06/10/2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
A rough, early version of the eagerly anticipated summer movie "The Hulk" made its way onto the Internet last weekend -- some two weeks before the film's scheduled June 20 premiere -- sending shockwaves throughout the corridors of its studio, Universal, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The same thing happened with last year's "Spider-Man" and the current Disney hit "Finding Nemo," but in those cases, it was the finished film that went up on the Net, the Times reports.
The bootlegged version of "The Hulk" that hit the Web was an unfinished print (keyword: unfinished), and now the film has received an early critical drubbing by the Ain't It Cool News movie gossip site.
In other words, aside from piracy problems, Universal is now battling poor advance word of mouth on its $150 million movie.
The comic-book adventure stars Australian actor Eric Bana, 34 ("Black Hawk Down"), as Bruce Banner, a geneticist who goofs up during an experiment, causing him to transform into a giant green guy whenever he's stressed. Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte costar.
Fears that director Ang Lee has created a fake-looking computer-generated Hulk have been circulating for months now, ever since Universal rushed out a "Hulk" commercial to air during the Super Bowl.
"The success of the movie is going to rest on the audience believing that the Hulk is real," Drew McWeeny, West Coast editor of Ain't It Cool News tells the Times. "And clearly, it's not in this print."
For its part, Universal is playing down the opinions on Ain't It Cool News, claiming Internet critics don't represent the average movie-going public. Besides, what they are judging is not the finished film, the studio insists.
As for the piracy issue, "We are conducting a thorough investigation to determine how this occurred, and those responsible will face serious consequences," Universal spokeswoman Susan Fleishman tells the Times.