Early birds get to squirm

Studio does best to keep 'Island' from getting stranded

Screening an unfinished movie for hundreds of journalists is always a risky proposition. When it’s a lavishly designed Michael Bay thriller with a cartwheeling car chase cobbled together from unfinished effects shots, an early press screening might seem not just risky but potentially box office poison.

But on May 24, DreamWorks and Warner Bros. rolled the dice and unveiled the first 45 minutes of “The Island” at a splashy Academy press junket.

The studios left nothing to chance. They brought in cast members Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou and Michael Clarke Duncan. They even gave the Academy gallery a futuristic makeover and plied the journos with drinks and white leather special-edition Puma sneakers.

By way of explanation, producer Walter Parkes noted that a f/x-laden summer tentpole like “The Island” poses certain marketing challenges. The effects work on “The Island” won’t be complete until the last possible moment, he said, when prints are shipped to theaters “dripping wet.”

While some directors — Steven Spielberg among them — are so secretive they don’t even want to show studios their dailies, others are exposing their unfinished work to the media, prepared for the buzz and occasional barbs early press screenings are certain to generate.

Two months ago, Sony flew Rob Cohen to ShoWest to introduce the first 50 minutes of “Stealth.” Last year, Sam Raimi was there to present about 20 minutes of rough footage from “Spider-Man 2.”

The “Spider-Man 2” sequence might have been interlaced with cartoonish, unfinished special effects shots, but the sneak peak in a Las Vegas theater clearly didn’t hurt the film’s box office prospects.

Someone might want to mention that fact to Bay, who appeared at the Academy looking unshaven and frazzled.

“This is a director’s worst nightmare,” Bay said before the lights went down. “I even consulted the DGA contract to see if I could get it canceled.”

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