Bruckheimer's 'Pirates' could have used more nips, tucks


Memo to: Jerry Bruckheimer

Knowing you, Jerry, you were embarrassed by last week's massive tribute in Variety as Showman of the Year.

Even stars like Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage took ads (we all know movie stars never pay for anything) and Disney's Dick Cook, the King of Understatement, called you his "cleanup hitter" - zealous praise coming from him.

Your latest film is obliterating the record books, Jerry, but I've got to ask : Why didn't you knock an extra 30 minutes out of your big fat pirate movie? Even those who found the movie entertaining agreed it was bloated and that the plotline wandered down incoherent byways. The kids would have appreciated a sharper film; surely the exhibitors would have as well.

No producer knows his way around an editing room better than you, Jerry. So why did you let this one get away from you? I have one theory: Pirates is another example of a studio basically shooting a release date. That is, a date is determined before production even starts, and it's left to the producer and director to figure out how to get it done.

That syndrome has always proved poisonous, Jerry. I've heard your film was delayed by storms, cast illnesses and other problems, and that you ended up with a 12-week post-production schedule. The task of pulling together an "effects" picture with a convoluted plot in that short a timespan is nightmarish.

So I guess the good news is that you hit your date, Jerry. The bad news is that your film is kind of a mess.

Which leads us to a broader question: Given its extraordinary tracking, wouldn't Pirates have done just as well with an August release and a tighter running time? Perhaps the Pirates saga reflects the ultimate Hollywood lesson - marketing runs the show.

Stalled stars

Tom Cruise is a fanatic about planning and organization, but he has not set his next picture. Neither has the hyperkinetic Jim Carrey. Or Mike Myers. Or several others of their superstar ilk.

Of course, the superstar business is highly volatile, and by the time this column is published, every slot may be filled. At this moment, however, a lot of big names are technically, well, "available." Stars hate being "available"; even the word is anathema to agents.

Several phenomena are at play here. Studios are increasingly leery of pay-or-play deals. Budgets keep escalating during pre-production, which means that studios are left holding the bag when they opt to pull the plug. Carrey's comedies have become aggressively pricey.

Then there's the issue of career direction. If I were Cruise, I would prefer my next project to be in the Jerry Maguire mode. It's time for a kinder and gentler Cruise, but those scripts are hard to find.

So, suddenly agents are facing the unthinkable: There are slots for sale. What's worse, the stars are so rich they don't fret about potential unemployment as much as their agents.

Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony Studios, observed recently that the top stars aren't working enough to continue building their audience. He may turn out to be both wise and prescient.

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