The second live-action G.I. Joe film, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, has been delayed until March 29, 2013, according to SlashFilm and various sources. This is particularly surprising since its previous release date was June 29, 2012 — only five weeks from today. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that was so close to its release date get delayed, let alone by so much. The major marketing push has already been underway for this film for some time; teasers have given way to trailers, and movie posters with the June 29 release date have been displayed in theatres for weeks now.
The reason Paramount is giving is that they want to use the time to do a post-process conversion of the film into 3D, but it seems like a big gamble to me. They’re going to have to work doubly hard to sell people on the film now; quite literally, as they’ll have to essentially duplicate the entirety of their marketing campaign.
I have to wonder if there aren’t other concerns at work here. June 29, 2012 could conceivably be a tough release date, with Brave coming out the week before and The Amazing Spider-Man coming out the week after, though nothing serious sharing the same date. And Battleship, released by a different company but also being a Hasbro property, has just flopped at the box office, with the absence of 3D being one factor cited in its failure (not that I expect there weren’t several, but let’s face it: everybody who went to that was going for the “spectacle” factor, and it was more than a little surprising that it wasn’t released in 3D considering that.) It might be that Paramount felt that by moving to a traditionally less-busy portion of the movie year, and converting it to 3D, they might get a stronger performance at the box-office out of their film.
I haven’t seen G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra yet, so I don’t really have a vested interest in this film either way. I was a fan of the cartoon as a kid, but I was also a fan of Transformers, and those films haven’t exactly been the greatest. I suppose in a way this move is beneficial to me since it gives me more time to see the first film and decide whether I would want to spring for the money to see the sequel in the theatre, but overall this move doesn’t upset me. I don’t know whether it will be a good film or a bad film. But I do know that this is going to make the job of the marketing team harder. A large part of their work has just been shot down. Anybody who was anticipating this is now likely to feel jilted as a movie that was previously one month away is now ten months away… and for the sake of a conversion that not everyone will want to partake in anyway. Anybody who was expecting it to be bad isn’t going to change their mind for 3D, especially not post-process 3D. And it suggests a lack of faith in the product as it stands… and reinforces that suggestion by the studio making a move long after-the-fact that they could have made from the beginning. Shooting in 3D was easily a possibility when this film started shooting, so if they wanted to do it, there’s no reason they couldn’t have done so from the beginning. It makes it look like the studio simply dropped the ball on an aspect of the film they think is important, and that doesn’t build confidence in the project.
The new marketing campaign is going to have to overcome all of that. All the ill will generated among fans who were looking forward to seeing it next month, all the negative impressions formed by making a change this late in the game. It might have been wiser to just release the film on its scheduled release date as-is, and consider doing a conversion if the ticket sales really warranted it. It might not have done as well as they were hoping, but even if it had a weak release, they could just take their lumps and move on. Weaker franchises than G.I. Joe have recovered from a merely mediocre second movie. But by making this move, they’re gambling heavy with the franchise. People will remember that it was supposed to be a 2012 movie, and why it was delayed. And moving it to a date with little competition in action movies is a double-edged sword: yes, it won’t have any Amazing Spider-Man to kill it at the box office, but that means if it fails to impress, it’ll be entirely on its own failings. There won’t be any Amazing Spider-Man to lay the blame at. And people will no longer be looking for a “decent” movie out of it; you delay a movie by nearly a year, and they’re going to raise their standards, even if they don’t raise their expectations. They’re going to feel that delay needs to pay off big — the 3D will have to excellent, and the movie will have to be good. Not weak, not mediocre, not even just “decent”. It’ll have to be good. Or it will very likely bomb, and bomb much worse than if it simply had a weak showing in mid-summer. And people will remember that disappointment and carry it with them when thinking about sequels. This move might make Paramount more money if it pans out, but if it doesn’t, I see a big risk of this being a franchise-killer.