why no ‘Harry Potter’ this fall?

By now you’ve probably heard that Warner Bros. has pushed the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince back from this coming November to July 2009. The reason (as noted at Film.com) has to do with the writers’ strike, according to Warner Bros. CEO Alan Horn:

Our reasons for shifting Half-Blood Prince to summer are twofold: we know the summer season is an ideal window for a family tent pole release, as proven by the success of our last Harry Potter film. Additionally, like every other studio, we are still feeling the repercussions of the writers’ strike, which impacted the readiness of scripts for other films – changing the competitive landscape for 2009.

I think we can pretty much eliminate the first excuse: if Warner Bros. had thought that Summer 2009 was the best time to release Half-Blood Prince, that would have been the original release date. Indeed, a quick look at how the previous Harry Potter films performed at the box office suggests that November would have been a better time to release the film, or, at least, that November is no worse than summer.

But while Half-Blood Prince was not itself impacted by the writers’ strike — indeed, the film is reportedly already completed — Warner Bros. did lose two other potential Summer 2009 tent poles because of the strike: the Justice League movie and a Superman Returns sequel. (In case you’re not already aware of the term, a studio’s “tent pole” is the major release of the season — either Christmas or summer — that is expected to be a blockbuster, and around which it can hang its other releases, so to speak. It’s the movie a studio quite literally banks on to support its other films, and itself.) So while Warner Bros. is now leaving itself without a Christmas 2008 tent pole, it can probably afford to do that, after the extraordinary and surely unexpected level of success of The Dark Knight.

There’s been some suggestion that Warner Bros. decided that it did not want to release the film at the same time that Daniel Radcliffe is performing nude on Broadway in Equus (which starts previews in September), but that seems unlikely — Radcliffe’s Broadway debut was announced early this year, after the play had already been running in the West End, so that could hardly have surprised the studio. Although perhaps Radcliffe’s tastefully nude photo promoting the show in September’s Vogue, which did just hit newsstands, served as something of a wakeup call…

The most preposterous aspect of this situation has been the reaction of the fans. I’m disappointed too, but it seems a bit extreme to wish actual harm on anyone because of this, as one signer of the pointless online petition to Warner Bros. did:

Fu¢k you to hell for postponing this, I will never forgive you for your actions. I hope that God kills all of your family members in a slow, painful fashion. Yes, that means you Alan Horn.

Jesus. A more typical reaction is along the line of the one pointed out at a blog at the New Zealand Herald:

[O]ne incensed fan wrote in a letter to the LA Times: “This is ridiculous and I assure you that the millions of Harry Potter fans who have been looking forward to this release will not stand for it.”

Hmm. In what way will the fans “not stand for it”? By refusing to see the movie whenever it does get released? That seems unlikely.

And then there’s this deluded fan, who commented at Wired’s Underwire to a post about the nonreponse response from Warner Bros. to the fans’ ire:

I think it’s a great thing that The Half-Blood Prince isn’t being released in November 2008. Sure, the suspense is killing me. Yes, I wasn’t too happy at first that Alan is delaying it’s release until July. But let’s face it; the fifth movie wasn’t all that great. It put more focus on small things going on in the book rather than the important details Rowling intended. I for one am glad that Alan is waiting to release this movie, I’m sure that the eight extra months will help cover everything that happened in the 6th book.

Oh, honey: The movie is finished. It’s done. It’s not like the director got an extension on his book report and now has time to do it right even though he left it till the last minute. He’s already turned it in to the teacher.

Quick prediction: This will be the first major studio film to be pirated in a big way long before that new release date in July 2009. In fact, it almost seems like a perfect-storm kind of situation: a long-since-finished film colliding with long-frustrated fan desire to see it. In fact some more, if I were a conspiracy-minded kind of gal, I might almost suspect that the entire situation was engineered so that the studios could implement some sort of tough new antipiracy measures. You know, a Reichstag fire for copyright facists.

But that’d be crazy, right?

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