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For Fox, the unthinkable has just happened: Their big summer tentpole, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, has been leaked online one month before the film’s theatrical debut on May 1st. Reviews are popping up everywhere and you won’t find links to them here, nor will you find one on this site. Information gleaned from those reviews though, indicates that what people are downloading is not some grainy, cell phone footage but the entire film in near DVD quality.
It seems likely that what pirates have gotten their hands on is a workprint and speculation is that this isn’t actually the final cut of the film and may even be a very old version of the film put together before director Gavin Hood brought everyone back for a round of reshoots. It’s not the movie you’ll see in theaters, so honestly you should probably have no interest in those reviews, let alone any interest in watching it.
If there’s ever been a bigger, earlier release of a major Hollywood film I can’t think of it. In fact it’s been awhile actually since there’s been a piracy leak even approaching this magnitude. Fox is no doubt already doing everything they can to stem the tide but once something is on the internet, it’s out there. I say who cares.
I’ve never believed that piracy has any real impact on box office receipts. If it damages anything, it’s only DVD sales that will be affected. Just because you have the MP3 doesn’t mean you don’t go to the concert. Moviegoing is an experience, it’s somewhere to go, something to do, and in a lot of smaller towns it’s the only place to go, the only thing to do on the weekends. Theatrical box office receipts aren’t affected by piracy any more than they’re affected by television, and if you’re over 60 maybe you remember when Hollywood freaked the hell out over that.
If Wolverine tanks, it won’t be because a few desperate downloaders managed to cram an alternate version of the movie onto their computers a month early. It’ll be because of all the bad buzz surrounding the project or the residual audience loathing leftover from the stench of X-Men 3. It won’t be because of piracy, no matter how ridiculously early this leak is. Real movie lovers don’t choose downloaded movies over big picture big sound any more than music lovers choose iPods over cramming into concert halls with fellow fans.
For me the real question is how did this get out there in the first place? Was it some disgruntled production assistant? A covert operation carried out by the Pirate Bay? Or are some of those rumors of trouble on the Wolverine set true? If this really is a version of the film from before director Gavin Hood was forced into reshoots by the studio, you have to wonder whether it might be Hood himself who leaked the print online. If the quality really is as good as everyone says, it’s hard not to wonder if the thing might not have come from a source pretty high up the food chain. Hood wouldn’t be the first director to do something like this. Michael Moore for instance, is believed to have leaked crystal clear prints of Sicko online for anyone who wanted to see it. For Hood’s sake, it’s probably better if we never know.