‘Pearl’ unfurling

Rivals stoic as Mouse harbors blockbuster

As Disney’s “Pearl Harbor” cruises into 3,214 theaters for the Memorial Day lond weekend, rival distribs are bracing for a tsunami of box office turbulence.

No other wide-openers are skedded for Memorial Day weekend, as it’s long been assumed the Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay behemoth would swamp competish in its B.O. wake. But other distribs will be fishing for as much biz as possible over the holiday-stretched frame with pics already playing in broad release.

DreamWorks distrib topper Jim Tharp figures all current-running movies will be affected by the anticipated big bow of Disney’s WWII actioner, but Tharp said his studio’s animated laffer “Shrek” will be hurt less than most due to a distinctly different appeal.

Staying optimistic

Yet, even distribs with pics playing to auds closely resembling those expected for “Harbor” were keeping a stiff upper lip. Spokeswoman Terry Curtin said the impact on Universal’s “The Mummy Returns” will be less dramatic in the action thriller’s fourth weekend of release than it would have been at an earlier point.

“We’ve always known that (‘Harbor’) was coming and that it was going to be big,” Curtin said. “That’s why we got out as early as we did.”

Sony marketing and distrib prexy Jeff Blake predicted that his studio’s “A Knight’s Tale” actioner will still do good business because a lot of also-ran pics have been cleaned out of theaters by exhibs clearing the decks for “Pearl Harbor.”

“Knight’s Tale” lanced $10.4 million in second-frame B.O. to finish third last weekend, behind a $42.3 opening for “Shrek” and a $20.4 million third sesh for “Mummy Returns.”

Projections for the “Pearl Harbor” opening vary widely, but estimates are uniformly huge. Tracking data offer almost unprecedented optimism, and an opening north of $75 million over four days is considered a lock.

But whether “Harbor” cruises past the $90.2 million record of 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” or the even-more boffo $100 million mark some are predicting is anyone’s guess. Despite the phenom-level tracking, total weekend grosses for “Harbor” will be hampered to some extent by an almost three-hour running time.

On the clock

That means the movie will play only three times daily instead of the usual four, prompting a Mouse House record number of theater engagements for the release. Also, it’s believed the print run for the film well exceeds 6,000 — a particularly big number that Disney declines to confirm — so many venues will run “Harbor” in two auditoriums to facilitate more show times.

Disney distrib boss Chuck Viane has persuaded an unknown number of exhibs to add early and late screenings.

“We’ve set the table, and now it’s time for the meal,” Viane said. “We’ve all got our fingers crossed that it will be as big as anything we’ve ever had.”

For Disney, that means bigger than “Toy Story 2,” which enjoyed a record three-day B.O. feast of $57.4 million in November 1999.

Projections for the total domestic run of “Harbor” are also huge, with speculation starting at $200 million.

“The exhibitors are saying it’s definitely going to be a $200 million movie,” noted an exec at a rival studio. “When you have exhibitors — who have to negotiate terms with Disney on the film — saying that, you know they have something big.”

Analyst David Miller, who follows Disney for the Sutro investment firm in Los Angeles, said he’ll be watching worldwide “Harbor” grosses most closely, particularly when it sails into Japan on July 14. Pic is expected to play well in that market, but just how well could be telling.

Meanwhile, a few specialty pics will make limited domestic bows this weekend, including Sony Pictures Classics’ Mandarin-language “The Road Home,” which opens in four L.A. theaters and two in Gotham.

‘Big monster’

“We’re going up against the big monster,” SPC sales veep Tom Prassis said. “But we’re opening in arthouses and think there is an audience that is going to be seeing films other than ‘Pearl Harbor.’ So we’re not worried.”

Helmed by top Chinese director Zhang Yimou (“Not One Less”), “Road Home” marked the feature debut of actress Zhang Ziyi (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) but is only now getting its U.S. bow. Pic follows a city businessman who returns to his native village in northern China for the funeral of his father.

Universal Focus bows Parisian wartime drama “The Man Who Cried” in 11 locations in L.A., Gotham and San Francisco. Helmed by Sally Potter (“Orlando”), pic stars Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Cate Blanchett and John Turturro.

” ‘Pearl Harbor’ is going to be a huge movie, but there historically has always been room for counterprogramming,” U Focus distrib topper Dennis O’Connor said. “I personally would rather go against one giant film than against eight commercial films — there’s less clutter.”

IFC’s “Our Song” drama will unspool in a single Gotham venue.

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