A sentence was handed down yesterday in the case of Gilberto Sanchez, a 49 year-old Bronx man who leaked an early workprint of X-Men Origins: Wolverine onto the Internet. The film was distributed about a month before the film’s release. Sanchez didn’t produce or “steal” the print in a traditional sense, but claims to have gotten the film from a street vendor.
Following a guilty plea, Sanchez has been sentenced to a year in prison. The stiff penalty is due to the fact that Sanchez has been convicted of piracy before, and is known to have regularly leaked films onto the Internet, though to what end still isn’t clear.
Clearly, the studios would like to send a message to illegal downloaders of films and other media. The message is clear: Theft of creative content won’t be treated any differently than theft of other goods.
However, I would like to editorialize for a moment and posit that Sanchez isn’t the real criminal here, but rather the cast and crew behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine for making such a terrible, terrible film. Are they to not be held accountable for their actions as well? Wolverine grossed over $179 million domestically, which means that over 10 million people were subjected to this film. A less sensitive person would argue that this is more than twelve times the number of people killed in the Shensi (China) earthquake of 1556. Alas, I am not that person.
There are a number of counts on which I believe the Wolverine conspirators should be brought forth, so let’s discuss them individually, shall we?
It is my intent to demonstrate that the producers willfully and knowingly created a kick-ass trailer that looked AWESOME, only to have audiences learn that it contained all the good parts of the film. Precedent is set here with The People Vs. American Pie 2. For your review, please consider the trailer for the film (Exhibit A):
Please note that the trailer offers little in the way of a slow love story that no one cares about, however the film harps on this romance, even though the audience is much more interested in Wolverine shredding things with his claws than we are in lovemaking scenes with obscured breasts, clearly lacking in any off-the-camera chemistry.
Negligent Filmmaking Under the Black Eyed Pea Statute of 2008
In order to prevent heart attacks, angered and confused viewers, and in-theater riots, an act of Congress was passed the year before Wolverine premiered, requiring any film featuring a member of the Black Eyed Peas not featured in a talking-animal role (the now famous Madagascar exception), to clearly state that fact in all advertising and before the opening credit of the film.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine did no such thing. Rather, they kept Will.I.Am largely away from junkets and the media at large, only have him appear in the film unceremoniously as John Wraith, giving audiences little time to gouge out their eyes or consume their cyanide pills.
The fact that he appears to be a gay cowboy throughout the film is prejudicial, but warrants mentioning (Exhibit B):
The film’s flimsy script cost the studio $150 million to produce, and the film contained over 1,000 shots that required computerized visual effects. Further, though the film features a strong performance from star Hugh Jackman, other assets such a Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch, Danny Huston, and Liev Schrieiber are all squandered in the film, essentially serving as interchangeable window dressing for the story of Logan (Wolverine).
Screenwriter David Benioff had originally hoped for a darker story that would delineate the Origins series from the more mainstreamed X-Men films, producing a script that he had thought would receive an R rating. Hugh Jackman, a producer on the film, thought the grit and darker story was unnecessary, insisting Wolverine reach a broader audience with a PG-13 rating. Consequently, theatergoers were denied both breasts and a substantial amount of gore, left only to wonder what might have been.
How does a film spanning 150 years leverage current brands for product placement dollars? Not very well, it would seem.
In order to offset the $150 million budget (of which $25 million went to Jackman) Wolverine whored itself out on a sizable scale, having peppered the film with heavy-handed nods to Papa John’s, 7-11, Harley-Davidson, and Schick razors, reminding the world that Gillette isn’t the only razor company in the world.
Further, Wolverine appeared in a Got Milk? campaign, which is total crap, because you can’t charge me $13 to tell me the story of how Wolverine came to be such a badass, then posit in a magazine a few days later, “Oh. It was mostly by drinking milk, actually.” If I wanted to watch a man become great by drinking milk for 90 minutes, I would start shopping around my screenplay, Milkin’ It. But I won’t because that screenplay is terrible.
So does Gilberto Sanchez deserve to go to jail for a year? Yeah, probably. He seems to have made a bad career out of pirating films. But is he solely culpable here? Absolutely not. I feel strongly that, when the court announced the verdict for Mr. Sanchez, they should have included a “Surprise Conviction” for all the producers and cast of X-Men Origins: Wolverine for making such a terrible, overblown film. Nothing terribly punitive. Just enough to send a message. Like 17 years in jail or something.