The tale of a ragtag band of art historians, museum curators and academics racing to rescue paintings and sculptures looted by the Nazis — slated to open Dec. 18 — now will be released by Sony Pictures early next year.
"We just didn't have enough time," Clooney said Tuesday by phone from London, where he and producing partner Grant Heslov were to start a 16-hour scoring session with composer Alexandre Desplat and a 110-piece orchestra as part of their race to complete the film.
"If any of the effects looked cheesy, the whole movie would look cheesy," said Clooney, who directed the film and stars in it. "We simply don't have enough people to work enough hours to finish it."
By moving into 2014, "Monuments Men" will be ineligible for the upcoming Academy Awards. But Clooney said Oscar attention was never his goal for the film, which he and Heslov adapted from Robert Edsel's nonfiction book "The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History."
"All we've ever said, from the very beginning, is that we wanted to make a commercial, non-cynical piece of entertainment," Clooney said. He said the intention was to make an ensemble film in the style of "The Guns of Navarone." In addition to Clooney, the film stars Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett. It was filmed in Germany and England earlier this year.
Clooney and Heslov still are the producers of another movie with Oscar ambitions, director John Wells’ adaptation of the play “August: Osage County.” That film is scheduled to open Dec. 25.
After arriving in London a day ago, Clooney said he and Heslov realized they were facing an impossible pursuit. "I looked at Grant and said, 'We're dying,'" Clooney said.
The filmmakers decided to call Sony and 20th Century Fox (which is distributing "The Monuments Men" overseas) to ask for an extension, even though they knew it was an extraordinary request so close to the film's planned premiere. "We can't call and ask for this," Heslov said he told Clooney before they picked up the phone. "They are going to kill us."
Clooney and Heslov said they called Sony's Amy Pascal and Fox's Jim Gianopulos on Tuesday morning, wondering if they would consider postponing the film.
A few hours after listening to Clooney and Heslov, Sony and Fox called back to say that the film could be pushed to an unspecified date in February, Clooney said. Sony would only say the film will come out in the first quarter of next year, but did not specify a month.
Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said that he planned to discuss with Clooney on Wednesday potential new release dates. “We haven’t even had time to digest it yet,” Blake said. “But the main thing is that it’s a big, commercial movie.”
"The Monuments Men" isn't the only high-profile project unable to make a planned release date this season. Paramount Pictures is moving Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," which is still being edited, from Nov. 15 to Dec. 25, three people close to the production said this week. Several other movies, including "Foxcatcher," "Grace of Monaco" and "The Immigrant," all of which were once set to debut this year, have been delayed to 2014.
Clooney said he had sought a December release date, because his successful films "Ocean's Eleven" and "Ocean's Twelve" both had been released in that month. But even under the best of circumstances, he and Heslov would have been racing to finish the movie.
Principal photography on the $65-million project commenced in early March, and wrapped in mid-July. The real time crunch, however, came in constructing hundreds of visual-effects shots, some used in scenes depicting the art preservationists coming ashore in Normandy in the hours after D-Day.
"This is a bigger film than we usually do," said Clooney, who last directed 2011's "The Ides of March" and currently stars opposite Sandra Bullock in "Gravity." "It was a mad rush to do it from the very beginning." Without faulting the work of the half-dozen companies working on the hundreds of visual-effects shots in the film, Clooney said the quick post-production schedule didn't allow for their best efforts. "It wasn't going to be finished, and I wouldn't want to have my name on it," Clooney said. "You don't want it to look like a film that was all done in the computer."
Clooney said that by moving the film to early next year, he was steering clear of what he considered the most crowded holiday movie season in memory, which he and Heslov feared could hurt "The Monuments Men" at the box office.
But the Christmas season is jammed with big movies for a reason: theater attendance is high. In the last eight years, only one February release — this year's Melissa McCarthy-Jason Bateman comedy "Identity Thief" — has grossed more than $130 million at the domestic box office. And Sony already has one movie scheduled for wide release in February: the remake of "Robocop."
The delay of "The Monuments Men" also leaves the studio, which has suffered through a grim year at the box office with the flops "After Earth" and "White House Down," with only one wide release between now and Dec. 27, when David O. Russell's "American Hustle" opens nationally.
Blake said he was considering whether he would make any changes to the release schedule for “American Hustle.”
Clooney and Heslov, meanwhile, were taking a deep breath, knowing that a month of sleepless nights no longer was in their immediate future.
"The good news for us is that we're really happy to buy ourselves a month," Clooney said. "I can't tell you how relieved we are."
[Updated 7:38 p.m., Oct. 22 with response from Sony and additional details.]Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun