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Scheduling conflicts

Hollywood rushed to second guess moviegoers


With 20/20 hindsight, we can look back to the days following the attack on the World Trade Center and take note of the many mistaken assumptions about the future of mass entertainment. Media watchers' best guess had audiences rejecting violent action features for light fare, but at the box office in the month following 9-11, Denzel Washington's crime drama Training Day was one of the first hits, while the Bruce Willis caper comedy Bandits proved a surprising under-performer.

With the nation in a state of collective shock, Hollywood can be forgiven for going overboard in some of its decisions. Studios postponed any film with possible associations to the terrorist attacks, including the urban romance Sidewalks of New York, the Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot-em-up Collateral Damage and even the comedy Big Trouble, with its plot involving a bomb on an airplane.

It could be hard to tell when rescheduling was based on genuine sensitivity or simple opportunism (and the two frequently worked together). Ali was originally to open Dec. 7, but the studio moved it by a few weeks, expressing reservations about releasing a film with Islamic subject matter on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. But concern over current events seemed merely a pretext for postponing the opening of Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, a period piece set in the 1850s.

In some cases, the conventional wisdom completely reversed itself within two months. The John Woo World War II Windtalkers was shuffled from October to July, out of concerns that audiences would shun depictions of the armed forces. Yet in November, Behind Enemy Lines, a jingoistic treatment of the Bosnian conflict, was brought forward to the week after Thanksgiving, and probably benefited from the increased attention.

The most surprising move was Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott's account of the disastrous Somalia mission of 1993, which cost the lives of 18 soldiers. Before Sept. 11, Black Hawk Down had been on the schedule for March 2002, and afterward seemed all but certain to be shelved indefinitely. Instead, the film -- which reportedly emphasizes the soldier's point of view over politics -- will get an Oscar-qualifying release in New York and Los Angeles before Christmas and can be expected to open in Atlanta in early 2002.

An understandable if discomforting move was the excision of the World Trade Center from such films as Zoolander and even the trailer for Spiderman. Films intending to use the World Trade Center as locations or symbols (including Men in Black 2) were hastily rewritten, and Steven Spielberg is even removing the line "You look like a terrorist" from the Halloween scene of E.T.'s re-release next year. But when filmmakers realize they can capitalize on national pride and solidarity, expect films set before Sept. 11 to make a point of including footage of the two towers they way they were.


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