who provide us with both entertainment and fuel for all the discussions we conduct on a daily basis have been known to massage truth. “Creative differences” is of course one of the most famous examples of this, a catch-all term which says nothing but implies everything. The idea of delaying a film for a post-conversion is certainly not unheard of. In 2009, MGM wanted to do so with The Cabin in the Woods but due to the small matter of going bankrupt, they weren’t able to do so and the film was of course only released recently.
In their press release, Paramount pointed to the fact that 3D films still make huge bank internationally and this is certainly the case. The fact the blogosphere hates 3D in general means sod all when it comes to the general public’s appetite. While the comparison to Titanic in the release is a little rich, it’s worth bearing in mind that this could purely be a business decision. With participation in Avengers profits, as well as The Dictator and Madagascar 3 this summer, Paramount have their plate loaded. By moving G.I. Joe to March, it gives them a BIG film in a fairly quiet month to make some cash, and also allows them time to add 3D. This summer is very crowded, and things could go wrong for many films. This could have been the case with Joe, so moving to a less competitive date with additional 3D surcharges is something which might cause people to question the film’s quality right now, but may ultimately see Paramount laughing all the way to the bank.