When can respect for the victims and the business of the movies co-exist?
In the early hours of July 20th, I found myself starring at a tiny video screen inches from my seat. My JetBlue flight had just landed at LAX after a five-hour flight from JFK and I'd randomly turned to CNN as my plane was taxing toward the gate. There I discovered that a shooting had taken place at a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in suburban Denver. Turning on my phone, I discovered twitter was being overrun with messages of disbelief and anger. Only a few hours before, on the same plane, I'd completed a lengthy article on "Rises" Oscar chances. My intent was to post it when I got home, just in time for the film's opening day. As the details of the shooting became more and more horrific, it became clear publishing my commentary anytime soon would be incredibly inappropriate.
It's been less than 10 full days since one of the worst single shootings in American history, but even for someone not dealing with the tragedy on a day to day basis it feels more like 10 weeks. Cable news networks devoured the story like the fire that enveloped the Hindenburg. Within half a day the shooting had been politicized and over-analyzed in everything from theater safety to the depiction of violence in movies. However, like so many events in our 24/7 news cycle, the public's attention has ultimately been diverted - mostly to the non-stop barrage of Olympics news and imagery (HitFix included). And to be frank, while the thriller's box office has been slightly under its processors haul, its 60% drop this past weekend had as much to do with the nation sitting in front of their televisions and watching tape-delayed opening ceremonies and swimming from London than the Aurora shootings. And for every friend or acquaintance who admits they are weary of seeing "Rises" because of Aurora, there are there or four who have already seen the film multiple times. Make no mistake, James Holmes is as disturbed as they come, but what happened in that theater could have taken place in a health club, a shopping mall or your local McDonald's. The reality of how it could have been prevented is another conversation entirely and will no doubt become a bigger issue when the story circles back when Holmes eventually faces a jury of his peers.
In Hollywood, the industry has been so shocked by the events that it's seemingly been frozen like a deer in headlights. The other major studios quickly realized they needed to join Warner Bros. in keeping the box office grosses for that weekend under wraps, but many of them are trying to quickly forget what could have been their own greatest nightmare. Warner Bros., the studio behind "The Dark Knight Rises," has been taking what can only be described as a day by day approach and trying not to over publicize its charity efforts. This is uncharted waters for any entertainment company or corporation. Some might see their conservative actions as callous, but the legal ramifications for any public move the Time Warner division makes at this point is serious business.
Happily, Christian Bale took it on himself to visit the survivors of the shooting and the only real evidence of his trip was the Facebook and twitter photos he took in the hospital, because this was for the fans, not the local or national news media (as one publicist friend at a rival studio remarked, "He can now pretty much run for president now," which of course he can't because he's British). The tributes continued Friday when the consistently remarkable composer Hans Zimmer released an original track titled "Aurora" from which digital sales go directly to a victim's fund.
So, with the Olympics in full swing and social media more obsessed with the Olympics and Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson's "break-up," does it break the bounds of good taste to discuss the awards season chances for "Rises" now?
Other pundits had weighed in "Rises" chances before the film opened. One respected Oscar expert even reported on the film's triumphant response at the official Academy screenings on opening weekend after the shooting (and "moment of silence" or not, its something I personally would have postponed, if possible). At the moment, Warner Bros. is trying to delicately walk the balance of convincing moviegoers to return to the movie theater without disrespecting the victims. Sort of like the fear of flying for some. You have to remind everyone a major jetliner hasn't crashed in over a decade. This "shouldn't" happen again tomorrow. Truth be told, no one will know the true effects on movie going habits until after the Olympics. Or, at the tail end when "The Bourne Legacy," "The Campaign" and "Hope Springs" debut on August 10. So, wondering whether a full fledged awards campaign is still in the cards for "Rises" has to be the furthest thing from the minds of anyone on the Warner Bros. lot. Will that be the case two or three months from now? We'll see. "Rises" earned somewhat unexpected rave reviews from influential critics at the LA Times, Time, Salon, the Hollywood Reporter and the New York Times (it got a solid B+ in my book). It's likely to land on the top 10 lists of a number of major critics and will have grossed over $425 million in theaters when all is said and done. All notable facts and figures for most tentpole awards season contenders. But, still. Even writing this post we wonder: Is it too early to talk about awards season and "The Dark Knight Rises" again?
When victims of Aurora are still in the hospital? Perhaps I'm oversensitive, but that's the easy reminder that Oscar should always take a back seat to the real world.
"Rises" and its Oscar chances can wait.