With a sudden legal victory last week, Fox will now attempt to get an injunction to delay the March 6, 2009 release of Watchmen. Warner is fighting the issue tooth and nail, as they defiantly issued the following statement:
"We respectfully but vigorously disagree with the court's ruling and are exploring all of our appellate options. We continue to believe that Fox's claims have no merit and that we will ultimately prevail, whether at trial or in the Court of Appeals."
While it is tempting to castigate Fox as this evil studio that wants to c-block the fans and prevent them from seeing this amazing-looking film because of their greed for the almighty dollar and such, it is important to keep in mind that these issues did not simply come up at the last second. This legal drama is the result of very old agreements that should have been very visible and acknowledged during the developmental stages of the film. There is plenty of blame to go around here.
Even if Warner believed that they were in the right, one must wonder why they did not address this any sooner. It is difficult to believe that they were not aware of the initial caveat of the 1994 turnaround deal which awarded Fox the distribution rights, and even if so, ignorance is not a legal excuse. In opting to allow the film to be completed, Warner may have unwittingly given Fox the edge in this battle, as they are now under pressure to get the film released as soon as possible to meet the set release date (one that was surely the result of extensive research) and also to avoid any potential spoiling of enthusiasm from fans due to the long legal drama.
On the other hand, if their concerns were genuine, Fox could have attempted to acquire this injunction to prevent the film from being made altogether. They instead waited until the film was nearly complete, perhaps influenced from the buzz that was being generated from the film, and decided to dig up some obscure clause to nab a piece of the pie. By making it known publically that they are seeking to delay the release of the film, Fox may just be utilizing the media to help them in what we can only hope at this point, is their goal of merely getting a chunk of the (potentially huge) profits after the film is released on March 6, 2009. Will the film get released? YES. That is no longer what is at issue here. The issue is that the iron is hot RIGHT NOW, and it can only be hot for so long. Fox would be foolish to not realize this important factor, especially since they clearly will have a stake in the film.
So perhaps there are no "good guys" or "bad guys" here. Regardless, the only people that stand to lose here, are the fans. Let us hope that despite what is being said, that both sides are equally anxious to get this out of the way and getting this film released in the proper time.
Watchmen Lawsuit Cliff Notes:
1986: Fox acquired the rights to the Watchmen comic series (better known later as a collected single graphic novel.)
1994: Watchmen was put into a turnaround agreement (where rights are sold to another studio) that placed the fate of those rights in the hands of producer Larry Gordon. However, the 1994 deal was complimented with a previous deal from 1991 which allegedly placed certain conditions on Gordon's retention of those rights. It is those "conditions" that is the crux of Fox's case, with which Warner obviously disagrees.
2005: Warner began to develop the film. After passing on the film themselves, Fox claims that the conditions of the 1991 agreement that modifies the 1994 turnaround deal with Gordon would have allowed Fox to maintain distribution rights as well as a share of the profits, should any major creative personnel changes occur (in this case, the hiring of director Zack Snyder.) Fox also maintained that they contacted Warner during the developmental period, while Warner claims it was unaware of the 1991 or 1994 deals. Director Zack Snyder himself, also claims that there was no one attempting to prevent him from completing the film.
2008: In February, Fox initiated a copyright infringement suit against Warner, who come August, would fail to get the case dismissed. The fate of the film remained in question until a Christmas Eve bombshell in which Judge Gary Allen Feess awarded distribution rights to Fox.