Leonardo DiCaprio vs Leonardo DiCaprio in a battle of release dates

One of the strangest scheduling moments on the film calendar this year happens in December, where we get not one but two new films from director Steven Spielberg in the space of a week.  Considering he hasn’t had a new film in theaters in the last three years, that seems like a strange traffic jam to end up on the books.

Still, “The Adventures Of Tintin” and “War Horse” are very different movies, and I don’t see much cross-over in audiences.  I think one is aimed at families and young viewers and its an adventure movie, and the other definitely skews older, a sprawling emotion war story.  They play to different strengths that Spielberg has as a director, and I think there’s room for both of them to be successful without cannibalizing each other.

Next Christmas, though, an even more bizarre head-to-head match-up is on the books, and I can’t imagine it actually plays out the way it looks on paper right now, because one of the studios involved will have to blink and figure out a new date.  We can’t really be getting two new Leonardo DiCaprio movies on the same day, can we?

Earlier today, word broke that “The Great Gatsby” is now set for a Christmas Day release.  This is the Baz Luhrmann version where DiCaprio reunites with his “Romeo + Juliet” director for a 3D version of the Fitzgerald story that has so far seemed difficult to adapt to film.  And I think I’m being kind when I say “difficult.”  The best-known version so far, the 1974 adaptation starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, may have been written by Francis Ford Coppola, but it’s still a stiff, a pretty but empty version of the story.  There was a version of the film made in the ’20s, and another in the ’40s, as well as a live version for TV in the ’50s starring Robert Ryan.  Fitzgerald’s novel almost defiantly resists adaptation, so I’m curious to see how Luhrmann and his co-writer Craig Pearce plan to handle it.

One thing’s for sure:  they’ve got a great cast.  Along with DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Tobey Maguire, and Gemma Ward are all onboard, and I’m going to guess this will be just as supercharged as a film as Luhrmann’s other movies are.  They’re well underway at this point, so they should have no trouble finishing the film for Christmas.

Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” which had already claimed that Christmas day release, is also starting to put together a really interesting and eclectic cast, a given when you’re talking about a Tarantino film.  DiCaprio is set to play Calvin Candie, a truly disgusting human being and the film’s biggest bad guy. He’s a slave owner who runs a plantation that revolves around prostitution and pit fighting, and he’s going to go head-to-head with Jamie Foxx as Django and Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, bounty hunters who are searching for Django’s wife so they can free her.  They’ll be joined by Kurt Russell, Don Johnson, Tom Savini, Samuel L. Jackson, and more, and this may the most sprawling and ambitious thing that Tarantino’s ever attempted.

The thing is, when you’re talking about which audience you’re selling a film to, both “Django Unchained” and “The Great Gatsby” are aimed directly at adult cineastes, people who are drawn to director-driven cinema, people looking for something more than just a cinematic cheeseburger.  Both films will also trade heavily on the casting of DiCaprio, one of the biggest name movie stars in either movie.  I’m sure he’ll feature prominently in the marketing of both films.

When you back Harvey Weinstein into a corner, he fights dirty, and since he already had the date, I’m guessing he’s not going to want to back off.  This is the big holiday release that The Weinstein Company is building their 2012 schedule around, and it’s crucial to them.  For Warner Bros., “Gatsby” is a big expensive gamble, and they’re going to want to make the biggest splash they can during the holidays.

This is going to be a fascinating game between two major studios, and no matter what, DiCaprio’s going to be a huge presence during the Christmas 2012 season, and crucial to the success of these movies.  We’ll definitely be watching to see how this unfolds.