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'Titanic' Embarks on 6-Month Side Trip

Delay: Paramount and Fox push back release of costliest film ever--$200 million and counting--to December, an already crowded movie season.

May 28, 1997|ROBERT W. WELKOS and CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Director James Cameron's mega-budget film, "Titanic," will sail past the long summer season and open instead on the weekend before Christmas, as the costliest movie of all time has proved too technically demanding to complete on schedule.

The release date was shifted from July 2 to Dec. 19 because Cameron needed more time to finish such things as the optical effects, said sources at the two studios bringing the story of the doomed ocean liner to the big screen.

For weeks, Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox have agonized over whether Cameron could deliver a finished print in time for the Fourth of July holiday it had staked out months ago. The film has already cost well over $200 million; by December, the figure could rise to $285 million, sources said. The interest charge alone for the additional six months could be more than $10 million.

Paramount put up $60 million and has the domestic distribution rights, while Fox is shouldering the rest of the staggering bill and has been given the foreign markets.

"It's not that we couldn't make summer," Cameron said in an interview late Tuesday. "It was that a certain threshold had passed where we couldn't have the sweetest part of summer. My deal with [the studios] was we'd like to do it for the Fourth of July weekend. I've had good luck on that weekend with 'Terminator 2' and Fox had good luck with 'Independence Day' last year."

Cameron said the completed film will run about three hours and have 118 speaking parts, three times more than most films. He attributed the delay to "a crisis with visual effects" that occurred in March and compelled him to involve several outside effects firms.

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The December release date has to be troubling for Rupert Murdoch's Fox because the Century City-based studio has several big productions on tap for the end of the year: the animated "Anastasia" on Nov. 21, the sci-fi film sequel "Alien Resurrection" on Nov. 26, "Home Alone 3" on Dec. 19 and "Great Expectations" on Dec. 31.

Sources said Fox will probably push "Great Expectations," starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke, into 1998, because it would go after an audience similar to that targeted by "Titanic."

Fox also faces a tough decision on whether it could release "Titanic" in foreign markets on the same date as the movie opens in the U.S.

Cameron said he could have delivered the picture for an August U.S. opening, but it became clear in discussions with studio executives that it would be preferable to open in December.

"The thing we kept coming back to is it's a timeless picture," Cameron told The Times. "It's a seasonless film. And I put three years of my life into this film and the studios have invested a tremendous amount of energy and money into it, so we felt, 'Let's not go for a weak date.' "

A Fox executive close to the picture said: "I think what this is about is there's not enough time for him to finish the movie the way he wants to see the movie on the screen. . . . When you're making a movie like this, which hopefully will be of epic proportions, you can't take away the time needed to finish the movie. He was going to deliver it in the summer. Everybody at Fox said, 'We've gone this far, let him have the movie he wants to deliver.' If there's more expense, although you don't like paying it, you want the movie to be put on the screen the way it should be."

Some have speculated that the famously hard-driving Cameron regards this film as his "Dr. Zhivago" and has high hopes of Oscar nominations, which tend to come from films opening later in the year.

"From my perspective, it's not a factor," Cameron said. "The reality . . . is that big mainstream Hollywood movies don't get nominated anyway. If that was a driving force for us, we'd be living in fantasy land."

"Titanic" was shot over six months (about two months longer than scheduled), in locations in Mexico, Nova Scotia, England and Los Angeles. Its budget swelled from an already hefty $110 million to more than $200 million, which does not include marketing costs. The previous record holder was Universal Pictures' "Waterworld" starring Kevin Costner, which had a $200-million price tag including marketing and prints.

A large portion of the money allocated to "Titanic" went to build a studio in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where much of the movie was filmed. Cameron built a 90%-scale, five-story-high reproduction of the ill-fated luxury liner.

Many of the cast and crew of "Titanic" have spoken of the ordeal of making the movie. They described it as about as strenuous as filmmaking gets, citing 90-hour workweeks (with actual shooting done mostly at night) and a massive crew of 800 people, 80 electricians, 30 lifeguards and 100 stunt people in one scene alone. On hand were about 50 medical and emergency personnel (the production was beset with a number of accidents).

Exhibitors had expected the postponement since rumors of a delay have been swirling for the past couple of months.

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