“Soon to be a major motion picture,” says the cover of the novel “Tulip Fever.” Someone may need to define “soon.”
The film adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s popular 2000 historical romance, which was shot way back in 2014, had been delayed three times already. It was set to finally arrive Friday, but was pushed a fourth time to Sept. 1, launching a social media pile-on with the same gleeful schadenfreude usually reserved for the New York Knicks.
Suddenly “Tulip Fever” has become the year’s biggest disaster — at least in the minds of some of those following it.
“I refuse to believe Tulip Fever is a real movie and not some kind of elaborate prank,” wrote @Cinesnark on Twitter.
“Ryan Murphy will soon announce an FX limited series about the production and release of Tulip Fever,” sniped @jbaker475.
I refuse to believe Tulip Fever is a real movie and not some kind of elaborate prank.
— Sarah (@Cinesnark) August 22, 2017
The movie takes place in 17th-century Holland, during the infamous tulip boom. Christoph Waltz plays a wealthy merchant who hires an artist (Dane DeHaan) to paint a portrait of his young wife (Alicia Vikander). Artist and subject soon begin an affair so torrid, its trailer can be screened only with other R-rated movies.
The movie has been gestating since the time Donald Trump was known just for his divorces.
Steven Spielberg optioned the rights before the book was even printed. Jude Law and Keira Knightley were at one point set to star before that version crumbled.
Later, Harvey Weinstein and his Weinstein Company took on the project with a script by celebrated playwright Tom Stoppard. Now, after all that, a curious wave of bad buzz threatens to sink it.
“It’s hard to ignore when something like this happens,” says Daniel Loria, editorial director at BoxOffice Media, which tracks box office figures and the movie theater sector. “There is a little bit of glee in seeing a project delayed so much.”
One potential reason for the glee is the film’s high-profile filmmakers and cast, which also includes Cara Delevingne.
“It’s coming to light with a lot of pedigree, so that opens the door to a lot of questions, like, ‘Wow, how can a team like that make a movie like this?’” says Ilyssa Goodman, a filmmaker and indie distribution strategist. “People like to speculate and social media is the best place to speculate.”
Twitter and Facebook have given everyone the power to be armchair critics, and they’ve been using it to playfully smack around “Tulip Fever.” But to be fair, there are many reasons a movie’s release date gets moved.
“I wouldn’t see a film getting shifted around as a sort of set-in-stone determination of its quality,” Loria says.
Sometimes, a film changes weekends because the studio fears the slot is too competitive. Other times, a movie could be undergoing reshoots or continuing to be tweaked in an effort to improve it. That’s what happened with “Tulip Fever,” one insider says. The filmmakers were adjusting the music, for example, as late as this month.
“Grace of Monaco,” the 2015 Nicole Kidman misfire, was delayed in part because the royal family criticized it. The 1999 Antonio Banderas epic “The 13th Warrior” was held up due to concerns from book author Michael Crichton.
Some movies inexplicably never come out at all, such as “Hippie Hippie Shake,” a Sienna Miller period drama shot in 2007 by Working Title.
One good indicator that a movie isn’t very good — especially prestige, awards-type projects — is if they get booted from a prime fall spot to early the next year.
It’s unclear if “Tulip Fever” is worth watching. A theater aficionado who saw a rare early screening reports a few giggle-worthy moments, including Waltz’s character asking his bride for a hand because “my little soldier is drowsy tonight” and the incongruous sight of hipster comedian Zach Galifianakis in period dress.
If it is bad, the question for any movie becomes: Why not just release it instead of moving it around, thereby drawing more attention and scorn? Or, why not just cut your losses (marketing and distribution costs can often equal a film’s budget) and send it directly to a streaming service?
But in today’s crowded market, awards and acclaim are often the only way to draw an audience.
“When you’re working with a tentpole, they have a fanbase. That fan base is going to love your movie even if it’s not good,” says Goodman, whose latest film “The Standoff” is on Netflix. “That’s not the case here.”
Then again, it could be that all the online buzz may actually benefit “Tulip Fever.”
“Sometimes when a movie has a long gestation period, it only adds to its mystique. And for people who had never heard of it, it puts it on their radar,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore, a media analytics company. “This has certainly put this movie on the map — just maybe not in the way that the filmmakers intended.”
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