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‘Harry Potter’ shocker: ‘Half-Blood’ pushed to 2009

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Talk about a disappearing act: Harry Potter just vanished from the 2008 movie schedule.

Warner Bros. shocked fans around the globe on Thursday when it announced that “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth installment in the massively successful film franchise about a young wizard and his friends, will not hit theaters in November as planned. The film will instead be delayed eight months and arrive on July 17, 2009, according to Alan Horn, Warner Bros. president and chief operating officer.

The move was made in the wake of the writers’ strike and to exploit the potent summer film market in the same fashion as the last “Potter” film, which grossed $292 million in U.S. theaters after its July 11 release last year, Horn said.

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‘We are still feeling the repercussions of the writers’ strike, which impacted the readiness of scripts for other films — changing the competitive landscape for 2009 and offering new windows of opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of,’ Horn stated in the release.

That may be, but any scheduling change for a blockbuster release stirs intense scrutiny in Hollywood, and across the industry Thursday there was speculation that the move reflected some significant problem with the London-based production or with some other part of Warner’s release schedule.

The major Warner’s film already scheduled for next summer is “Terminator Salvation,” a darker reboot of the killer-robot franchise, which stars Christian Bale. That movie is now shooting in New Mexico.

Warner is riding high right now with one of the great modern success stories in Hollywood, “The Dark Knight,” the Batman film that stars Bale as well as the late Heath Ledger. The grim super-hero movie has now gone north of $450 million in the U.S. since its release July 18. The film is now second only to “Titantic” as the top-grossing film in history.

That success alone may have emboldened Warner to shift “Half-Blood Prince,” its next world-class heavyweight release, to next year. “Half-Blood Prince” will in fact be released in the same weekend that “Dark Knight’s” release fell on this year. Horn told the Associated Press that the rescheduling should not be parsed for signs of trouble.

“The picture is completely, absolutely, 100% on schedule, on time. There were no delays,” Horn said. “I’ve seen the movie. It is fabulous. We would have been perfectly able to have it out in November.”

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Perhaps, but it’s quite a jolt to fans of the “Potter” films and books, who are among the most intense devotees in contemporary pop culture. There will be a two-year gap now between the film adaptations of books five and six in J.K. Rowling’s bookshelf of magical tales. But it will shorten fans’ wait between “Half-Blood Prince” and the final two installments, which are being shot simultaneously next year.

The seventh and final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” will be split into two films, which apparently remain scheduled for November 2010 and summer 2011.

According to Jeff Robinov, president of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group: “The release date change does not alter the production schedule for this or future Harry Potter films. Post-production on ‘Half-Blood Prince’ was completed on time, and the studio’s release plans for the two-part ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ will not be affected by this change. We know Harry Potter fans are eagerly anticipating seeing the final chapters unfold onscreen.’

Here’s the press release from Warners:

BURBANK, CA, August 14, 2008 – Warner Bros. Pictures today announced that it has moved back the release date of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” to Summer 2009. The sixth installment of the blockbuster Harry Potter franchise will now open day-and-date domestically and in the major international markets on July 17, 2009. The announcement was made by Alan Horn, President and Chief Operating Officer, Warner Bros. In making the announcement, Mr. Horn stated, “Our reasons for shifting ‘Half-Blood Prince’ to summer are twofold: we know the summer season is an ideal window for a family tent pole release, as proven by the success of our last Harry Potter film, which is the second-highest grossing film in the franchise, behind only the first installment. Additionally, like every other studio, we are still feeling the repercussions of the writers’ strike, which impacted the readiness of scripts for other films—changing the competitive landscape for 2009 and offering new windows of opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of. We agreed the best strategy was to move ‘Half-Blood Prince’ to July, where it perfectly fills the gap for a major tent pole release for mid-summer.” Jeff Robinov, President of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group, confirmed, “The release date change does not alter the production schedule for this or future Harry Potter films. Post-production on ‘Half-Blood Prince’ was completed on time, and the studio’s release plans for the two-part ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ will not be affected by this change. We know Harry Potter fans are eagerly anticipating seeing the final chapters unfold onscreen. In fact, the good news for them is that the gap will now be shortened between ‘Half-Blood Prince’ and the first part of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.’” Commenting on the release date change for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” David Heyman, the producer of all the Harry Potter films, offered, “When Jeff Robinov explained the rationale behind moving the release date of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ to July 2009, it was immediately apparent that this offered us the potential to reach the widest possible audience. I am extremely proud of this latest film and of the work of David Yates and our incomparable cast; I believe we have developed and pushed the series further still. We are all looking forward to sharing it with Harry Potter fans around the world, even if we have to wait just a bit longer.” David Yates, the director of both “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and who will also helm “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,’ added, “It has been a joy to work on ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.’ Dan, Rupert and Emma and all our returning young cast continue to blossom, and our new cast members bring fresh color and life to Hogwarts. Even as we put the finishing touches on this latest film, we are already beginning preparations on the final two films—we start filming in February—and I am excited to bring this remarkable series to the exciting and moving conclusion its loyal fans deserve.”

In “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” Voldemort is tightening his grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry suspects that dangers may even lie within the castle, but Dumbledore is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle that he knows is fast approaching. Meanwhile, the students are under attack from a very different adversary as teenage hormones rage across the ramparts. Love is in the air, but tragedy lies ahead and Hogwarts may never be the same again. Warner Bros. Pictures presents a Heyday Films production, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” David Yates, who directed last year’s summer blockbuster “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” returns to direct “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” David Heyman and David Barron are the producers, with Lionel Wigram serving as executive producer. Steve Kloves wrote the screenplay, based on the book by J.K. Rowling. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are reprising their roles as young wizards Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. The film also stars Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis and Julie Walters. The cast also features David Bradley, Jessie Cave, Frank Dillane, Tom Felton, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Helen McCrory, Natalia Tena, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and Bonnie Wright.

Photo from ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ courtesy of Warner Bros.

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