'Wolverine' pre-release ignites new piracy fears

Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 6:34pm

'X-Men Origins: Wolverine,' the latest X-Men movie starring Hugh Jackman, received buzz a month before it opened over news that an unfinished theatrical version of the film had been leaked online.

Ordinarily all the buzz and discussion about a film like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first projected blockbuster of the summer season that opens Friday, would cover such topics as weekend box office grosses and the eating binges star Hugh Jackman reportedly endured to increase his physical bulk for the role.

Instead, 20th Century Fox has spent the last month vigorously trying to discover how a "work print" version of the film was leaked and appeared online. Contrary to some reports, this was not a finished theatrical version. Instead, it was a roughly three-quarters version minus some special effects and director's reshoots. But it contained more than enough footage to convey a reasonable facsimile of what will ultimately be shown in theaters.

This happened on April 1, and the studio has been in panic mode ever since. They've done everything from call in the FBI (who are still investigating) to forcing the firing of longtime Fox News gossip columnist Roger Friedman. Friedman downloaded the work print and gave the movie a rave review. His decade-plus positive track record with Fox News didn't prevent his termination, as 20th Century Fox angrily deemed him just as guilty as those who originally leaked the print.

The studio's anger and fear about possible leaks has also probably caused it to restrict pre-screenings, though bigger publications and organizations such as Variety, USA Today and Entertainment Weekly have posted reviews prior to the Friday opening.

The piracy backdrop only adds more spice to a film that already has plenty of question marks. One concerns South African director Gavin Hood, who did win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2005 for Tsotsi. But reportedly there were many problems during the four-month shoot that occurred mainly in Australia and New Zealand, especially with special effects. Supposedly veteran director Richard Donner was brought in at one point to assist Hood and ensure that the movie would be ready in time.

Another concerns the balancing of thematic elements. X-Men Origins: Wolverine takes its audience back to the '70s, exploring not only the background behind how and why the character was created, but his rivalry with his brother Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and the impact of his girlfriend's death (Lynn Collins) on his personality. Ryan Reynolds, Danny Huston, and Will i.am. are others in the cast, with David Benioff and Skip Woods serving as screenwriters.

Jackman's become so identified with Wolverine it is easy to forget he was not the original choice to play him. He got the role only after Dougray Scott was unable to free himself from Mission: Impossible 2 commitments. Now, as he portrays Wolverine for a fourth time, Jackman is not only the film's star but one of its producers with both a creative and fiscal stake in its success. Jackman talked about his goals and concerns in an April 30 interview that ran online in the London Telegraph.

"As a producer I feel much more responsible for how this movie is received," Jackman said. "This is how I saw the Wolverine character and I wasn't being quiet or shy about saying I wanted to make this movie. So if it fails, I can't lay the blame on anybody else."