Could Morten Tyldum’s ‘Passengers’ get delayed?

In 2016, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are two of the most sought after actors in Hollywood. Few would dispute that any film with one of the stars has the potential to be a critical and box office success. After all, Lawrence has received 4 Oscar nominations, and one win, since 2010. Pratt became a star with primary roles in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Jurassic World.” Luckily, director Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) saw the writing on the wall and paired up the two for his new film “Passengers.

With such a talented pair on the film, expectations for the film are high. However, the film may be facing some trouble from a below-the-line effects company. According to THR, the science fiction extravaganza’s visual effects development has been put on hold. The effects production company, Digital Domain, has been in a series of legal battles in recent months. On June 17th, a federal judge ruled that the company had to freeze production of its MOVA motion capture technology. Apparently, “Passengers” uses this motion capture program for parts of the film. In essence, the court order prohibits Digital Domain from working on the film until further issues are resolved.

This could be a blow for “Passengers” for a handful of reasons. First and foremost, the film is slated to release in December, so it is already pushing eligibility limits. Second, its possible the producers planned a “Gravity” style campaign to drop the film at Telluride. This news makes that plan somewhat unlikely now. The fall film festivals are a great place for Academy members and critics to get a look at the movie, and the delay hurts that opportunity.

Third, Sony could try to push this film out quickly despite the shortened time line. The movie cost about $120 million to produce, so it is a pricey feature. If Tyldum were to reshoot the scenes using different technology, the quality of the effects may suffer. With a prime release date for Oscar in 2016, it is doubtful they want to push the film back either. The other possibility is that Sony expedites its production time, which is rarely good for effects heavy films. Sony is sitting on a losing corner no matter what happens now.

Finally, if the delays progress for too long, excitement for the movie may dwindle. When science fiction properties get pushed back, buzz is almost always worse than your average film. This is usually due to problems with effects, but it can also point to internal trouble on the film. In this case, it doesn’t appear to be a problem with the rest of the cast, but the effects it has for the film could still be the same.

Buzz for the film was strong out of Cinema Con, so this legal battle is an unpleasant bump in the road. Digital Domain has already filed suit to continue work on current projects, but it feels like a longshot for the production studio. The legal developments could be an interesting wrinkle for the 2016-2017 Oscar race, so we’ll update you as news breaks.