Big doings were planned this weekend to hype Roman Polanski's upcoming $20-million film, "Frantic." It's a mystery-thriller with Harrison Ford, Betty Buckley and Polanski's 21-year-old paramour, Emmanuelle Seigner.
Warner Bros. was organizing a weekend junket to Paris for a group of American and Canadian journalists, who would have joined their European counterparts in the festivities. Polanski, still a renegade from the United States after jumping bail in 1978 after his guilty plea to a felony count of having sex with a minor, is still in exile in Paris, which is also the setting of the movie, in which the wife of an American heart surgeon (Ford) mysteriously disappears.
The film was to have had its premiere at the city's ultra-modern Videotheque--a film archival center, which officially opens its doors this week.
But the best-laid plans got waylaid and all bets and press junkets were canceled.
According to producer Thom Mount, it was no big deal: "We just couldn't get the picture done in time, sweetheart. What happened was completely normal and ordinary. Roman had to do some re-editing."
Make that more re-editing.
"The film's been scuttling back and forth," said a Warners exec, who told us that after initial preview screenings ("The film just wasn't working"), it was trimmed by some 15 minutes. "But shorter doesn't necessarily mean better," the exec said. "And the narrative suffered."
In the end, the ending didn't work either. "Roman worked on an alternate ending," said Mount. "But this wasn't a 'Fatal Attraction'-type thing. We didn't give the film a completely new ending--just a variation in 'shading' concerning the hero's level of victory."
Another source told us: "The suspense is very slow in coming. And that affects the entire film."
Mount noted that editing "finally" wrapped late Tuesday-- after Warners President Terry Semel traveled to Paris to talk with Polanski about the latest screening results.
(Semel's visit coincided with an awards ceremony in which French Premier Jacques Chirac presented him with a medal recognizing Warners' contribution of film prints to the Videotheque.)
In case you're wondering why the studio sent the film back and forth, rather than just breaking out its own scissors: There's something called d'roit auteur (rights of the author) embedded in French law, which allows the artist to protect his/her work.
With the film's scheduled Feb. 26 opening at more than 1,000 theaters in the United States, there's now no time to send groups of press to Paree. Not to worry. According to a publicity exec, there'll be an extensive U.S. campaign involving Ford. And, in Europe, a campaign will be directed at American correspondents, who will be able to interview Polanski. "And we'll probably arrange a national satellite interview, with a major network (and Polanski)."
Oh . . . psst . . . one other thing. You aren't supposed to be reading this. Warners PR has issued a memo ordering studio folk not to talk about the movie--because "information (about problems) was beginning to leak out," according to one of our sources.