The 'Watchmen' war: Fanboys furious with Fox | EW.com

Movies | Inside Movies

The 'Watchmen' war: Fanboys furious with Fox

Watchmen_l

Watchmen_lTwentieth Century Fox’s war with Warner Bros. over rights to Watchmen has sparked fan outrage across the Web following a published report that Fox is seeking to prevent Zack Snyder’s $100 million-plus comic book adaptation from ever being released, a report that most reasonable people and several informed sources believe just isn’t accurate. Those familiar with the situation tell EW.com that despite the legal mess over rights, Fox isn’t actually interested in suppressing Snyder’s film — they just want affirmation of ownership and/or restitution, and there are many scenarios by which Fox could get paid, including a cash settlement or distribution rights to the film. Either way, look for Watchmen to be released, as scheduled, on March 6, 2009.

Caught in the crossfire of murky legal vollies and overheated online venting: some of Fox’s biggest upcoming films, including a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, starring Keanu Reeves, and 2009’s other hotly anticipated superhero flick, Fox’s own X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman and slated for a May 1, 2009 release. In the wake of a report in Tuesday’s Daily Variety asserting that “Fox … would rather see [Watchmen] killed instead of collecting a percentage at the box office,” comic books fans hit the boards at EW.com and deadlinehollywood.com vowing to punish Fox for denying them the chance to see Snyder’s long-awaited movie by boycotting various Fox films. Over at comics2film.com, Watchmen fans also blustered about a ban and even floated the idea of damaging Wolverine in particular via piracy — presumably, by making a crappy cam recording of the film and posting it somewhere on the Internet for illegal download.

It’s hard to imagine a boycott or a digital pirate attack could significantly skewer Wolverine’s prospective box office, even if they did actually come to pass. Fanboys are pretty amped for Jackman’s franchise bid — the trailer Fox showed at Comic-Con killed — and a vast majority of geeks probably shy away from doing anything that will rile up a small army of Fox lawyers armed with court orders. Still, Fox is counting on those fanboys’ dollars to make Wolverine profitable, and alienating them risks creating bad PR. Should this boycott blather intensify throughout the fall, it will no doubt put Jackman in the unenviable position of fielding questions about the controversy during the tubthumping to come for his big Oscar-baiting epic, Australia, also a Fox production. (Needless to say, such drama would also create more awareness for Watchmen.)

Asked for a response to the fan uproar, a Fox spokesman said in a statement: “Of course we are concerned about the fans; however, any disappointment from the core fans should not be directed toward Fox. What we are doing is seeking to enforce our distribution rights to Watchmen. Legal copyright ownership should not just be swept under the rug and ignored.”

One question many observers have had about this situation is the timing of the lawsuit. Fox filed its complaint back in February — just as Snyder was wrapping production on Watchmen. The assumption many are making is that Fox stood by and did nothing as Warner Bros. actively and publicly developed and produced a movie it had no right to make, and then, at a maximum moment of leverage, sandbagged its rival with a lawsuit. And yet, according to a Fox source, studio lawyers contacted Warner Bros. about the distribution rights issue several times prior to the start of production but were rebuffed.

All of this would seem to suggest that Warner Bros. either massively screwed up or is pretty darn certain that Fox is grossly mistaken. In a statement issued to the press on Tuesday, a Warner Bros. spokesman said: “We respectfully disagree with Fox’s position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project.” But the studio also made the claim that the judge in the case, Judge Gary Allen Fees, “did not opine at all on the merits, other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pleading requirements.” This is technically true. But the tenor of Fees’ edict does sound rather leading. For example: “It is particularly noteworthy that nothing on the face of the complaint or the documents supplied to the Court establishes that [Watchmen producer Larry] Gordon, the claimed source of Warner Brothers’ interest in Watchmen, ever acquired any rights in Watchmen.”

At the very least, the judge’s order seems to put Warner Bros. and Gordon in the position of producing proof that clearly shows that Fox is wrong, or confuses the situation so much that the judge will have no choice but to throw them into a slime pit and let them slug this thing out. (If you want to examine the legalese yourself, check it out here.) Regardless, the two most likely outcomes are: 1. Warner Bros. wins. 2. Warner Bros. offers Fox a big fat settlement and Fox takes it. They could certainly use the bump after a weak summer season in which none of its films crossed the $100 million threshold.

Asked for a response to the fan uproar, a Fox spokesman said in a statement: “Of course we are concerned about the fans; however, any disappointment from the core fans should not be directed toward Fox. What we are doing is seeking to enforce our distribution rights to Watchmen. Legal copyright ownership should not just be swept under the rug and ignored.”

One question many observers have had about this situation is the timing of the lawsuit. Fox filed its complaint back in February — just as Snyder was wrapping production on Watchmen. The assumption many are making is that Fox stood by and did nothing as Warner Bros. actively and publicly developed and produced a movie it had no right to make, and then, at a maximum moment of leverage, sandbagged its rival with a lawsuit. And yet, according to a Fox source, studio lawyers contacted Warner Bros. about the distribution rights issue several times prior to the start of production but were rebuffed.

All of this would seem to suggest that Warner Bros. either massively screwed up or is pretty darn certain that Fox is grossly mistaken. In a statement issued to the press on Tuesday, a Warner Bros. spokesman said: “We respectfully disagree with Fox’s position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project.” But the studio also made the claim that the judge in the case, Judge Gary Allen Fees, “did not opine at all on the merits, other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pleading requirements.” This is technically true. But the tenor of Fees’ edict does sound rather leading. For example: “It is particularly noteworthy that nothing on the face of the complaint or the documents supplied to the Court establishes that [Watchmen producer Larry] Gordon, the claimed source of Warner Brothers’ interest in Watchmen, ever acquired any rights in Watchmen.”

At the very least, the judge’s order seems to put Warner Bros. and Gordon in the position of producing proof that clearly shows that Fox is wrong, or confuses the situation so much that the judge will have no choice but to throw them into a slime pit and let them slug this thing out. (If you want to examine the legalese yourself, check it out here.) Regardless, the two most likely outcomes are: 1. Warner Bros. wins. 2. Warner Bros. offers Fox a big fat settlement and Fox takes it. They could certainly use the bump after a weak summer season in which none of its films crossed the $100 million threshold.

More from Our Partners