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Disney Delays 'Alamo' Release

October 29, 2003|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

Forget the Alamo -- at least for now.

Walt Disney Co. has taken the unusual step of postponing the opening of "The Alamo," saying the much-anticipated film needs more work. Although trailers had begun promoting a Dec. 25 release, Disney said Tuesday that the movie wouldn't hit theaters until April.

Though it is not uncommon for studios to change opening dates, it is rare for a studio to do so this close to the planned release of such a high-profile movie. Typically, such jockeying occurs in the early stages of production.

But Disney executives and filmmakers said "The Alamo" simply wasn't ready.

"It's proven to be more difficult than we thought," producer Mark Johnson said in an interview. "With six major characters, getting the balance right has been very, very difficult. I have every confidence we will get there. Just having the Christmas date breathing down our neck was impeding our progress."

Disney said the delay was unrelated to early mixed reviews by test audiences. One viewer complained on the Ain't It Cool Web site that the movie, which stars Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton and runs two hours and 45 minutes, was overly long and that the characters were forced.

Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook said he was swayed by the request for additional time: "Ultimately, the end product is more important than the need to meet arbitrary deadlines.... We feel the wait will be worth it."

The setback comes amid an otherwise strong year for Disney, which has dominated at the box office with such hits as "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Holes" and "The Lizzie McGuire Movie," as well as "Finding Nemo," a joint production with Pixar Animation Studios.

Delaying the opening will add to the cost of a movie whose budget has drawn close scrutiny within Disney. The Burbank-based entertainment conglomerate will spend at least $80 million to make its epic and probably that much more to market the film here and abroad.

Disney's concerns over the movie's budget and violence level resulted in director Ron Howard and box office star Russell Crowe bowing out. However, Howard stayed on as a producer, along with his partner, Brian Grazer, and Johnson.

Delaying "The Alamo" could work in Disney's favor, some say.

Its holiday release would have pitted it against several other period movies with big stars, including "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," a Napoleonic-era sea epic; "The Last Samurai," about a Civil War veteran caught up in a Japanese emperor's war on the samurai class; and "Cold Mountain," a book-based Civil War adventure.

"It's a very crowded marketplace," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. "In the long run it might be better for the studio and the film to move the opening date than play a game of chicken."

Other movies have seen their release dates changed, only to go on to great success. "Titanic" is one such example.

Director John Lee Hancock's interpretation of "The Alamo," the story of fewer than 200 Texas rebels who were crushed by the 5,000-man Mexican army in 1836, has been described as a fresh take on one of America's core historical legends.

The filmmakers, and Disney, say they are trying to avoid a jingoistic recollection of that bloody conflict by presenting a variety of viewpoints. That approach has caused some critics to say the film is trying too hard to be politically correct. Others welcome a different look at frontiersmen such as Davy Crockett. The debate underscores how carefully the studios must tread when turning history into entertainment for a culturally entwined audience.

"I think it's going to be a great movie; it's just not there yet," Johnson said.

Times staff writers Claudia Eller and James Bates contributed to this report.

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