'Shutter Island' release pushed back

Scorsese-DiCaprio film now set for Feb. 19

In an unexpected move, Paramount has pushed the domestic release date of the latest Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration, "Shutter Island," from Oct. 2 to Feb. 19. It is also moving the film's international rollout to February.

The move leaves the studio's fall slate virtually empty but for writer-director Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones," adapted from the bestselling Alice Sebold novel. That film, which stars Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, does not open until Dec. 11.

"Our 2009 slate was greenlit in a very different economic climate and as a result we must remain flexible and willing to recalibrate and adapt to a changing environment," said Paramount Pictures Chairman and CEO Brad Grey in a statement.

"Leonardo DiCaprio is among the most talented actors working today, and Martin Scorsese is not just one of the world's most significant filmmakers, but also a personal friend. Following a highly successful 2009, we have every confidence that 'Shutter Island' is a great anchor to lead off our 2010 slate and the shift in date is the best decision for the film, the studio and ultimately Viacom."

Paramount has struggled through these fourth-quarter financial waters before. Late in 2008, the studio pushed the dramas "Defiance" and "The Soloist" from their fall, awards-season slots back to January and April, respectively. The ostensible reason then was a shortage of marketing funds in the 2008 budget that were then devoted to promoting "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Dec. 25) and "Revolutionary Road" (Vantage, Dec. 26).

Neither "Defiance" nor "Soloist" drummed up much boxoffice support when they finally hit theaters.

In that shakeout, DiCaprio ended up with a prime awards season slot for "Revolutionary," but little awards season love. But in the current shift, he and Scorsese have lost their potential fall momentum that "Shutter" might have developed and are now relegated to February, from which few awards contenders ever emerge.

Given the financial squeeze and hamstrung promotional possibilities, the hidden reason for the shift could be a sudden wild card in the late-season landscape: writer-director Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," co-written by Sheldon Turner. "Air," which premieres at the Toronto Film Festival in several weeks, now has a soft Dec. 4 release date.

Early buzz on the movie, and star George Clooney's performance, is very good, so Paramount could ultimately be tempted to parlay whatever bounce the film gains in Toronto into an earlier fall release, with an ongoing push for awards recognition. Regardless, the studio could simply see "Air" as a better bet than the thriller genre film "Shutter" in the kudos category, and since its budget was likely a third of "Shutter's," its marketing costs will be more affordable as well.

Meanwhile, after getting wind of the Paramount move, Fox Searchlight immediately slid its Ellen Page-Drew Barrymore film, "Whip It!" into "Shutter's" old Oct. 2 slot, where its only competition will now be the Coen Bros.' "A Serious Man," also a Toronto premiere.

"Bones" and "Air" are both DreamWorks-developed properties, and neither is a guarantee in the awards or boxoffice race. In a return to his pre-"Lord of the Rings" mode, Jackson's film reportedly retains the dark, disturbing tone of the novel, about a young girl's rape and murder and its aftermath -- not exactly a Christmas crowd-pleaser.

"Air" is an adaptation of a below-the-radar Walter Kirn novel, about a corporate downsizing expert grappling with the state of his life and career. Its appeal is, however, similar to that of Reitman's debut, "Thank You for Smoking," which garnered the writer-director a host of kudos attention.

Steven Zeitchik contributed to this report.