14 Apr 2009 8:15 am   //   Filed under: Movies, Review, Technology

Spoiler alert

Last night I watched the leaked workprint of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie that doesn’t open until May 1. The print appeared online around April 1, much to the dismay of 20th Century Fox, which has vowed to find the person responsible for leaking the file. I used a Web site called The Pirate Bay and a program called Limewire to find and download a Quicktime file; it took about four mouse clicks. Apparently it’s so easy to find a streaming version of the bootleg that one movie critic stumbled upon it by accident.

I intended to use this post trying to justify why I should be excused from breaking the law, but I can’t. Every argument I tried was plainly rationalizing. It’s wrong to pirate movies.

On the other hand, it’s also wrong to jaywalk. Tens of thousands (if not millions) of movie buffs have already watched the Wolverine workprint, and society has not broken down into anarchy. Piracy (the kind involving movies, not boats) isn’t going to go away. It’s getting easier and easier to share movies. For a digitally equipped movie fan, respecting copyright law requires counter-intuitive behavior: I want to see this movie now, but instead I’m going to sit on my hands. Good behavior carries a punishment: Those who avert their eyes are denied a piece of cultural currency.

In my case, the idea of seeing an unfinished bootleg of a soon-to-be summer blockbuster was too seductive for me to pass up. If you’re curious about movie making and special effects, you’ll learn a lot from this workprint. It’s a good lesson in how important sound and music are; even an unfinished CGI scene feels like a full part of the story when it has sound behind it. (And if you’ve ever lived within the Three Mile Island evacuation zone, as I have, you’ll enjoy the TMI scenes at the end of the film.)

Having seen the workprint, will I pay to see the finished Wolverine next month? Yes. It’s good, and I recommend you go see it in the theater. But that’s not really the point. As I started to write this post, I was going to use the fact that I’m promoting the movie to justify my viewing it illegally online. But that logic fell apart as I was scrolling through a list of other pirated movies available. On the list was Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a comedy I would never spend a cent of my own money to see. Yet my first thought was, “Hey, maybe I’ll watch that one next.”