Judging by the movie studio’s response to the mass murder at a Colorado movie theater where The Dark Knight Rises was playing, I anticipate some serious changes in the way movies are made, consumed and distributed. That the mass murderer assaulted innocents during an exhibition of a work of art could have a ripple effect in an industry dominated by huge corporations that may yield to politicians, pressure groups and government controls. Warner Bros., a division of Time Warner, cancelled several premieres in the wake of the attack, an arguably reasonable action taken out of an abundance of caution as the phrase goes.
In fact, there have been scattered arrests related to incidents at movie theaters showing the new Batman movie, and certainly tactful public relations is good business. But what is abandoning a motion picture on the market – Warner Bros. has apparently also cancelled most of their marketing for the movie and refused to disclose box office receipts for the most anticipated movie of the year – supposed to accomplish? Does the studio’s ditching of The Dark Knight Rises honor the memory of those victims who enthusiastically sought to see and experience the movie? Does it increase one’s understanding of the attack? Does it increase the likelihood that nihilists will attack future screenings of other so-called tentpole or event movies? Is it ethical to all but throw a project years in the making into the ditch? What about a movie studio’s contractual and moral obligations to the filmmakers, cast and crew and company employees and shareholders? Is Warner Bros. capitulating to brute force?
There are legitimate questions about tact and propriety and I’ve been critical of nihilistic movies and their effects on the culture. A company such as Time Warner has a right to cross-promote its products across multiple platforms, as Comcast’s NBC Universal and Disney’s ABC routinely do. The issue is a company’s disclosure, trust and integrity, particularly with regard to journalistic enterprises (which also applies to advocacy). For example, Time Warner owns the asinine aggregated ratings Web site RottenTomatoes.com, which purports to reduce movie analysis to numbers (the site requested my reviews for submission years ago and I declined) and, when the Web site pulled comments regarding the Time Warner-owned The Dark Knight Rises, I assumed it might be a cross-promotional stunt. I did the same when Time Warner’s publication, Entertainment Weekly, put the film on the cover with an exclusive interview with its star, Christian Bale, and director, Christopher Nolan. Let the buyer beware of potential conflicts of interest. But at least let the prospective buyer be aware that a motion picture has been made and put on the market.