Early rough cut of 'X-Men' film hits the Web

The fanboys have come to the aid of their heroes, as website Ain’t-It-Cool-News on Wednesday lamented the pirated Web upload of 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” vowing not to run any reviews or comments on the pic.

In addition, Internet rumors Wednesday said there’s a fake “Wolverine” file online that contained viruses that would infect anyone who opened it — and the rumor acted as a deterrent to viewing.

The fans’ reaction marks a sea change from a few years ago, when Hollywood dealt warily with webheads, fretting over their alleged disregard for copyright considerations.

In a statement Wednesday, Fox said: “We are encouraged by the support of fansites condemning this illegal posting and pointing out that such theft undermines the enormous efforts of the filmmakers and actors, and above all, hurts the fans of the film.”

Fox execs first heard about the breach at about 7 p.m. Tuesday night and began assessing the damage to the pic, which bows May 1.

“We forensically mark our content so we can identify sources that make it available or download it,” a Fox statement said. “The source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. … The FBI and the MPAA also are actively investigating this crime.”

The studio said it was unclear at this point where the leak originated — whether it was a Fox employee or a third-party vendor.

Fox said the leaked version is an early rough cut and is missing some scenes. The version also features temporary sound and music and a darker appearance than the finished footage.

“Wolverine” is a spinoff from the three “X-Men” pics, and fanboy anticipation has been high.

Though films are commonly leaked on the Internet, the breach often occurs on the day of the movie’s bow, thanks to someone videotaping the film inside a theater.

The last high-profile piracy case of this sort was in 2003, when a work print of Universal’s “Hulk” made its way to the Internet two weeks before the film opened. The person was caught and taken to trial.

In 2005, a pirated print of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” was uploaded to the Internet a day before the pic’s release.

Tracking down those responsible for pirating a work print isn’t necessarily the hard part. The difficulty comes in excising the films from the Internet. And if the pirates are in another country, enforcement is a problem.

The “Wolverine” incident again raises the question of insider leaks; a few years ago, studios and post-production houses took elaborate precautions to prevent such leaks.

The MPAA and piracy experts say lost B.O. revs can be in the tens of millions. But over the years, some Internet fans have argued that they will pay to see a movie in a theater even after having illegally downloaded it — if they like the film.

Hugh Jackman stars in the Gavin Hood-directed movie.

(Pamela McClintock and Timothy M. Gray contributed to this report.)

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