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Will Legal Wrangling Delay The Release Of WATCHMEN?

Beaks here... No longer content to run their own comic book properties into the ground, 20th Century Fox is now out to destroy geek-friendly projects at other studios. And if you think I'm going to give you my unscholarly opinion on the Fox/WB dust-up over Who Controls The WATCHMEN... This isn't my bailiwick, so there'll be no Star Jones act (don't need no Dwyane Wade up on me); I will, however, reiterate that, no matter how dire the situation looks (per the filing - which, at 112 pages, is probably longer than the shooting script for X-MEN: THE LAST STAND), you will have your WATCHMEN on March 6, 2009. Fox may be able to get away with mugging a rival studio for eight figures, but they're not going to actively impede the rollout of a $100 million-plus motion picture. Though Rupert Murdoch and his garbage-greenlighting toady Tom Rothman are certainly a pair of ruthless operators, knocking a potential blockbuster off the spring release schedule would be bad, bad, bad for the movie business in general (e.g. I can't imagine the exhibitors, who've been cycling through tepidly performing Fox releases all year, would be terribly pleased). The question right now is whether Fox will settle for a lump sum buyout or a percentage of the gross. My guess is that they'll gladly take the former - and I'm quite sure they've already a number in mind. $10 million? Too low. $50 million? Too high. $25 million? If David Poland's numbers make sense, The House of Rothman should be happy with that haul - especially since there's no guarantee that WATCHMEN will catch on with rank-and-file moviegoers. (I might've been one of those dipshits who lowballed THE DARK KNIGHT's domestic take, but there was still no doubt it would make more than BATMAN BEGINS. WATCHMEN isn't a franchise; it's a standalone gamble. And an R-rated one at that. There's no telling at the moment if it'll bomb or hit.) If you're looking for wild speculation, Defamer's Stu VanAirsdale is thinkin' that the move of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE to July '09 was actually a shrewd countermeasure: since WB might recoup zilch on WATCHMEN and very little on TERMINATOR SALVATION (which they're only distributing domestically), why not use the boy wizard to offset potential losses next year? It's not like '08 isn't already a raging success based on THE DARK KNIGHT's returns alone. Sure, SPEED RACER was a costly misfire, but GET SMART, SEX & THE CITY (via New Line) and FOOL'S GOLD are either massive to modest hits. Factor in BODY OF LIES and the Vince Vaughn/Reese Witherspoon vehicle FOUR CHRISTMASES, and it should be a reasonably profitable fall for WB. That said, I wouldn't want to be working for WB Legal at the moment. Don't forget that a similar slip-up forced the studio to cough up $17.5 million on THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. For those of you who enjoy playing dime-store attorney, here's the Summary of Action from Fox's filing...
Plaintiff Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation ("Fox" or "Plaintiff") brings this action to enforce Fox's exclusive copyright and contract rights in a motion picture property entitled "The Watchmen," including Fox's exclusive rights to produce and develop the picture and to distribute the work throughout the world. Fox acquired rights to The Watchmen property over the period of 1986 to 1990 under a series of contracts and agreements whereby Fox at substantial expense obtained the rights from the creators and authors of the original works. As detailed herein, defendant Warner Bros. Pictures ("WBP") is now proceeding to produce, develop and enter into distribution arrangements for a motion picture based on The Watchmen notwithstanding WBP's actual notice of Fox's rights in the work, and notwithstanding WBP's express contractual obligations to honor Fox's rights in The Watchmen. Fox seeks injunctive relief to restrain WBP from taking actions that violate Fox's copyrights and which stand to forever impair Fox's rights to control the distribution and development of this unique work. Fox also seeks damages to compensate Fox for losses incurred as a result of WBP's breach of obligations owed to Fox, and for a declaration of rights, including Fox's distribution rights, changed elements protection and other rights that WBP refuses to honor despite Fox's demand therefore.
Here's a salient excerpt from the Factual Allegations...
a) [Largo International, N.V.] agreed to pay Fox a substantial purchase price, plus interest and other charges, all as detailed more fully in the 1991 Quitclaim ("Purchase Price"); b) Fox was granted distribution rights to the first motion picture produced based on The Watchmen. LINV agreed that The Watchmen would be produced by LINV and distributed by Fox as a Subject Picture pursuant to the terms of the Largo Agreement for the time periods, territories and media set forth in the Largo Agreement (detailed more fully below) ("Distribution Rights"); c) LINV agreed to pay Fox a profit participation equal to 2.5% of 100% of the worldwide net proceeds of the picture and any subsequent motion picture based in whole or in part on The Watchmen, all as detailed more fully in the 1991 Quitclaim ("Profit Participation").
And here's the master list of quitclaimed projects from the Fox-Largo era...
Projects Quitclaimed To Largo "My Illegal Alien" "Watchmen" Projects Controlled by Fox for Potential Turnaround or Quitclaim to Largo "Above and Beyond" "Admission Impossible" "AKA" "Alien Cop" "Angel Pangs" "Baby Blue Eyes (Flamingo)" "Cop in the Old West" "The Gossip Columnist" "House Guests" "The Mick" "My New Partner" "Showdown" "Tidings" "Very Old Money" "A Year and a Day"
There are some real winners in there. Imagine the pitch meetings...

"Jim, I know you've got a lot on your plate, so I'm going to make this brief. Two words: 'Angel Pangs'." "Mike, you better clear your schedule for the rest of the afternoon, 'cuz I'm gonna blow you 'til Brokaw!"

I wonder what COP IN THE OLD WEST was about. Strange and sad that this saga began with the failed late-'80s development of WATCHMEN by Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown and Sam Hamm. Such cautiously hopeful days. If there are any updates, we'll try to be a little more timely with 'em.

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