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Escape from limbo-land

Miramax says 'let's do launch' after pics languish on the shelf

A lot of movies and not much time. That’s the story at Miramax — the Harvey & Bob Miramax, that is.

As part of an extraordinary 10-film push in 10 weeks, the mini-major will release (through a fretful Disney) its bigscreen adaptation of “Proof,” the Johnny Depp-starrer “The Libertine” and the thriller “The Reaper” (from “American History X” helmer Tony Kaye) — all on the same day, Sept. 16.

Many of the titles have been sitting on the shelf for a long time, but Miramax says these won’t be token releases: Talent will support the films and there will be national launches for pics like “Proof,” “An Unfinished Life,” John Dahl’s “The Great Raid” (slated for Aug. 12) and Terry Gilliam’s “Brothers Grimm” (Aug. 26).

“Proof” and the Jennifer Lopez-Robert Redford starrer “An Unfinished Life” were filmed in 2003. Two films budgeted at $80 million apiece — “Brothers Grimm” and “The Great Raid” — began production in 2003 and 2002, respectively.

But how does one release so many films in such a short window — and why?

The other question is the impact on Disney’s bottom line. The August-September logjam is a symbolic clearing of the decks for Miramax as Harvey and Bob Weinstein prep for their Sept. 30 exit. But it’s going to be tough for a major studio to push so many films in a timeframe traditionally slow for pic releases.

It also raises the question how much money Disney will want to commit to its Miramax division — the “new” Miramax, that is — after September. (The studio’s new fiscal year begins in the fall.)

Though no announcement has been made officially, speculation is that the new Miramax will have an annual total budget of $350 million, slashing what the Weinsteins were getting by more than half. The division will aim to roll out six to 10 films a year, including acquisitions.

Most will be budgeted at $12 million and under, though studio brass will have the option of breaking that cap for a project they’re enthusiastic about.

Every studio has a few aging films awaiting release. But the Miramax glut is unprecedented.

In the 39 weeks between January and the end of September, Miramax will have released a whopping 21 films.

The hefty rollout continued July 15 with the release of “The Warrior.”

On Sept. 9, “Unfinished Life” bows in limited release, as does the Spanish-language “Curandero.”

August 5 will see rollouts of the Nick Cannon vehicle “The Underclassman” and Spanish-language import “Secuestro Express.”

Part of the holdup can be blamed on the dragged-out, sometimes-tense talks in 2004 between the Weinsteins and Disney over the future of the company. As the brothers waited for a resolution, the Miramax pipeline backed up.

Disney and the Weinsteins made peace, brokering an amenable exit agreement. One of the reasons for this 2005 push is that the brothers felt passionate about their slate and wanted to stay on to oversee its release.

In fact, Miramax has had release gluts before, as it has often opened plenty of films in November and December to capitalize on awards season.

Last December, the Weinsteins narrowed their year-end bows to “The Aviator” and “Finding Neverland,” pushing some pics into this year.

Even though the Weinsteins and Disney have reconciled, some Mouse House residents are resentful at being stuck releasing Miramax’s leftover product.

Disney is on the verge of announcing its restart of Miramax — the new one, that is — and wants to clean house and move on with the new.

The pics are being released under Miramax’s usual arrangement with Disney: The parent studio is footing P&A costs.

Among other films, “Proof” and “Libertine” are targeted for awards campaigns, and “Proof” will be screened at some high-profile festivals, including Toronto.

“Proof” missed its 2004 release thanks to the Disney talks; and the WWII-era “Raid” is being released in tandem with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Gilliam has been working on the special effects for “Brothers Grimm,” meaning this version was only completed in the past few months.

Not all the pics are oldies; the mini-major bought “Libertine” in Toronto last year at the same time Depp was working the awards circuit for “Finding Neverland.”

With the proliferation of showbiz-themed Websites, a delay on any project is accompanied by ominous rumors that a film is in trouble. In truth, there are many reasons why a film can be delayed. But the film biz has never seen such a surfeit of delayed films in one short window.

It’s clear that, despite new technology, a theatrical bow still holds cachet. Some of these pics could have proven interesting experiments in a new-format launch, such as DVD, PPV, or video-on-demand.

Under the Weinsteins, Miramax has had a reputation for keeping films on the shelf more than any other distrib. In fact, the mini-major has dozens of films that have never been released, but many of them are low-budget or foreign-language acquisitions.

Only occasionally will a higher-profile film get put in a holding pattern, such as “Prozac Nation,” which flirted with a release date for four years before being sent direct to video and cable.

Sometimes the tactic has paid off handsomely. In 2003, when the brothers kept pushing the release date of “Finding Neverland,” word around town was that the pic was plagued. In truth, there were legal considerations. “Neverland” featured scenes from “Peter Pan” and Universal-Revolution’s bigscreen version of “Pan” was scheduled for December 2003.

“Neverland” grossed $117 million worldwide in its 2004 release and earned seven Oscar noms.

The Weinsteins’ “Hero” was another pic that aged well. The brothers bought the arty Zhang Yimou actioner in early 2002 and released to a surprise No. 1 opening in the States more than two years later. Pic earned more than $53 million domestically.

Under Bob and Harvey, Miramax’s heyday was dotted with Oscar campaigns, headline-grabbing production announcements, festival bidding wars and an all-around aggressive biz plan that left scads of pics gathering dust in the company’s vaults.

So far this year, Miramax and Dimension have rolled out some hits (“Sin City”) and smaller acquisitions (“Dear Frankie”) along with some titles with expiration dates many had figured passed (“Mindhunters”).

“Sin City” took in nearly $74 million; Miramax and Dimension slate’s next highest earner has been the Bruce Willis-starring “Hostage,” with $34.6 million.

A slate of 11 pics released so far this year has grossed just over $181 million.

But for every left-field hit and cagey date shift, there were always other tales hiding within the Miramax vaults of pics collecting dust.

Last winter, when Bob and Harvey Weinstein were in a war of words with Disney, the brothers were said to be floating a list of pics to rival studios to snap up as they got their house in order and the pipeline cleaned.

This release sked would seem to override that plan. The films are indeed finally going to see the light of day just before the brothers ride into the sunset and their new media venture, the tentatively named the Weinstein Co.

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