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Costly ‘Titanic’ May Miss July 4 Theater Port Call

Bernard Weinraub New York Times

The likelihood that “Titanic,” the costliest film ever made, will delay its opening, previously set for the July 4 weekend, is sending ripples across Hollywood and turning the summer season into turmoil.

Hollywood is on a binge of producing big-budget movies: At least 15 films whose costs, with marketing, reach more than $100 million each will be released over 10 weeks this summer. So the anticipated decision to postpone the opening of “Titanic,” largely because of complicated computer-generated effects, has set off, essentially, a chain reaction across Hollywood.

Whenever the $180 million “Titanic” eventually opens - it could be later in July or at Thanksgiving - the move will alter the release dates of other megabudget movies and leave studio executives scrambling in what has emerged as the most expensive summer ever.

At stake is not just the success or failure of a film or two, but the jobs of some top movie executives if some big films flop.

“The concern is pure economics,” said Peter Chernin, president of the News Corp., which owns 20th Century Fox. “Too many movies are opening in a short period of time. There’s never been a marketplace in the history of the movie business to support all these big movies. Every studio is terrified.”

Larry Gerbrandt, a senior analyst with Paul Kagan Associates, a research and consulting concern, put it more bluntly.

“There’s going to be blood on the floor,” he said.

The decision to delay “Titanic” by Paramount and 20th Century Fox, which are jointly financing the James Cameron movie, probably will be made over the next few days. Paramount will release the film, about the ill-fated luxury liner, in the United States, and Fox will distribute it abroad. Privately, executives at both studios said the movie would be delayed.

Robert G. Friedman, vice chairman of the Paramount Motion Picture Group, said Sunday: “I’m in discussions with Jim on his post-production schedule. Once we have determined when he can deliver the film, we will confirm our release date.”

Rumors had been proliferating for more than a week about the problems facing “Titanic,” which had been set to open on July 2, the start of one of the biggest moviegoing weekends of the year. Daily Variety began running a “Titanic Watch.”

At issue was the completion of the special effects for the film, for which a five-story copy of the ill-fated luxury liner had been built and as many as 1,000 extras and a crew of more than 800, which is probably a record number, had been working virtually around the clock.

Cameron, a 43-year-old Canadian, has a reputation as a brilliant and difficult filmmaker. He has directed such successes as “The Terminator,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Aliens.” He was less successful with “The Abyss.”

His latest film, “True Lies,” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, grossed $146 million.

Initially budgeted at $110 million, the cost of “Titanic” has soared to at least $180 million, and possibly $200 million. Costs reportedly are still rising. Marketing will add $25 million to the bill. To recoup the investment, the film will have to rival some of the biggest moneymakers of all time, like “Jurassic Park,” which grossed $360 million in the United States.

Whatever decision is made about delaying “Titanic,” executives at every large studio were weighing their next moves about the release of their summer films. A move by “Titanic” - any move - would set off a number of dominoes.

“It will rearrange the schedule,” said William Mechanic, president of Fox Filmed Entertainment.

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