LOS ANGELES - "Letters From Iwo Jima," Clint Eastwood's companion film to his World War II saga "Flags of Our Father," has been bumped up to a December release, making it eligible for Academy Awards consideration.
Shot back-to-back with "Flags," which opened in October, "Letters From Iwo Jima" will open Dec. 20 in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and possibly one other market, said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros., which is releasing the film. "Letters From Iwo Jima" had been scheduled for release Feb. 9.
The film is the flip side of "Flags," which tells the story of the Iwo Jima invasion and the celebrated raising of the U.S. flag there from the American perspective. "Letters From Iwo Jima" chronicles the battle from the point of view of Japanese troops defending the island, with Ken Watanabe starring as the general in charge.
"Letters From Iwo Jima" opens Dec. 9 in Japan, where director Eastwood has been screening it to great acclaim, Fellman said Thursday.
"The reaction has been overwhelming, more than he ever expected, and based on that conversation and the fact that the movie is ready to go, it was in the best interests of the movie to move the date up," Fellman said.
The schedule change mirrors the approach Warner Bros. took two years ago with Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby," which was ready earlier than expected and added to the December slate as a last-minute entry to qualify for the Oscars.
"Million Dollar Baby" won best-picture and three other Oscars: director for Eastwood, actress for Hilary Swank and supporting actor for Morgan Freeman.
"Flags of Our Fathers" debuted to praise from critics but has been a box-office underachiever, poking along to a modest $31 million domestically so far. Weak box-office returns are viewed as a potential hindrance to a film's awards prospects, creating a negative aura that it failed to live up to expectations.
Bookending "Flags of Our Fathers" with "Letters From Iwo Jima" so quickly afterward could raise the awards and financial prospects for both films. If "Letters From Iwo Jima" earns similar critical praise, it will make Eastwood's achievement - two ambitious, acclaimed films in one year - all the more impressive.
"Flags of Our Fathers" was distributed domestically by Paramount, though Warner Bros. is handling the film overseas. Fellman said the so-so results on "Flags of Our Fathers" was not a consideration in moving up the release of "Letters From Iwo Jima," "but if it helps, I'm pleased."