The Great Wolverine Leak of 2009

Sometimes, if you're paying attention, you can watch an event as it unfolds and see that, even if you are unsure of the outcome, the world you know has been changed forever. I'm sure somewhere in 1914 someone said, "Well, now that they've killed the Archduke Ferdinand, the whole world will go to war." Well, last night someone assassinated Fox's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and it is the shot heard 'round the movie blogosphere. Someone released a DVD-quality, watermark and timecode-free copy of Fox's summer tent-pole blockbuster to the torrents. While the film is a work print (with incomplete effects, temp music, and it's rumored to be 14 minutes shorter than the final version), it is still the bulk of the film.

So how did this happen and what is it going to change? Well, this is how it no doubt happened ... CHUD writer Devin Faraci pretty much points out in detail every single hole in the system.: While guys like us get all but a cavity search when being ushered into press screenings, folks working in the industry pass around these early prints like party favors. It's kind of like punishing the dog by keeping him in the backyard while you're letting the cat guard your meat. All of these leaks and holes in security account for how a lot of the scoop-based blogs get their big stories. And it's been that way since the beginning of movie blogging.

Back when Harry Knowles started up the very first movie blog Ain't it Cool News, he was just collecting and making readily available all the gossip floating around the newsgroups and putting it all in one, easy to find place. Then people in the industry just started sending him stuff. Back then it was all on VHS, but there it was: Work prints of upcoming films, entire pencil tests of Disney films, scripts from upcoming projects. The Internet movie-news web page was born. Once others noticed how easy it was to come by this stuff, they started their own blogs, leading to what we have now: Dozens of high-profile sites with a handful of giants who feed the movie news out to everyone else, who in turn give their own take on the day's news.

And everything's been good up until now. The studios realized their mistakes early on in this decade and began forcing employees to sign non-disclosure agreements that included clauses about websites -- soon enough the flood became a trickle. But there are still leaks, because everyone from directors to their copy-boy interns has access to these materials. While it is rare for a secret source to drop a big bomb on you, it is common for writers with friends inside to get a hold of pretty much anything they want.

But that all ends today. Sure, there have been a few high-profile leaks like the Hostel 2 piracy I wrote about two summers ago. But that was an indie, a small film that should have been kept out of the way of summer blockbusters anyway. Everyone shrugged that off. But this? This is HUGE. This is a $100+ million summer blockbuster a month away from release. What about all the people anxious to see it? Well, it's just a short download away for them. And already tepid reviews are flooding the Internet as downloaders act like they are super-slueths touting their big scoop, unaware of what this is going to do to Hollywood and the blogging news world.

I'm predicting a big clamping down at the studio level. Outside post-production houses may go the way of the Dodo as studios try to keep everything in house where they can monitor materials with their own security. Some of these houses will be bought up, others will just close down as business dries up. The days of people being able to take their work home with them might well be over, and I'm betting there's going to be a BIG downturn in early scoops and reviews at a number of sites that rely upon these kinds of leaks to drive their traffic. With the blogging world already in a weird, heated tit-for-tat war (that has even occasionally dragged giants like Variety into the mud) an already cutthroat business might have just gotten even more so.

The next few months are going to be very important to Hollywood. Will they shrug this off and try to pretend it didn't happen? Will they collectively hold their breath to see the Wolverine opening weekend numbers? Or will the draconian searches to which we critics have become accustomed soon be standard operating procedure for Hollywood's daily jaunts to and from the office?

Now You Decide ...