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Movie theater shooting: Shaken film industry reacts

After movie theater shooting in Colorado, theater owners review security and Warner Bros. cancels events surrounding 'The Dark Knight Rises.'

July 21, 2012|By John Horn, Ben Fritz and Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times
  • A security officer patrols around the box office at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live.
A security officer patrols around the box office at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live. (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

The deadly rampage in Colorado shattered a fundamental appeal of moviegoing: a chance to escape the humdrum for a world of fantasy. Now, theater owners and theWarner must figure out whether"The Dark Knight Rises"can still be an entertaining diversion, not a reminder of a tragic mass shooting.

The shooting also raised the specter among moviegoers that they could become targets, leading theater owners and some police forces to step up security measures this weekend.

"It's horrifying what happened in Colorado and it makes me scared about copycats here," said Katie Gerber, 34, who had tickets for a Friday afternoon screening at the ArcLight in Hollywood. "I'm not nervous to go see the movie now, but it'll be hard not to think about it during the gun-fighting scenes."

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"The Dark Knight Rises" was poised to become one of the summer's biggest box-office hits. The film took in $30.6 million at midnight screenings, the second-biggest midnight opening of all time, and box-office experts said the sequel could gross as much as $200 million in its first three days of release, a mark which only"The Avengers"has surpassed.

In a statement, director Christopher Nolan acknowledged the damage the shooting had done to the sanctity of the moviegoing experience.

"I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime," Nolan said in a statement. "The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me."

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While a number of theater owners publicly said the show must go on, one exhibitor conceded that parents in particular may be reluctant to send their children to "The Dark Knight Rises" — or any movie for that matter. Attendance at some Friday morning screenings proved sparse, and several theater chains said they would honor ticket-buyer requests for refunds.

Because so many of Friday's "Dark Knight" tickets were pre-sold, it was difficult to immediately determine if the shooting was having a material effect on attendance.

Warner Bros., the studio behind the $250-million-plus production, entered crisis mode after the news broke of the shooting at a midnight showing of the movie. The studio immediately canceled a splashy Friday night premiere in Paris for which director Nolan and the star-studded cast led by Christian Bale had already flown across the Atlantic, as well as media events next week in Tokyo and Mexico City.

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TV ads touting the film were pulled from most major networks, including CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN, and Warner Bros. ordered a halt to showing all trailers for its upcoming film "Gangster Squad," which features a violent shootout in a movie theater.

Shortly after the shooting, the Burbank studio issued a statement expressing sympathy for the victims. The senior executive team led by Chairman Barry Meyer met at 10 a.m. to discuss how to handle issues such as marketing and premieres without seeming crass or insensitive, according to people at Warner not authorized to speak publicly.

Studio staffers from around the world began gathering on conference calls as early as 5 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time to discuss how to respond to the shooting. Most other business was on hold in Warner Bros.' film department as employees quickly moved to rewrite plans for their most important release of the year.

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Theater owners said they were reviewing their security procedures. AMC, the nation's second-largest theater chain, said it would not allow guests to wear costumes "that make other guests feel uncomfortable" or permit fake weapons or face-covering masks, as some people have worn to the earliest "Dark Knight Rises" screenings. Patrons at some theaters, including a Regal theater in Washington, had their bags checked by theater employees as a precaution.

But exhibitors ruled out measures such as bringing in metal detectors, calling them intrusive and difficult to implement.

"It's physically impossible to check every person absent turning it into airport-level security, and no one wants to do that," said Bruce Frank, president and chief executive of Frank Theatres, which operates 26 locations in states including New Jersey, Florida and North Carolina.

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Ted Mundorff, president and chief executive of the 60-location Landmark Theatres chain, said exhibitors always place a premium on their patrons' safety and comfort, in large part so moviegoers can "enjoy escaping and visiting other worlds."

But even with additional security measures, he said, it would be almost impossible to thwart an attack like the one in Aurora, which he called "an American tragedy." Said Mundorff: "The reality is you don't stop somebody like this."

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