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DreamWorks’ holiday ‘War Horse’

Studio firms up 2011 slate, moves Spielberg and Levy pics

In an unusual move, Steven Spielberg will have two films opening just days apart over the 2011 Christmas holiday — WWI drama “War Horse” and motion capture 3D pic “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.”

It’s almost unheard for a top director to have two pics opening so closely together, both for competitive and publicity reasons. Then again, Spielberg is known for bucking the rules.

War Horse,” from DreamWorks Studios and Disney, was to have opened Aug. 10 in the U.S., more than four months before Paramount opens “Tintin” domestically on Dec. 28. “Tintin” is a Par/Sony co-production, with Sony distributing overseas.

But DreamWorks and Disney switched direction Wednesday, pushing back “War Horse,” based on the stage play and young-adult book about a boy who goes in search of his horse on the battlefields of the Great War.

DreamWorks co-chair/CEO Stacey Snider said there are enough holiday auds to support both films.

She said the decision to move “War Horse” was reached following a summit in London last week with her team and top Mouse House distribution and marketing execs, led by prexy of global distribution Chuck Viane. Some were shown footage of “War Horse,” which Spielberg is lensing in London.

“The reaction to the footage — which he usually never shows — was that it feels like a big, holiday movie,” Snider told reporters during a conference call. “It just became inevitable that we would move it. (Spielberg) feels great about it.”

Though “War Horse” and “Tintin” will vie for some of the same family eyeballs and both will aim for a PG rating, “Tintin” is likely to play much younger and isn’t live action.

Also, DreamWorks and Disney haven’t committed to a release pattern for “War Horse,” according to insiders. It could play on far fewer screens than “Tintin” initially. As of now, “War Horse” has the Dec. 28 frame to itself in terms of new openers.

And while “Tintin” doesn’t open domestically until Dec. 28, it begins to roll out overseas in late October, meaning Spielberg and Peter Jackson — his collaborator on “Tintin” — will be well into the publicity campaign for that pic before “War Horse” gears up.

Spielberg’s longtime producing partner Kathleen Kennedy is producing both “War Horse” and “Tintin,” but DreamWorks doesn’t have a stake in the latter.

Jackson, who will direct the second “Tintin” film, also is a producer. Jackson didn’t have a problem with “War Horse” and “Tintin” unspooling within days of each other, according to insiders.

One veteran publicist said it’s still a gutsy move for DreamWorks and Spielberg because the director will have to tubthump two movies at the same time, with an equally strong voice for each.

“Yet both movies will have enough marketing money behind them, that it probably won’t matter,” the publicist said.

Nor is it technically the first time Spielberg has had two films open so closely together. In 1982, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Poltergeist” unspooled one week apart, although Spielberg didn’t direct the latter but wrote and produced.

There were other key changes to DreamWorks’ 2011 release calendar made in the wake of last week’s London summit, where footage from four other films were shown.

“War Horse’s” relocation opened up a prime spot for “The Help,” a femme-driven pic based on the bestseller. Disney and DreamWorks will open the film Aug. 12, a lucrative spot for female-skewing movies such as “Julie and Julia.”

And DreamWorks has decided to push up the release of Shawn Levy’s original event pic “Real Steel” from Nov. 18 — a crowded frame that includes the bow of “Twilight: The Breaking Dawn” — to Oct. 7.

Snider said the move will give “Real Steel,” about the world of robot boxing, time to grow an aud and hopefully play straight into the Thanksgiving frame.

DreamWorks, infused with new capital, has a total of six movies now dated for 2011. Jon Fav-reau’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” a co-production with Universal, is the only film that won’t go through Disney. U releases the Daniel Craig-Harrison Ford-Olivia Wilde topliner on July 29.

First DreamWorks/Disney release is Alex Pettyfer’s action-thriller “I Am Number Four” on Feb. 18, followed by “The Help,” toplining Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer, on Aug. 12. On Aug. 19, Craig Gillespie’s 3D horror pic “Fright Night” opens.

“We were all looking at the release calendar with laser focus,” Snider said. “We really wanted to make sure, based on the reaction to all the footage, and based on the competitive landscape, that we were doing well by all the movies.”

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