January 16th, 2009

Superhero

Who Watches the "Watchmen"? We Will

Los Angeles (E! Online) – It's gonna cost a pretty penny, but Warner Bros. gets to send Watchmen into theaters as scheduled. Warners and 20th Century Fox are expected to let a judge know tomorrow that they have reached a settlement and will not need to go to trial to figure out which studio owns the rights to the highly anticipated superhero adventure. Neither side is admitting victory or defeat just yet (the lines are blurry, regardless), but according to the Hollywood Reporter, Fox is relinquishing all distribution rights for a lump-sum payment and then a percentage of Watchmen's box-office receipts.

Fox would not have gained anything by keeping Watchmen out of the theaters. In fact, they'd lose all the money spent on legal fees suing Warner Brothers; WB would simply lose more. It was always a matter of how much money Fox could get. (The only real danger, a rather distant one, would have been if Fox had somehow gotten control of the movie and been allowed to alter it. Alteration by the suits at Fox never brings improvement.)

Meaning, Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, Rorschach, the Comedian and Silk Spectre, et al are headed for wide release on March 6. After inking a couple of deals with Fox in the 1990s, producer Larry Gordon ultimately took the DC Comics-rooted story to Warners, which went ahead and made what trailers are teasing to be a pretty fanboyrific movie for about $130 million. The film has been in the can but, thanks to a last-minute Christmas Eve ruling on behalf of Fox, it seemed increasingly unlikely that Warner Bros. was going to escape from this mess with its new-releases calendar intact. Fox sued the rival studio last February, alleging copyright violations because Gordon didn't secure permission from Fox to shop the project elsewhere – a theory that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gary Feess more or less agreed with.

With all the freaking lawyers the studios have, I still have no idea how WB managed to fail to secure the rights before making the movie – especially a movie as big and expensive as this one.

After the Dec. 24 decision, Warner Bros. filed court documents stating its intent to go after Gordon for the costs of this legal battle. But even though the case appeared to be swinging its way, Fox apparently opted to settle up before the proceedings got even nastier.