The movie industry's passion for splashy advertising gimmicks is about to go to new heights.
Outer-space to be exact.
In the first known advertising effort in space, Columbia Pictures will promote its movie "Last Action Hero," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, by painting the title logo on the main fuselage of an unmanned rocket that will be launched in May by NASA. The launch itself is a first for the U.S. space program's COMET venture, a joint effort of the U.S. space agency with private industry and education groups.
While Columbia would not reveal a price for the publicity stunt, knowledgeable sources said it probably will cost Sony Corp.'s film company about $500,000--somewhat more than the cost of a 30-second network TV prime-time commercial.
"We could have sold dozens of ads," said Mike Lawson, president of Space Marketing Inc., the private Houston and Atlanta-based firm that represents COMET for promotional efforts. But Lawson said COMET settled for one ad, because "We didn't want the rocket to look like a pace car at the Indy 500."
One space development researcher at the University of Houston, Dr. Alex Ignatiev, said he is not surprised by the arrival of space advertising: "This fits right into the development of space and that means the utilization of space. . . . We have to find ways of using, not abusing space."
Ignatiev, who works in a university department that is in part supported by NASA, said such efforts as those by Columbia and other businesses will help defer some costs. "The COMET program is not a pure NASA research program," he said. "It's a commercial venture and it opens the door in terms of a new way of accessing space."
Columbia Pictures Chairman Mark Canton said "Last Action Hero" is about "stepping into different worlds," and as such is a "perfect" theme for a rocket launch. "We're always trying to find original and unique ways to promote our movies. And this is unique. In this case, people around the world watching the TV launch will see it." The film opens June 18.
The movie's promotional campaign includes a 900 telephone number through AT&T by which callers can leave a message to be sent into space. Two callers will be selected to help Schwarzenegger push the button to launch the rocket.
Meanwhile, on Earth . . . Shooting of "Last Action Hero" continued Tuesday in New York as Columbia launched a Macy's Parade-size balloon, Canton said. The balloon, which looks like a giant Schwarzenegger dressed as the police officer he plays in the movie, was floating over Times Square and is used in the film itself. But in deference to last week's bomb explosion at the World Trade Center, Canton said a police badge was substituted for dynamite sticks originally held by the Schwarzenegger balloon.
Times researcher Lianne Hart in Houston contributed to this report.