Why the world is ready for 2 ’Snow Whites’

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Moviegoers may want to take two bites of the same apple next year: A pair of live-action adventure flicks based on Snow White will come out in theaters just months apart.

As it stands, the first, still-unnamed Snow White movie is scheduled for release March 16. That gives moviegoers two and a half months before “Snow White and the Huntsman” on June 1.

Executives are confident that both projects can succeed, given their differences in stars, tone and plot.

However bizarre the coincidence is, history shows that two similar projects like these can both attract large audiences.

In May 1998, viewers turned out for “Deep Impact,” a movie about a comet threatening Earth. They showed up again that July when an asteroid did the same in “Armageddon.” “Deep Impact” sold $349 million in tickets worldwide, and “Armageddon” followed with $555 million.

Audiences didn’t duck for cover either when “Dante’s Peak” blew in February 1997 only to have “Volcano” erupt that April. The first made $169 million and the other $120 million at the box office.

The latest standoff pits a couple of “frenemy” studios against each other — newbie studio Relativity Media and its longtime distribution partner, Universal Pictures.

Since 2005, Relativity had provided financial backing for most of Universal’s new movies in a deal that was to last through 2015. But Relativity has been eager to make money from distributing as well, as it did with the March 8 release of “Limitless,” which has sold more than $150 million in tickets worldwide.

So in June, Relativity passed its co-financing deal with Universal to Relativity’s financial backer, Elliott Management. That paved the way for the two studios to compete head to head — Relativity with the unnamed movie and Universal with “Huntsman.”

“Everybody kind of goes into this eyes wide open,” said Tucker Tooley, Relativity’s president of worldwide production. “It’s the nature of competition. It’s the nature of this business.”

Universal executives declined to comment.

Executives argue that the two Snow White movies are spaced far enough apart so that advertising one won’t inadvertently drive people to the other.

Most movies make 95 percent of their sales in the first four weeks. On average, people in North America see four movies a year. There’s plenty of time to get refreshed and go out again.

“Ten weeks in the movie business is a lifetime,” said “Huntsman” producer Joe Roth.

He should know. Roth was head of Disney’s studios when its “Armageddon” opened second but still sold $200 million more in tickets worldwide than “Deep Impact.”

The casts of both Snow Whites are also distinct enough to merit a return trip to the theater.

In Relativity’s version, billed as a family comedy, Julia Roberts is in for an intriguing role reversal as the former “Pretty Woman” plays the Evil Queen.

“She’s a very fun and evil and wicked Evil Queen,” said producer Bernie Goldmann, who also produced “300.” Nathan Lane is set to add a humorous touch as a bumbling Huntsman.

In Universal’s epic action adventure, Kristen Stewart of “Twilight” fame gets “Karate Kid”-like fight training from buff Chris Hemsworth of “Thor.” Hemsworth plays the mercenary Huntsman, who disobeys orders to kill her. The action-packed movie also involves a love triangle with Prince Charmant, played by Sam Claflin.

“At its heart, it becomes a girl’s empowerment movie,” Roth said.

Timing and casting aside, Snow White is a tale that has been told many times with many different plot twists. These versions follow that tradition.

In an early Italian retelling, the good guy we know from Disney’s 1937 animated classic as Prince Charming rapes Snow White while she’s sleeping, according to Tina Boyer, a professor of German at Wake Forest University. She awakes not to a kiss, but to her baby being born. Another tale has Snow White fleeing her father, not her wicked stepmother, because he’d like to make her his incestuous wife.

Relativity’s movie has Snow White teaming up with the seven dwarves to fight the Evil Queen. In Universal’s, she teams up with the Huntsman to fight back.

Reading the 20-plus different versions is partly what inspired Melisa Wallack to write her own take in the script that Relativity later bought, said Goldmann, Wallack’s husband.

“It enabled us to understand that there was a lot of freedom in expanding the story,” he said.

Evan Daugherty had written the other Snow White script while he was a film student at New York University many years ago. He also takes many liberties with the plot. Universal, now owned by Comcast Corp., bought it following a bidding war.

It helped that “Alice in Wonderland” sold $1 billion at the box office last year and revived interest in classic stories that feature young girls and have fallen out of copyright protection.

Even if producers of both projects saw success and jumped on the bandwagon, there aren’t enough complex roles for young women these days anyway, said Marjorie Rosen, a professor of film and journalism at Lehman College. Having characters as rich as Snow White and the Evil Queen on screen is a blessing, Rosen said, even if there are going to be two versions of them.

She said pent-up demand for strong female leads has led to the success of a slew of recent bride movies, from “27 Dresses” and “Bride Wars” to the recent “Bridesmaids.”

“Women were lining up for the first week or two because they were desperate for movies about them,” Rosen said. “Maybe (the studios) are hoping that Snow White is kind of like that but better.”

And if there’s two, why not a third? Word has it that Disney has been working on a live-action remake of its animated classic for the past decade. In that one, Snow White ends up in a forest with seven Shaolin monks.

At its core, each iteration is about a dysfunctional family, something that touches everyone at some level. That may be why the story is still relevant today.

“They can take the basic themes if they want to and go with it because that’s what fairytales and folklore are all about,” said Wake Forest’s Boyer. “They have to be reinvented. That’s how they stay alive.”

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