‘Potter’ delay is about money, not nudity

Aug. 18, 2008 | 4:29 p.m.

PotterTalk about ludicrous: Roger Friedman at FOX News is putting forth a flimsy theory that Warner Bros. postponed “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” because Dan Radcliffe will be on Broadway in the fall performing in “Equus.” Why? Well, check out the ingredients of this half-baked idea:

Radcliffe appears naked in the play, on stage, and has sex in it as well. That’s not the image Warner Bros. wants associated with bespectacled Harry, who remains chaste and virginal.

Indeed, posters for “Equus” are up all over New York, of Radcliffe’s naked torso superimposed on a horse’s head. This is not the sort of thing that’s taught at Hogwarts. For the movie to open on Nov. 21, Radcliffe would have to do publicity entailing answering questions about blinding horses and having sex with them vs. flying around and making potions.

But, um, what about the fact that Radcliffe did the play last year in London amid intense media scrutiny? And the fact that he earned good reviews by critics and was also generally hailed by fans of the “Potter” books for his versatility and boldness? Did you miss all of that? I know Warner Bros. didn’t and, in fact, they were delighted that their young star was holding his own at the Gielgud Theatre on the West End — and they didn’t mind the free stir of publicity either. I came across Roger’s “theory” on The Big Picture blog by Patrick Goldstein, who had a great take on it:

Putting aside the obvious — any 10-year-old could’ve told Roger that by the time of “Half-Blood Prince,” the Harry Potter protagonists are quite well aware of the opposite sex — the theory is hilariously New York-ocentric, as if Middle America were really riveted by what was happening on one stage in midtown Manhattan.

Another good point. So, sorry to break it to you, Roger, but this movie is being pushed back for one reason and one reason alone: money.

Warner Bros. executives believe that a dominant summer blockbuster is better than a dominant fall blockbuster, especially when their target “Potter” audience has so many young people who are far more likely to be repeat consumers for a film released during the summer school break. After watching “The Dark Knight” surge to historic heights this summer with a mid-July release, the Warner Bros. brain trust decided, hey, let’s do that again next year.

I have also heard theories that there is a significant accounting advantage to pushing the “Potter” costs into a later financial quarter, as well as some play-it-safe wisdom in spreading two tent-pole franchises out a bit more. That approach might dovetail with any anxieties Warner Bros. executives have about the box-office sizzle of next year’s slate of films (which includes the R-rated “Watchmen,” a Clint Eastwood project and “Terminator Salvation“). The thinking goes like this: If Warner Bros. fears a sharp drop-off for shareholders next year, just push “Potter” into summer 2009. BUT I’ve also heard other analysts say that just doesn’t add up. More than that, Pali Research, the respected analysts who were widely quoted saying that the “Potter” postponement would help the Warner’s parent’s 2008 earnings by delaying P&A costs (that’s “payment and allowances” in accounting-speak) have backed off that notion:

We made a mistake … given the global release of “Harry Potter” and its expected revenues in the first 4-5 weeks, moving the film out of 2008 is actually negative for Time Warner’s 2008 earnings, even with the significant upfront P&A hit.

Confusing stuff, strange times. I can tell you this: Alan Horn, the chairman of Warner Bros., told me last week that there is no in-house anxiety about next year’s films and that this was purely a proactive move to seize a position of marketplace strength next summer, which Horn says is thinner than usual due to the recent writers strike.

There are a lot of you that aren’t admirers of Horn these days and plenty of you who plainly distrust him. I myself don’t think he’s lying, but I do wonder whether he’s miscalculated the sheer animus of fans. Either way, one thing I do know: This is about greenbacks, not bare bottoms.

– Geoff Boucher

RELATED All “Harry Potter” coverage at Hero Complex

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

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