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Uneasy Airlines Get Final Cut on 'Rain Man'

June 29, 1989|STEVE WEINSTEIN

Passengers on at least 15 different airlines have been treated to Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise's Academy Award-winning road trip in "Rain Man" since the beginning of June, but the crucial scene that propels them on their highway odyssey in the first place has been edited right out of the picture.

Both Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ronald Bass have been crying foul, but the firm distributing the movie to airlines says the cuts were approved by the film makers.

In the version now being shown on planes, the four-minute airport scene--in which Hoffman, as part of his Academy Award-winning performance, lists a string of airplane crash statistics and then when pressed by Cruise to board a plane panics and screams--has been cut out to avoid alarming airline passengers. Both Levinson and Bass have complained that the film doesn't make much sense without the scene.

"I think it's a key scene to the entire movie. That's why it's in there," Levinson told the Associated Press. "Without that scene, it comes down to this: You basically lose an enormous impact of the film. That scene tells you that they, mechanically, are forced to drive across country and, secondly, that Charlie can only push Raymond so far because he knows what will happen."

"Any plane crash or reference to plane crashes, nudity, rough language, because of the captive audience, are always edited before they are shown on planes," said Don Sathern, supervisor for visual programming for Sony-Trans Com Inc., the nation's largest in-flight movie service, which serves as a middle man between film studios and the airlines. "People are scared enough to fly as it is."

"I think it's preposterous," said George Kirgo, president of the Writers Guild. "If the airlines are really concerned about the welfare of their passengers they should do something about their food and the delays. I think it's just plain stupid censorship. I would be angry if it were my work."

Sathern insisted that while editing films for airline consumption is commonplace, final approval of all film editing is ultimately left to the creative people responsible for the film. The airlines and Sony-Trans Com make suggestions for cuts that would make the film acceptable to them for in-flight use, Sathern said, and then the film makers say "yes or no."

"They don't always agree with the suggestions, but sometimes they'll go along with them anyway because it's money to them and they're willing to make some small concessions," Sathern said.

Levinson said in a phone interview Wednesday that only the studio had the right not to sell the film to the airlines.

"In this case (there was) nothing we could do once UA said, 'We're selling it anyway,' " Levinson said. "Even if you argue and say, this scene is pivotal to an understanding of the character and how violent he could become in terms of his emotions. They said, 'Look, they (airlines) don't want anything that refers to the dangers of flying.' And the airlines would say, 'We don't care about character or story. We just want to keep someone occupied for two hours.' "

Neither the film's producer nor officials at United Artists were available for comment.

As of this week, the film had grossed more than $168 million at the box office, and MGM-UA estimates that about 42 million people have seen the movie. Sathern said that a good airline movie could pull in $1 million more. The edited version of "Rain Man" is currently screening on United, TWA, American, Pan Am and at least 10 other airlines.

But at least one airline, Qantas, is showing the film intact. As Cruise badgers his autistic older brother to try various airlines, Hoffman cites crash date and casualty count for each carrier mentioned. Finally Hoffman singles out Qantas as the only airline he'd be willing to fly.

"Qantas?" Cruise asks.

"Never crashed," Hoffman replies.

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