Fox has officially moved its “Volcano” disaster picture from its Feb. 28 date and is looking to place it either in May or October. Fox distribution executives began calling exhibitors Monday to alert them to the decision.

The move has ended a yearlong race between the dueling volcano disaster pictures “Volcano” and Universal’s “Dante’s Peak,” which resulted in both studios adding millions to the original budgets in hurried production and post-production schedules.

In addition, U has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a total of 12 full-page ads in the consumer press – including the current issues of Time, Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly – heralding its Feb. 7 date.

Double reasons

Fox is making the move for a couple of reasons: on Nov. 29,l Universal announced it would release “Dante’s Peak” on Feb. 7, thus leapfrogging over “Volcano” by two weeks.

According to insiders, the second and more important reason is that Fox has been under the gun because of special effects deadlines and it was almost impossible to complete the film any earlier. In fact, sources indicated that Fox is more likely to move “Volcano” to October than May to allow adequate time for visual effects and editing.

The special effects are being done through several shops, but a significant amount of the work is at VIFX, the effects house in which Fox took a majority interest over the summer (Daily Variety, July 12). VIFX was already in pre-production on “Volcano” at the time the purchase was announced.

VIFX status

The latest word about the challenges on “Volcano’s” effects adds to the speculation that Fox brass has been disappointed with the overall performance of VIFX. Fox had no comment.

Fox’s deal with the effects house followed within months of DreamWorks’ investment in Pacific Data Images and Disney’s purchase of Dream Quest Images.

VIFX already had an established relationship with Fox, having completed shots on “Jingle All the Way,” “Broken Arrow” and “Speed.” It also had done work for projects at Warner Bros. and Paramount. With the success of those projects, sources said, Fox felt confident enough to enter the digital effects business.

“Fox jumped in too quickly without understanding visual effects and what it takes to operate and run that kind of production,” said a source. “It may have been a premature decision to get into that business.”

When Fox announced the VIFX investment, the studio’s then-chief operating officer Bill Mechanic (now CEO) told Daily Variety, “We don’t want to interfere in their business … We don’t plan to take a management role.”

However, the studio installed Gene Straub as chief financial officer, and laid off several staffers. Recently, VIFX co-founder Richard Hollander stepped up to assume the post of president. He replaces Rhonda Gunner, another company founder.

Industry sources speculated that Fox may be looking into purchasing other effects companies to bolster its capabilities. Hollander didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Digital deadline

U is said to be pleased with its visual effects partner Digital Domain, which is being paid an estimated $12 million to finish the $100 million “Dante’s Peak” and meet the strict mid-January deadline.

U announced its new date last month in an unusual (if not unprecedented) way, with three full-page ads in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

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