The Work

December 17, 2008 11:44 AM

Geek Alert: What Happens to "Watchmen" Now?

Posted by Zach Lowe

Last month, we wrote that we had never seen a case more convoluted than the battle between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox over who owns the movie production and distribution rights to "Watchmen," the upcoming movie based on the epic 1986 graphic novel.

A federal judge apparently agrees. In a highly anticipated hearing on Monday, Judge Gary Feess of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California decided he simply could not rule on either side's motion for summary judgment. He scheduled a trial for January 20--six weeks before "Watchmen" is set to hit theaters, according to court records.

The dispute centers on whether Fox gave up distribution rights to "Watchmen" in a complicated set of deals with an independent producer during the early 1990s. Warner claims Fox did just that, but Fox says it retained a right of first refusal that required Warner Bros. to approach Fox before going ahead with the film. In its motion for summary judgment, Warner indicated it would accept some partial settlement with Fox--perhaps cutting Fox in on the distribution rights. Fox, on the other hand, went for it all--the sole right to produce and distribute the film.

Warner initially hired a team from Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs & Shapiro to handle the case, but when Feess denied Warner's motion to dismiss the Fox suit, they hired Irell & Manella heavyweight Steven Marenberg to join the team. Marenberg recently had been a Warner rival, having represented "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson in a lawsuit against New Line Cinema (then a Warner subsidiary) over "Lord" payouts.

Alston & Bird is representing Fox.

According to several industry publications, including Variety, no one is quite sure what Feess' ruling means for the "Watchmen" release. Warner is pushing ahead with a March 6 release date, and the studio has already screened 22 minutes of the film at a convention.


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