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ADMAN'S NIRVANA : Bus Movie Strikes 'Buddha' Campaign

July 31, 1994|ROBERT W. WELKOS

It took a while, but advertisements for "Little Buddha" are finally up to "Speed."

When Bernardo Bertolucci's film about an American boy who is believed to be the reincarnation of an important Buddhist lama opened in May, distributor Miramax Films created an ad campaign that tried to capture the mystical nature of the fable.

"From the creator of 'The Last Emperor,' " read the opening-day print ad, "comes a magical journey to a place where the past and the present meet." Pictured beneath was a blond boy surrounded by robed Buddhist youths. The boy's face, bathed in light, looked back toward the camera.

But in case you didn't notice, the movie starred Keanu Reeves.

What a difference a few weeks have made.

Since "Little Buddha" debuted, Reeves has become one of Hollywood's hottest stars with his role as an LAPD cop trying to defuse a bomb on board a bus in "Speed." The 20th Century Fox movie has grossed more than $100 million and Reeves has attracted a large female audience.

Now Miramax is belatedly trying to cash in on Reeves' star status in its latest round of ads for "Little Buddha."

The new ads show a virile Reeves, shirtless from the waist up, his hair braided and cascading down his shoulders.

"Keanu Reeves, the summer's most explosive star in the season's most dazzling spectacle!" gush the latest newspaper ads.

Whereas the old ads stressed the spectacle of the movie itself--"A richly entertaining, visually stunning masterpiece," read one review quoted in the opening day ad--the new ones use portions of reviews that focus on Reeves.

"Keanu Reeves' carefully nuanced turn, alongside his performance in 'Speed,' shows he is here to stay!" the ads quote the New York Post. "Bertolucci's choice of Keanu Reeves pays off!" says Time magazine in another.

Miramax officials said they are not trying to mislead the public into believing that "Little Buddha," a thoughtful period piece, is either somehow like "Speed" or filled with sexy scenes of Reeves.

"We're not trying to sex up the ad," said David Dinerstein, vice president of marketing. "We're trying to utilize Keanu. We feel this film has a lot of different elements to it and Keanu is one of the more important roles."

Dinerstein conceded that Reeves' success in "Speed" prompted Miramax to alter its print advertising, but he explained that the company often changes ad campaigns in midstream to keep alive interest in its films.

In "The Piano," for instance, the initial ad campaign depicted close-ups of Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel, but this was later changed to a shot of Hunter on the beach with a piano.

"Our hallmark is the ability to keep films in theaters four to six months," Dinerstein explained. "Like Water for Chocolate," he noted, is in its 75th week of release.

Miramax expects "Little Buddha" to play into the fall, Dinerstein said. There are financial reasons for keeping the movie going. Miramax reportedly spent $7 million to $9 million to acquire the North American rights. The film has grossed less than $4.5 million.

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