FOX DELAYS CAMERON'S AVATAR

Twentieth Century Fox announced Tuesday that it will delay the release of James Cameron's 3-D Avatar to Dec. 18, 2009in order to give the director additional time to devote to the titanic post-production work on the film. It had originally been scheduled for release over the Memorial Day holiday, a time that generally produces the biggest box-office returns of the year. Instead, the studio indicated, it plans to open Night at the Museum 2: Escape From the Smithsonian, starring Ben Stiller, on May 22, 2009. In addition, Fox has set Ice Age 3 in digital 3-D for the Independence Day weekend. Noting that the release of Avatar will come 12 years almost to the day of Cameron's Titanic, the most successful film of all time, Fox executive Hutch Parker told reporters Tuesday: "This is a win-win for us. ... Avatar goes to the Titanic date in December, which was obviously auspicious for Jim and us, and by the time of the release, there will be more worldwide 3-D screens available."

CATHOLIC BISHOPS YANK POSITIVE REVIEW OF COMPASS

Without explanation, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has retracted on its website a positive review of The Golden Compass that appeared in Catholic newspapers last week. The review had appeared to counterbalance claims by the Catholic League, the nation's largest Catholic lay group, that it served as an introduction to atheism expounded in the trilogy of books on which the movie is based. The League had urged a boycott of the film. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Jim Lackey general news editor of the Catholic News Service, run by the bishops' conference, acknowledged that he was told to remove the review from the CNS website. "It's hard for me to categorize whether or not it was a surprise," he told the newspaper. Meanwhile, the church's Raleigh, NC diocese on Tuesday warned pastors in a letter about the possible ramifications of the film. "The concern is that once a child gets 'hooked' on the film or the books, then the next film could resort to the true atheistic nature of the books," the letter said.

COMPASS ON TARGET OVERSEAS

The Golden Compass was obviously more adept at finding its bearings overseas than it was in the U.S. The New Line film, which garnered only a disappointing $25.8 million in its U.S. debut, took in $51 million in its foreign debuts (earlier estimates had put the figure at $55 million) according to final figures released Tuesday. The film earned $14.8 million at 507 theaters in the U.K. alone. That works out to an average of $29,129 per theater -- versus $7,308 in the U.S.

CRITICS CHOICE NOMINEES A MIXED BAG

Once again pointing up the lack of consensus over which motion picture deserves best film honors, the Broadcast Film Critics Association divided its major nominations among seven films for its annual Critics Choice Awards. Into the Wild led with seven nominations; Juno received six; and Atonement, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, Sweeney Todd and Hairspray each received five. All of the films received best picture nominations with the exception of Hairspray. Also nominated for best picture were American Gangster The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Kite Runner, and There will Be Blood. Winners are due to be announced during an awards telecast on VH1 set for January 7.

NO BUYER FOR CITIZEN KANE OSCAR

Orson Welles's best screenplay Oscar for Citizen Kane failed to sell at a Sotheby's auction Tuesday when no bid exceeded the reserve price. The auction house declined to reveal what the reserve had been but earlier had estimated the value of the statue at $800,000. At similar auctions in the past of early Oscars, Steven Spielberg has stepped in to purchase the statues and then return them to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Welles Oscar is currently owned by Dax Foundation, a Los Angeles-based charity. At the same auction, held at Sotheby's New York auction house, Welles's personal working copy of the Citizen Kane script went for $97,000.

SPIELBERG DENIES REPORT HE WAS FIRED BY REDSTONE

A spokesman for Steven Spielberg has denied a report appearing in the online edition of Radar magazine that Steven Spielberg is leaving DreamWorks. The magazine quoted "sources deep inside Viacom" as saying that Viacom chief Sumner Redstone has decided to oust Spielberg in the same manner he did with Tom Cruise. Both, the article noted, had made huge profits from their back-end deals on the Paramount-distributed War of the Worlds "while the studio sucked wind." However, a spokesman for Spielberg told The Hollywood Reporter, "Radar's radar kind of bounced off an incorrect source." Separately, the spokesman told Radar: "This story is incorrect. Everybody who knows the DreamWorks deal and the Spielberg deal at Viacom knows that he is fireproof." Radar said that it "stands by its source."

COMMERCE SECRETARY SAYS CHINA BARS U.S. FILMS

Despite official denials by Chinese officials who maintain that there has been no ban on U.S. films on the mainland, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said today (Wednesday) that China has indeed stopped granting permission for Hollywood films to be shown in its theaters. Speaking to reporters near Beijing during a break in economic talks between the U.S. and China, Gutierrez said, "My understanding is that there is a suspension, which has happened in the past." He noted that China has always imposed a quota on the number of U.S. films shown there "and we would like to get that lifted."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.