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UPDATE, 10:36 AM: Sony and 20th Century Fox have found their February date: Monuments Men will be released February 7, 2014, we’ve learned. That date jibes what with George Clooney told us exclusively yesterday. It also means MGM and Sony’s RoboCop will move five days to open on Wednesday, February 12, ahead of the four-day President’s Day weekend that this year includes Valentine’s Day on that Friday. As part of the release plan rethink, Sony also is moving Sony and Annapurna Pictures’ American Hustle up a week — the film will now open wide December 18 after opening in limited release December 13.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, WEDNESDAY AM: Last night, Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox moved the George Clooney-directed Monuments Men from December 18 to early next year. It took less than an hour for Internet wonks to look for signs of trouble, even though Clooney said he simply couldn’t complete the visual effects and music in time to make the date. Rather than watch a repeat of what his pal Brad Pitt went through when people were inscribing World War Z headstones before anybody saw that film, Clooney asked for the opportunity to explain on Deadline. Who says no to George Clooney?
He was troubled enough to call from the Abbey Road Studios in London after reading a ridiculous “exclusive” Sharon Waxman splash on TheWrap that claimed Clooney had confided that his struggles were over tone. “I was talking awhile ago about Gravity, she says, ‘How’s it going on Monuments Men‘ and I say, ‘It’s a tricky tone,’ and she writes this piece that the movie is in trouble over tone. She doesn’t call me, and it’s absolutely ridiculous and false.”
What it sounds like to me is the same situation that Martin Scorsese went through with Paramount when they could not get Shutter Island ready before year end and moved the film to a February 19, 2010, berth. It too moved out of the Oscar corridor, but like Monuments Men, it wasn’t viewed by the studio as an Oscar entry as much as for being a crowd-pleasing potential blockbuster. All alone in the marketplace, Shutter Island grossed $128 million domestic and $295 million worldwide.
“The straight-up facts are these,” Clooney told me. “We had a really good test last week, scoring in the mid 80s, in Arizona. And when we were on the plane coming back with Jeff Blake, Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton, they said look, let’s be honest. There are lots better times to bring this movie out than December 18. How about November 22? Can you do it? Now, today is our first day at the scoring stages at Abbey Road. Then they call and ask, how about the 15th of November? We like to pull stuff off, and we said, let’s see what we can do. That was two days ago.”
Clooney then consulted the guys who are providing the effects, and got a dose of reality. “We had a meeting with all the effects guys for our CGI stuff, and, we’re just not going to get there in time,” he said. “Then we looked at the date we had, December 18. I don’t know how many movies are opening, but it’s got to be the toughest December in recent memory for box office. We said, where’s another good place to land? And we looked at February and the Shutter Island slot.”
Related: Hot Trailer: ‘The Monuments Men’
Coverage was inevitable because the film exited the Oscar corridor, but Clooney denied that was the film’s priority. “When we started this movie, we said all along this was something we wanted to do in the tradition of The Guns Of Navarone and The Great Escape,” Clooney said. “That’s what we wanted all along and we took the date because we’d had so much luck on it with Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Twelve. We wanted it to play through the holidays. Last night we had a nice meeting and said, let’s be honest. We’re not going to get our effects done in time. As hard as we’re working, the truth of the matter is, we only started principal photography on this in March. So the idea we’d have all the effects ready was a stretch anyway. And we didn’t make it. It’s that simple. It’s certainly not about tone of the film, because it’s testing through the roof. We said, let’s just find a spot where the movie can find an actual audience instead of fighting with 22 other films in December.”
There is another good reason for swapping dates. As soon as he finishes Monuments Men, Clooney said he will be shooting the Brad Bird-directed Disney film Tomorrowland until mid-January. “I wasn’t going to be able to do much publicity for Monuments Men, which certainly factored into us saying, why are we running like crazy to get this out for a Christmas release, when that has become all about chasing Oscars?
“We’ve been very clear that we’re trying to make our first un-cynical film, a commercial movie,” he said. “You can tell by the cast we put together that it’s going to have light tones to it. We never thought that chasing Oscars was our play, we said it from the first interview. This is a movie we want audiences to see without alienating people like a lot of our films have. What I loved was that Sony and Fox listened and said, OK, let’s get out of here. We’d rather the movie be successful and have you put it out when you’re comfortable with how it looks. This is a period film and it can’t look like CG. It has to look like it’s real. We’re close, but we’re not there yet.”
Despite the extra time, Clooney all day has been facing the music, but in a good way.
“I’m standing in front of Abbey Road right now, and Alexandre Desplat is in there with a 100-piece orchestra, and I have to tell you, there’s nothing like it,” Clooney said. “I grew up around music and orchestras with my aunt Rosemary. It’s just a completely different language and it’s just so much fun to sit in this room with everybody running in to see Alexander conduct.”
I ask Clooney if he would have had the stones to go in there and tell Desplat that he was racing to make a release date, and could he play faster.
“You don’t say ‘Pick up the pace pal’ to a guy like that,” Clooney said. “That just doesn’t work.”