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`Sahara' jury to get a viewing

Much appears to ride on the panel's response to the movie. Novelist Clive Cussler's lawyer opposes the studio screening.

February 16, 2007|Glenn F. Bunting | Times Staff Writer

The jury in a high-wattage Hollywood trial will take an unusual field trip to the historic Paramount Pictures studio lot today to watch the 2005 film "Sahara."

Much appears to be riding on how the jury responds to the movie, which is based on one of the popular Dirk Pitt novels written by Clive Cussler.

Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz claims in court papers that Cussler doomed the project by acting unreasonably in exercising his approval rights over the script and by criticizing "Sahara" during media interviews before its 2005 release. Crusader Entertainment, Anschutz's production company, has lost about $105 million on the movie.

At the urging of Anschutz's attorneys, Superior Court Judge John P. Shook arranged for the jury of eight women, four men and six alternates to view the adventure movie at an elegant screening room on the Paramount lot.

The lawyer for Cussler had opposed showing the film outside the courthouse. Bertram Fields argued that the excursion would put "too much emphasis" on the movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.

"It's prejudicial and pandering to the jury," Fields said Thursday in an interview.

Anschutz's lawyers contended that it would be unfair for the film to be played in a working courtroom with uncomfortable chairs, poor video and sound quality and constant interruptions.

"It is important for the jury to decide whether audiences enjoyed this movie or not," said Alan Rader, Anschutz's lead attorney. "The only way to do that is to see it in a real movie theater with a real projection system."

Though he conceded that his case would be helped if jurors disliked the movie, Fields said it was not essential to proving the breach-of-contract case.

"Even if they made a wonderful movie, Clive still gets to approve the changes because he is the decider, to use a current phrase," Fields said.

On Thursday, Lew Hunter, a UCLA screenwriting instructor called by Cussler's attorneys, testified that "Sahara" audiences were probably turned off by "juvenile humor" and "superficial" romantic scenes he described as "Marina del Rey-like."

The jurors will make their own determination this morning after traveling by bus to the Paramount lot on Melrose Avenue. They will be accompanied by sheriff's deputies, attorneys from both sides, the judge and his staff.

No popcorn will be served.

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glenn.bunting@latimes.com

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