"White Dog" (1982)
Length of Delay? Shot in 1981, “White Dog” was actually pulled from the schedule by Paramount Pictures, and it never saw a theatrical release in America, though it was released overseas.
What's it About? A young actress adopts a German shepherd, learning that her new companion has led a life where he’s been trained to attack black people.
Why Was It Delayed: Obviously, the concept of “White Dog” is incendiary, dealing with a dog forced by a black trainer to stop attacking other black people. But in addition to that questionable plot, there was the fact that this differed highly from Romain Gary’s original book, where the dog was owned by a black man and forced to chase whites. The decision to make the film more confrontational than its source was challenged by a number of groups. Even Paramount seemed skittish: for all intents and purposes, it seemed like they were aiming for another ”Jaws”-alike when Roman Polanski was first involved to direct. Protests and boycotts made the studio realize it wasn’t worth the trouble, and its first official American release was on DVD in 2008.
Was It Worth The Wait: “White Dog” has a borderline camp aesthetic, but legendary film noir director Sam Fuller plays the film completely, upsettingly straight. This is a picture that finds Paul Winfield basically playing a fantasy construct (the skilled professional perfect to heal this ridiculous predicament) with the sort of weight best saved for the theater. Not a laugh is heard, and Ennio Morricone’s gorgeous score sternly takes this pulp and shapes it into something more broadly operatic and engaging. [A-]
“Phone Booth” (2002)
Length of Delay: 5 months, from November 2002 to April 2003.
What's it About: An amoral publicist (Colin Farrell) engaged in an adulterous affair picks up a ringing payphone on the street, and is informed by a voice on the other end (Kiefer Sutherland) that there is a sniper’s rifle trained on him and he must do exactly as he says in order to survive, and also that he is not a random victim, but has been chosen by the sniper because of his moral failings, and is to be given a chance to “atone.” The Joel Schumacher film then unfolds in real time, primarily in and around the phone booth, which the victim cannot leave for the duration.
Why Was It Delayed: The highest of high concept scripts, which was apparently, in a nascent form pitched by screenwriter and B-movie maven Larry Cohen to Hitchcock all the way back in the 1960s (Hitch liked the premise, but neither man could work out the plot’s logistics at the time), had actually been the subject of a bidding war once Cohen hit upon the sniper idea as the chief driver of the plot. However, once it got made (Mel Gibson, Michael Bay, and Jim Carrey were all reported to be interested in the property at one time or another) the timing of its projected release proved unfortunate, as it coincided with the Beltway Sniper attacks. The series of shootings that left ten dead and three others critically injured across DC, Maryland and Virginia, took place over a three week period in October 2002, and the seemingly random nature of the killings terrorized the local population and obsessed the national media for weeks. The film’s front-and-center plot device involving a sniper meant that its publicity had to be pulled, and the release date pushed back. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that it was only moved back by five months.
Was It Worth The Wait: A measured yes. “Phone Booth” is a fun, mostly well-realized B-movie thriller that only unravels (like so many single-location movies) in its last few minutes. That said, it is super dumb all the way through, which somehow makes the ease with which we can suspend our disbelief for it all the more impressive. Making not a lick of sense and somehow meting out “justice” to a guy who’s main crime seems to be horniness and a little moral relativism when it comes to his life choices, the film is still a pretty entertaining schlock thriller, even if a lot of its power derives from simple curiosity about how on earth they’re gonna keep this up. [B-]
Length of Delay? The picture was wrapped and ready for a summer 2007 release, but if eventually shifted to early 2009.
What's it About? Five lifelong friends team up to infiltrate Skywalker Ranch and see an early cut of “Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace” before one of them dies of cancer.
Why Was It Delayed: Classic Weinsteins! The Weinstein Company would not agree to that cancer subplot, and original director Kyle Newman was junked in favor of Adam Sandler devotee Steven Brill. Brill presided over a reshot cut of the film that eliminated the cancer subplot completely, but once news of this cut hit the internet, the core audience of 500 nerds for this film were vocal in their displeasure. Eventually Newman came back on to restore the film to its original version, and that cut was quietly dumped into theaters in February ’09.
Was It Worth The Wait: Ultimately, you’re dealing with the sort of fan service here that is for nerds, by nerds. Removing the cancer subplot would have been dumb, as it reeks of the sort of market-testing that nerds don’t necessarily go for. But cancer can’t make or break this amateurish film, one that thinks making “Star Wars” jokes in the early aughts is at all fresh or interesting. The film has a decent cast, as Jay Baruchel is slyly charming and Kristen Bell is an absolute delight, and the picture is loaded with show-stopping cameos by the likes of Seth Rogen, Danny McBride and William Shatner. But the compromise of those first two to tailor their personalities for a PG-13 is similar to the shallow pandering not only to George Lucas and his lemming-like fans, but to nerds who otherwise have no qualms with reductive sexism and homophobia. Making a movie like “Fanboys” in 1990 would have been inspiring, but making it in the mid-aughts when the nerds have already won seems utterly pointless. [C-]
“Fast, Cheap and Out of Control” (1997)
Length of Delay: Difficult to tell, but up to 5 years, between 1992 when we know director Errol Morris was working on it, till its eventual release in October1997.
What's it About: Well here we go attempting a one-line summary of a film that Morris himself said “utterly resists the possibility of a one-line summary.” The film follows four interviewees, none of whom know each other and who are only very tangentially connected in that all four have extremely odd occupations that involve animals somehow. They are a lion tamer; an animal topiarist; an expert on hairless mole-rats; and a scientist who is creating small robots based on his observations of insects. As the film progresses, the absurd, and seemingly random choice of the four participants begins to make an odd kind of sense as moments of synergy and confluence happen between the strands always, of course, without the subjects themselves being aware of them.
Why Was It Delayed: In the absence of absolute evidence to the contrary, we’re tempted to say the long delay, which was not unprecedented in Morris’ career to that point (it was seven years between “Gates of Heaven” and “Vernon, Florida”) was simply the minimum time it took for Morris to be able to carve a film-shaped object out of the material he had gathered. But the fact that it’s also an almost indescribably esoteric documentary, one that builds to a tremendously moving and rather philosophical portrait of nature and mankind, mortality and the very future of humankind’s existence, among other lofty topics, is hardly marketing-friendly either. When, especially in an ever more crowded documentary market, the one-line sellable pitch becomes ever more important (“it’s about a pet cemetery”; “it’s about the death penalty,” etc.) a film that makes virtue out of not having one of those is going to have a hard time getting out there, even if it is by a bona fide proven genius of the form.
Was It Worth The Wait: Yes indeed. While not as immediately punchy as some of Morris’ work “Fast Cheap and Out of Control” is a wonderful, peculiar, meditative film that quite literally had us thinking thoughts I’m not sure we’d ever thought before. It’s a strange, inspirational palimpsest that plays out in a minor key and somehow become far, far greater than the sum of its oddball parts, using the Caleb Sampson score and interspersed sections of vintage stock footage to great effect. And in the almost uncanny way it threads together a somewhat coherent, though poetic, train of thought from such disparate fragments, the whole endeavor itself feels like a metaphor for how we try to make sense of our random world, and bring forth thoughts and patterns out of the chaos. [A-]
Length of Delay: 5 years, from its festival premiere and European release, till being released in the U.S. in 1992
What's it About: A typically nihilist William Friedkin movie that boasts some pretty nasty moments, whichever version you see, “Rampage” is about a serial killer, Charles Reece, who drinks the blood of his victims in an effort to mitigate the blood poisoning he believes that Satan himself is visiting upon him. However his crimes are so perverse and horrible that it drives formerly liberal prosecutor Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn) to try to prove that Reece is in fact sane, so that he can avoid an insanity plea and be sent to the chair.
Why Was It Delayed: Really it was a victim of bad timing—“Rampage” premiered just before the the company that financed it, the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bankrupt. After the smoke from that company’s dissolution cleared, Miramax picked up the rights to Friedkin’s film, but this is Friedkin so the story couldn’t possibly end there. In fact, Friedkin had undergone a major change of heart with regard to the film’s stance on the death penalty in the meantime, and he used the delay to re-edit the film. And not just to refine what had been there before, but arguably to change the whole moral of the outcome, including a very different ending and fate for the killer. So while the film that played in 1987 (that is to this day the more common version found in Europe) was more subtle in the moral complexity it gave to the central conundrum, the re-edit is arguably much blunter, making it clearer that Friedkin is putting across a vehemently pro-death penalty argument.
Was It Worth The Wait: Without wishing to get too political in our argument, we’d have to say that the film in general is definitely worth checking out for anyone with even a passing interest in the kind of creepy, horror-tinged and often salacious morality plays that Friedkin deals in, though its courtroom-heavy drama may come as a surprise to some expecting something splashier. However, our preference is for the earlier “European” cut, not merely because it more closely lines up with our own ideals, but also because it feels more organic and the 1992 ending struggles rather gracelessly to hammer its point home (we are left in no doubt that the killer will walk free and kill again). Aside from that, though the film is an interesting, somber-textured and somewhat subdued outing from Friedkin that still retains the filmmaker’s distinctive griminess in terms of both its visual aesthetic and its moral absolutism. [B]