The Mother Brain Files: Pushback Syndrome

The Mother Brain Files: Pushback Syndrome
By Mother Brain

I was recently disturbed by the news that Paramount Pictures had delayed the release of G.I. Joe Retaliation from June of this year to March 2013. The trailers initially got me excited when I saw how the problems of the first film, Rise of Cobra, were erased in favor of movie star caliber leads, a more grounded scope of action, and being a more faithful adaptation of both the Marvel Comics line as well as the animated series from the 80s. Unfortunately, the delay was said to be due to the studio post-converting the film to 3D. But it is also no secret that the recent failure of the overproduced Battleship gave the studio and Hasbro Toys cold feet. Feet so cold, they had to recall every piece of G.I. Joe movie-related merchandise off the market.

While the real story behind G.I. Joe’s delay is still unfolding, speculation is already rampant on the internet. Is this a sign that the film is a ticking time-bomb or does the studio want to make a possibly good movie better? There has been very mixed results in Hollywood whenever a film gets its release date pushed back in order to make room for reshoots or avoiding serious competition. Five film I can remember in particular underwent such a similar situation:

Stick (1985)

Burt Reynolds’ once hot film career started to decline by 1983. As audiences grew tired of his Smokey and the Bandit persona, Reynolds decided to get serious again and chose to star and direct this adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s crime drama novel. He played an ex-con who lands a job in Miami with an eccentric movie producer while hiding from killers involved in a botch drug dealer. What started out as a strong character piece soon turned detonated into a Hollywood mess. Originally set for release in the summer of 1984, Universal Pictures held Stick back so Reynolds could shoot more action scenes to make it into more of a popcorn flick. In the process of doing this, Reynolds not only had to cut out the cynical humor of Leonard’s writing but also deleted scenes with Ghostbusters’ Annie Potts and country star Tammy Wynette. To make matters worse, Reynolds appeared out of shape in the reshoots because of an on-set injury that occurred on the movie City Heat. When Stick finally came out in the early summer of 1985, audiences turned away in favor of the much hotter Rambo: First Blood Part II.

Robocop 3 (1993)

Like G.I. Joe Retaliation, Robocop 3 was given a PG-13 direction and a smaller budget than its predecessor because of its so-so performance. Early on in production, fans were excited to hear about the character’s new jet pack and arm gun attachment. Little did anyone know in the pre-internet era that Orion Pictures was having financial problems which affected all of its productions. Filming was completed in the summer of 1991 and set for release in 1992. But Orion was forced to shelf the movie as soon as the studio filed for bankruptcy. This resulted in a summer where various Robocop 3 merchandise hit stores without a movie to promote. Everything from the video game on multiple platforms to the Dark Horse Comics adaptation spoiled the entire movie (including the death of Robo’s partner Anne Lewis) long before it could hit screens. By the time Orion resolved their problems, they still could not release the film for the following summer because of heavy competition against Jurassic Park and The Fugitive. So they chose early November 1993 and by then, the fans were turned off enough to stay home.

Payback (1999)

Long before his D-U-I arrests, cell phone rants, and racist talk, Mel Gibson was one of the top actors in the world. But after playing likable heroes in the Lethal Weapon movies and Braveheart, Gibson wanted to become a badass. He teamed with L.A. Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland in his director debut which was a remake of Point Blank with Lee Marvin. The simple premise had Gibson as Porter, a professional thief seeking the $70,000 stolen from him by his ex-partner. While Payback was a welcome return to 70s-style crime thrillers, Paramount felt that Helgeland’s cut was way too dark for moviegoers in the 90s (Helgeland’s cut included a spousal abuse scene, the shooting death of Maria Bello’s dog, and a downbeat ending). This led Gibson and the studio to push Helgeland aside, reworked the script to make Porter more likable to audiences, and reshot the 3rd act with Kris Kristofferson as the villain. The changes in this case paid off and Payback was a hit in February 1999. But just 6 years later, Helgeland’s director’s cut hit the streets on DVD and Blu-ray to give audiences a taste of his non-Hollywood take on the film.

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

The original 1973 classic is the gold standard of horror films. Unfortunately, its franchise potential had been tarnished by 2 bad sequels in 1977 and 1990. Warner Bros. had hoped to revive the series by returning to the story set up in the original film about Father Merrin’s encounter with the demon known as Pazuzu in Kenya. Stellan Skarsgard was cast as the young Merrin with American Gigolo’s Paul Schrader in the director’s chair. Filming was completed in hopes of getting it out in time for the original’s 30th anniversary of release. But the producers deemed Schrader’s cut to be too psychological and not having the scariness and gore they demanded. The studio decided to start from scratch with director Renny Harlin, had the script re-tooled, raised the budget, and kept Skarsgard as Merrin. Characters were deleted and added while the story deviated from series continuity which the Schrader version did not. An unusual move was made when the studio decided to release both versions of the film a year apart. Harlin’s cut fizzled badly. Schrader’s faired only slightly better and received glowing reviews from the author of the original Exorcist novel, William Peter Blatty.

Star Trek (2009)

While the Star Trek franchise was still considered to be Paramount’s most lucrative, the last two movies and spin-off series were deemed underwhelming enough to put it all on hiatus. Hoping to ignite a new spark of life into the franchise, the studio hired J.J. Abrams who was hot after Mission: Impossible 3 to carry out the big task of making a new Star Trek film. Abrams wanted to return to the era of Captain Kirk and Spock without having the constraints of series continuity to hold him back which made him create a time travel premise that would create a new timeline of events for future films. Unlike the last few films with the Next Generation crew, this Star Trek movie had a $100+ budget and a great deal of secrecy around production. Paramount had hoped to get the film out by Christmas 2008. Visual effects, however, were key to the film’s success and the studio chose to push the film to summer for the first time since Star Trek V in 1989. They may have also feared a Christmas release date would jinx its box office potential since the last 2 films Insurrection and Nemesis underperformed at that time of year. It all would soon pay off as Star Trek shattered box office records of the previous entries and earned the best reviews since Star Trek: First Contact in 1996.

Having looked back at the mixed level of success of these films, G.I. Joe Retaliation’s chances are 50-50. But we will not know the true verdict until March 2013.


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