‘Pearl’ pushes time limit

Three-hour span could have affected B.O.

HOLLYWOOD — Running time is often in the eye of the beholder.

“Pearl Harbor” seemed interminable to critics and some among the Memorial Day crowds. Disney even concedes that a 183-minute running time likely held its $75.2 million opening a bit in check. Nevertheless, many showbizzers insist the Mouse House deserves praise for spurring such a lengthy period pic to such lofty levels.

As the industry digests the opening of this highly anticipated film, a question lingers: If a studio knows it has a three-hour film, how exactly does it make sure it gets enough show times and screens to have a fighting chance?

Help wanted

The quick answer, according to several distribution vets, is that all bets are off when it comes to long movies. The most execs can do is lean on relationships with theater owners and hope for the best.

Show times are typically the domain of theaters, not studios. Requests can be made, but they don’t have to be honored.

Disney execs realized early in the game that they had to be proactive, as “Pearl” is the second-longest wide release of the past 20 summers (the lengthiest was “Wyatt Earp”).

Many exhibs took to heart the Mouse House entreaties, leading to start times as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 12:40 a.m. in some locations.

Thanks to that coverage and staggered shows afforded by more than 6,000 megaplex-friendly prints, the launch of “Pearl” dwarfed that of any other three-hour-plus pic in history.

Given Memorial Day weekend all to itself, the pic scored a four-day debut nearly triple the one by “Titanic,” the previous three-hour champ. The iceberg saga, it must be noted, opened with 2,674 engagements, compared with 3,214 for “Pearl.”

Roof-raising tracking research on “Pearl Harbor” pointed to a much better bow — many top distrib execs predicted anywhere from $80 million to $100 million — not to mention a wider margin over hard-charging “Shrek.”

“As we got closer to the opening day, we realized we couldn’t turn over as many show times as we might have liked, especially in the smaller markets,” reasoned producer Jerry Bruckheimer as the opening-weekend numbers came in.He added later in the week, “What you found was in the markets other than New York and L.A., people don’t go to the movies after 10 at night, so you don’t have midnight shows and you’re losing a lot of playing time.””Pearl” can thus expect only three show times a day compared with the usual, four, five or even six daily showings for most shorter pics.

AMC marketing veep Rick King says adding midnight shows for pics like “Pearl” isn’t anything discussed on a “quid pro quo” basis in film fee talks. But if a distrib urges such slots, he adds, “we’ll take it seriously.”

King also notes that while three-hour pics are normally a pain to deal with, exhibs are more than happy to offer special handling for tentpole releases.

Easy to adjust

“We will make the adjustments that we need to make for a blockbuster film, a ‘Titanic’ or a ‘Pearl Harbor,’ ” he says. “When it produces those kind of results, the adjustments are kind of easy to make.”

Now that “Pearl” is off the ground, the next task will be to keep it aloft.

Initial exit polls were fairly strong, with 87% of auds rating the pic “very good” or “excellent.” The film’s legs will depend on repeat viewing, and length once again is apt to factor into moviegoers’ decisions to journey back to 1941.

Carl DiOrio contributed to this report.

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