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Wonder Woman director warns movie-going could become extinct

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LOS ANGELES – Patty Jenkins’ new Wonder Woman movie has been delayed three times during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the director is sounding the alarm that movie-going itself is under real threat.

This as Warner Bros. said late Monday that it is delaying the release of Dune and The Batman movies, another setback for the entertainment industry hit by COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and social distancing measures that have closed theaters worldwide.

Jenkins is among dozens of top Hollywood directors appealing to the US government to provide a financial lifeline to cinemas. Without it, she warned, the century-old tradition of going to the movies could disappear from American culture.

“If we shut this down, this will not be a reversible process,” she said in an interview from her home in Los Angeles. “We could lose movie theater-going forever.”

While theater attendance has rebounded in some countries following a global shutdown in March, the US market is struggling. The National Association of Theater Owners said 69% of small and mid-sized cinema companies could be forced to file for bankruptcy or shutter permanently.

On Monday, the world’s second-biggest cinema chain, Cineworld, decided to temporarily close its UK and US movie theaters in an attempt to survive a collapse in film-making and cinema-going.

Credit rating agency Fitch promptly downgraded the company. “Our base-case forecasts indicate that, the company’s current liquidity levels may only be sufficient until November to December 2020, assuming no revolving credit facility (RCF) extensions,” Fitch said in a statement.

Ms. Jenkins said widespread closures would lead Hollywood studios to stop investing in films for theaters, and turn to streaming instead.

“It could be the kind of thing that happened to the music industry,” she said, “where you could crumble the entire industry by making it something that can’t be profitable.”

Expensive action movies like Wonder Woman would be much less common on streaming, she said, and audiences would miss out on the experience of watching on a big screen in a large group.

“I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where the only option is to take your kids to watch a movie in your own living room,” she said, “and not have a place to go for a date.”

Some of this year’s major Hollywood films, including Walt Disney Co.’s Mulan, skipped cinemas and went straight to streaming. Ms. Jenkins said that option is not under consideration for her sequel, Wonder Woman 1984. Her 2017 Wonder Woman film took in $822 million at box offices worldwide.

The follow-up starring Gal Gadot as the lasso-wielding warrior is now scheduled for release by AT&T, Inc.’s Warner Bros. on Christmas Day in December. It had originally been set for June.

Ms. Jenkins said she was watching the progress of the pandemic and hoping that Wonder Woman can lead a return to cinemas that gives people a welcome escape from reality.

“I really hope that we are able to be one of the very first ones to come back and bring that into everyone’s life,’ she said.

WARNER BROS. DELAYS DUNE, THE BATMAN
Dune, a sci-fi movie directed by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, is now scheduled to open in October 2021, instead of December. The release of The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson, has been moved to the spring of 2022 from October next year.

Movie releases have been getting delayed even after restrictions were eased, with people still wary of stepping into cinema halls, and many theaters still not operational.

Earlier, the filming of The Batman was also shut down for two weeks after a member of the production — widely reported to be Pattinson tested positive for the new coronavirus. Filming resumed in Britain last month and Warner Bros. never confirmed or denied reports about Pattinson’s diagnosis.

Dune has gained a lot of traction for its cast that includes 24-year-old Timothee Chalamet, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the 2017 film Call Me by Your Name. The release of the new James Bond movie No Time to Die from MGM and Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures has also been delayed until April 2021.

JURASSIC WORLD SEQUEL PRODUCTION SUSPENDED
Meanwhile, production of Jurassic World: Dominion from Universal Pictures has been suspended for two weeks after a few people on the set tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), director Colin Trevorrow said on Wednesday. “All tested negative shortly after, but due to our safety protocols we’re going to pause for two weeks,” Mr. Trevorrow wrote on Twitter.

Filming on the dinosaur adventure movie resumed in England in July under stringent protocols for the cast and crew to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Production had been halted in mid-March because of the pandemic, which shut down movie and television sets around the world.

Mr. Trevorrow did not identify who had tested positive on the movie, whose stars include Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Universal Pictures, part of Comcast Corp, announced Tuesday that the release date for Jurassic World: Dominion was being pushed back one year to June 2022.  Reuters

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