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Twentieth Century Fox complained Sunday that several North American newspapers broke an agreement and released reviews of “Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace” too soon.
At least three newspapers reviewed the film after being allowed into a sneak preview in New York on Saturday night, earning the wrath of Twentieth Century Fox, which said the papers had violated a long-standing pact to hold film reviews until the day of the movie’s release.
“It’s really disappointing that the publications that did didn’t have high enough standards to uphold the agreement with the studio,” Tom Sherak, chairman of Twentieth Century Fox’s Domestic Film Group, said.
“It’s not fair for the movie to be reviewed until everyone has a chance to review it together,” he said.
Sherak said the studio was considering barring the offending papers from future screenings. But he said retribution would be temporary, if it came at all.
“I don’t know that they’d be the first ones I’d put on my guest list,” Sherak said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. If we can’t trust them, we’ll have to do something.”
The Los Angeles Daily News splashed its review across the top of its Sunday edition, pushing news of an angry mob of Chinese protesters that attacked and burned a U.S. consulate in China to the bottom of the page.
Sherak attacked what he said was editorial reasoning at the newspaper that claimed that the “Star Wars” phenomenon is no longer just about entertainment but is news in itself.
“The bottom line is that this isn’t news, it’s a movie,” Sherak said, drawing out the last word in emphasis.
Canada’s Toronto Star newspaper also printed a critique of the movie and the New York Daily News ran a teaser on its front page, touting it as “The First Review,” and giving the film a modest two-and-a-half stars.
Calls to senior editors at the Los Angeles Daily News and the New York Daily New went unreturned, but John Ferri, entertainment editor of the Toronto Star, said that his decision to run the review early was “a rare and extraordinary circumstance.”
Noting that Toronto, with four daily newspapers is highly competitive for news, he said reviewer Peter Howell was able to see the film on Friday, a day earlier than most junket press.
“We probably have the best record for sticking to review dates,” said Ferri. “I’m confident that had one of the other attending Toronto critics seen it on Friday, they would have had their review in on Saturday. The combination of high public interest and self defense is what prompted our move.”
Ferri said that Fox has already signified its displeasure indirectly. Another attending Star journalist was politely informed on Sunday that he would not be welcome to attend the George Lucas press conference.
Sherak dismissed speculation that the studio was upset with criticisms that seemed to take some of the shine off the “Star Wars” luster.
“It has nothing to do with whether it’s a good or bad review,” Sherak said. “They’re being devious. There are rules and they decided they didn’t want to follow the rules.”
The L.A. Daily News bestowed three-and-a-half stars on “Episode One,” calling the best bits “outstanding” and “intoxicating.”
Time magazine has a review in its May 17 issue that hits the stands Monday, well before the movie’s launch, but Sherak said weekly magazines were exempt from the embargo.
Time magazine was not upbeat, titling its review “The Phantom Movie.”
(Reuters News Service and Leonard Klady contributed to this report.)