Length of Delay? One year, at least for the U.S. It debuted at the 52nd London Film Festival on October 16, 2008, never got a theatrical release and then was dumped onto DVD in November 2009.
What's it About? Well, when you’re watching it, you have absolutely no idea what this unintentionally hilarious hodge-podge mess is about, but if you read a basic log-line it’s about how four souls bound by fate, romance and tragedy collide in the parallel worlds of London and the futuristic Meanwhile City.
Why Was It Delayed: Let us count the ways. Aside from being awfully silly and yet taking itself super seriously, “Franklyn” was likely delayed and dumped onto DVD for the simple reason that it’s a terrible movie that should probably land filmmaker Gerald McMorrow in director’s jail for a good decade. Why a studio didn’t change the title to something more commercial and/or at least something that appealed to all the genre fanboys that were dying to see it something of a mystery because that would have at least been a step in the right direction from a marketing perspective.
Was It Worth The Wait: Fuck, no. A tonal and narrative mess, “Franklyn” is Terry Gilliam/”Darkman”/Jeunet & Caro/ “Blade Runner”-esque in the Meanwhile City world (steam-punky and dark in a deeply derivative manner) and then “normal” when things are in London. But the movie makes few inroads to describe the who and where and so while you’re meant to be a bit lost until the movie congeals, by the time it gets there you can hardly give a damn. Rather amusingly, the movie touted a performance of Ryan Phillipe inside a mask of which he never removes, that actorly commitment and all that. And yet 15 minutes into the movie Phillipe has taken the mask off and spend half the movie without the mask on. Why does he bother putting it back on once he’s revealed himself? Or more importantly, why was this movie ever even made? [F]
"The 13th Warrior" (1998)
Length Of Delay: Over a year. Trailers started popping up for "The 13th Warrior," then titled "Eaters of the Dead," in late 1997 and early 1998, with an assumed summer of 1998 release date. That didn't happen. In fact, the arduous post-production process (and creative tug-of-war) took so long that John McTiernan was able to make and release another movie ("The Thomas Crown Affair") before "The 13th Warrior" ever came out (finally, in late summer 1999).
What's It About: Based on the best-selling 1976 novel by notoriously protective Michael Crichton (more on that in a minute), "The 13th Warrior" is a historical riff on the epic poem "Beowulf." Antonio Banderas plays a Muslim poet who is taken in as "the thirteenth warrior" by a band of Vikings (led by Vladimir Kulich as the Beowulf surrogate Buliwyf), who are hunting down a band of monstrous murderers. (In the book, they're explained as Neanderthals that have somehow survived; so such explanation exists here.) Swords are unsheathed; heads roll.
Why Was It Delayed: There are so many reasons for the delay. Mostly, it was a combination of corporate unease and creative compromise. After initial, dismal test screenings, studio Disney got cold feet. Out went the more evocative title "Eaters of the Dead," replaced by the comparatively anonymous "The 13th Warrior." Then Michael Crichton himself got involved. The studio also got concerned about the perceived "Arabness" of the project; the Muslim aspect of Banderas' character was toned down and the original score, heavily flavored by Middle Eastern influences, by Graeme Revell, was jettisoned in favor of a more traditional score by Jerry Goldsmith. The whole thing was repositioned, away from a supernaturally-tinged historical horror epic and more in line with old-timey action movies like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (or "The Mummy," released that same summer). Few remember that Crichton considered himself something of a filmmaker, having directed things like science fiction oddities "Looker" and "Runaway," and when he was dissatisfied with McTiernan's cut (seemingly supported by the lukewarm test screening results), he decided to start shooting things himself, with Disney's blessing. Actors who worked on the movie recall showing up to the studio and going from one soundstage, where Crichton was directing, to another soundstage, where McTiernan called the shots. As Kulich explained on the special edition DVD that was released in France: "I would get stuff like one guy would say, ‘Don’t tell the other guy what we’re doing.’ It was a little bit tragic because one day Crichton said, ‘Valdimir, it doesn’t matter what you do over there, because I have final cut.’ And sure enough, his cut was the final cut. For better or for worse.” Gone was a romantic subplot involving Banderas and a queen (played by Diane Verona) and the climax of the film, involving the Grendel's mother equivalent, was shot at least three separate times (with different actresses each time). McTiernan, who is currently serving a year-long prison sentence connected with the Joseph Pellicano wiretapping scandal, has a more philosophical approach: "There is a director’s cut that was different in several ways but I can’t claim that there was a magnificent movie that’s sitting in a can somewhere. There are many things—I put the Arabs back in and put the Arab music back in. Maybe it’s better leaving it as a myth.” Maybe, John.
Was It Worth The Wait: Yes. While the internet was still in its infancy, it's interesting to go back and see the reports that were posted on rudimentary message boards in response to advance test screenings (some erroneously mentioned that Arnold Schwarzenegger filmed a cameo towards the end of the film as a kingly Viking). One wonders, if the braided web of social media had been better established, if more outrage would have been spilled over the creative compromise that ultimately enveloped "The 13th Warrior." As it stands, the movie had some early defenders (among them Lisa Schwarzbaum from Entertainment Weekly, who compared the movie to Akira Kurosawa), who were dazzled by McTiernan's surefooted storytelling and the film's wonderfully dingy cinematography, but it has grown in the years since as something of a cult classic. "Casino Royale" director Martin Campbell, on the set of the second 'Zorro' movie, told Banderas how underrated he thought "The 13th Warrior" was. It's hard to disagree. [B+]
“Ordinary Decent Criminal” (2000)
Length of Delay: 3 years, from Irish/Euro release in 2000, till 2003 when it limped onto home video in the States.
What's it About: Michael Lynch (Kevin Spacey), a character loosely based on infamous Dublin gangster The General, struggles to balance his newfound local celebrity with the demands of his life of crime and his commitment to his family, including his two “wives.” Who are sisters. So they are.
Why Was It Delayed: A January 2000 release in its native Ireland, Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s utterly put-your-hands-over-your-ears-and-run-into-another-room dire “Ordinary Decent Criminal” gradually rolled out that year around Europe, eventually sputtering to a standstill mid-2001. As to why it took a further year and a half for it to make it across the Atlantic, perhaps the better question is why did they bother at all? Admittedly it has a fairly high-profile cast, with the Oscar-winning Spacey at its center, and a respected if hardly big-name director in O’Sullivan whose underrated, offbeat 1991 film “The December Bride” we still have quite a fondness for. But it also had poisonous word of mouth and, worse still, was roundly beaten to the punch by John Boorman’s infinitely superior telling of essentially the same story, “The General” which came out a full two years before, to quite some acclaim. ‘Criminal’ had elements of its plot changed to try and differentiate it but really, even if the films had been equal in quality (which they were emphatically not,) did the world really need two movies about Caravaggio-stealing Dublin-based gangsters and the odd loyalty, and even affection, they inspired?
Was It Worth The Wait: No. Just no, not at all. Featuring a pantheon, all-time, hall-of fame bad Irish accent from Spacey and even worse (though she has fewer lines) from Linda Fiorentino, even if the story were more engaging, and the tone less all over the map (veering from straight-up comedy to odd, dour kitchen sink drama) we wouldn’t have been able to get past those mangled, gargled vowels and the butchered dialogue. And the many great character actors featured here (Peter Mullan, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Dillane, Christoph motherfucking Waltz ) don’t fare much better, and certainly can’t compensate for the cacophonous result. It gets so bad that when Colin Farrell turns up in a small role, (Farrell who can more or less only do a Dublin accent) our ears have been warped to the degree that he sounds wrong too. We’re lifelong crusaders against the practise of dubbing films for foreign release, but we wonder if German audiences who got to hear a translated, revoiced version might not have had a less excruciating experience. [D-]
“A Clockwork Orange” (1971)
Length of Delay: 27 years (kinda) in the U.K.
What's it About: Stanley Kubrick’s masterful and incredibly influential adaptation of the equally brilliant Anthony Burgess novel, “A Clockwork Orange” follows Alex and his gang of droogs as they indulge in an ongoing orgy of drugs, rape and murder—the old ultra-violence. Alex is then caught by the authorities, sentenced and subjected to an experimental rehabilitation process which neuters his violent tendencies, at least for a while.
Why Was It Delayed: So this is kind of a cheat entry, but it’s such an interesting, and frequently hazily reported story that we thought we’d include it. “A Clockwork Orange” in fact did get a more or less simultaneous release in the U.K. and in the U.S. in early 1972. However in Kubrick’s home country, a series of high-profile violent crime cases were linked to the film in the following months, leading to something of a public outcry against it. With pressure mounting, and possibly threats being lodged against Kubrick’s family, the filmmaker made the unprecedented decision to request that Warners withdraw the Oscar-nominated picture from U.K. release, and Warners made a similarly unprecedented decision to do just that. Not only that, but the ban stood until after Kubrick’s death (even to the point of one cinema in London being sued to the verge of bankruptcy following an unauthorized screening of the film in 1993.
Was It Worth The Wait: Well, yes, obviously, it’s one of the most influential and uncompromising films ever made, and shows the great Kubrick at the height of his powers. More to the point in this case, perhaps, is the question of whether the ban achieved anything in particular. In fact the reasons behind it are widely misreported, with the topline version usually ending up that Kubrick was motivated to withdraw it because he somehow did believe it was having an incendiary, and potentially violent effect on the nation. But as he was quoted saying “to attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures,” it seems clear this is not the case, and rather more likely that he was motivated by a desire to protect himself and his family from further harassment. Which I guess we can understand. However what’s truly remarkable is that the ban, (which was only ever a request, remember, as Kubrick technically didn’t have the power to restrict the film’s distribution) lasted as long and was as enforced as it was—clearly a mark of the respect that Warners had for the director. Furthermore it did serve to increase the mythos around “A Clockwork Orange,” and promoted a roaring trade in bootleg cross-channel VHS copies, which all contributed to the film’s eternally edgy, countercultural reputation for cool. Probably not quite what Kubrick was going for, but undeniable nonetheless. [A]
“The Plot Against Harry” (1969)
Length of Delay: 20-odd years between being initially screened for distributors and finally showing theatrically in New York and also playing out of competition in Cannes in 1990.
What's it About: Berlin-born director Michael Roemer’s rediscovered film is widely believed to have anticipated the New York independent cinema of Cassavetes et al, in its loose-limbed story of a recently released small-time Jewish gangster, Harry Plotnick (the humorously downcast Martin Priest) who finds the respect he’d gained in racketeering circles has totally evaporated during his time inside. Through a series of chance encounters, however, Harry discovers a family and a heart problem that he didn’t know he had, and has the prospect of going it straight as an ordinary, decent middle class man dangled enticingly in front of him.
Why Was It Delayed: It feels fitting to close out this feature with a success story, but essentially when “The Plot Against Harry” had its first test screenings, the reaction to the comedy was bafflement, and worse—silence. “It was just a comedy that made nobody laugh.'' director Roemer told the New York Times in 1990 ''That's pretty funny.'' And with his one shot at getting distribution apparently blown, Roemer seems to have left it at that, and regarded the film as an expensive home movie if anything. And in fact, it was during the process of transferring the film to home video to show his children in 1989 that Roemer noticed a heartening phenomenon—the young man doing the transfer was laughing at the film. It was apparently enough to make him wonder whether in fact the film was any good, and to seek out a few other opinions. And in what had to be a pretty satisfying reversal of fortune, the film was immediately hailed as a lost classic and given the gala treatment at Cannes and a long-overdue U.S. release, just about twenty years exactly after that disastrous test screening.
Was It Worth The Wait: For many reasons, yes. The film does really feel of a spirit with the freewheeling '70s independent filmmaking movement, but it’s also a genuinely enjoyable ride that if anything has benefitted from its rocky journey to the screen. It feels like a time capsule taken from a different era, and as much as it succeeds as a movie in its own right, there is also a great buzz of discovery, and of freshness to be had from watching something so long neglected, but so perfectly preserved. And one has to feel a little sorry for the nearly unknown cast, especially Priest who is a terrifically droll centerpiece here who could have had, say Alan Arkin’s career had the stars aligned themselves a little differently, and the permanently smiling Ben Lang who plays his brother in law. Mostly though, it’s a lovely rediscovered example of a style of filmmaking that we’re now nostalgic for, but that at the time was clearly ahead of its time, and in its madcap pace and plotting (gangsters! caterers! lingerie models! secret societies! charity telethons! televised federal investigations!—seriously this picture is bats) and its lovely black and white photography, it’s a fun watch even without the storied context. [B]
There are obviously a thousand other titles whose stories we could have outlined, but rather than try to list all of the "Red Dawn"s and "Blue Sky"s and "Case 39"s here, we're going to save them up for Part 2 of this feature to come in 2014. It's been an interesting trek through some of these stories, and we'd like to do it again, so if there's something you'd particularly like us to cover, sound off below.
—Jessica Kiang, with Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor and Rodrigo Perez