'Dark Knight Rises' Prompts Mixed Reaction From Academy Members

Tom Sherak 84th Academy Awards Final Oscar Ballot - H 2012
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Tom Sherak 84th Academy Awards Final Oscar Ballot - H 2012

UPDATED: Members packed the house for a screening Saturday night, as Academy President Tom Sherak asked for a moment of silence.

Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences packed the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on Saturday night to the point of overflowing for a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, with Academy president Tom Sherak acknowledging the shooting in a rare pre-screening speech.

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But whether it was the somber nature surrounding the evening because of the shooting or -- as multiple Academy members who attended the screening told The Hollywood Reporter -- a lack of enthusiasm for the film, the standing-room-only audience stayed for the closing credits and then departed without much discussion.

“We knew we were going to have a huge crowd even before the tragedy; a lot of people had been talking about coming. Even I, who normally would not come to this side of town to go to a movie, was planning on coming before the tragedy because it felt like a big summer movie and I wanted to see it,” Sherak told THR. “After what happened, you aren’t going to stand there and talk about it. Normally, I think there would be more conversation afterward. ... (During the screening) very few people moved. It’s a very intense movie, and it played really, really well."

However, another longtime Academy member, who regularly attends the Saturday night screenings, said there was only sporadic applause, that Academy members are very vocal when they like a movie and that they tend to give pictures that are going to get a lot of Oscar love a big ovation.

The Academy member said what he heard in the halls and elevator was that “people were kind of disappointed. It wasn’t because of (Colorado). I just don’t think that this picture will get any nominations (beyond technical nods)."

"There was nothing remarkable about the acting," said a female Academy member who regularly attends the Academy screenings. "I don’t think it can be nominated as best picture.”

One high-profile Academy member who went on record via Twitter was Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote: "Not that it really matters, but there was zero love for 'The Dark Knight Rises' at the packed Academy screening in Los Angeles tonight." In later tweets, he said he was "with" the film and admired Christian Bale's performance in particular. 

Of course, the voting is still a long way off, critics including THR's Todd McCarthy have praised the film, and there are thousands of other Academy members who have yet to see the movie.

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Sherak said he took the unusual step of addressing the audience before a screening "because the Academy needed to say something about what happened. ... Movies are meant to entertain us. We should be able to take our family to a movie and be safe. What happened in Aurora, Colo., was just a horrible, horrible thing. I know if was very unusual to say something, but sometimes you feel it would be more unusual if you did not say something.”

Sherak, the former head of distribution at 20th Century Fox and an acknowledged expert on movie distribution and exhibition, says the shooting is having an impact on the movie industry -- and specifically, he predicted studios would shift their release calendars to highlight less violent fare.

“Something like this is not going to go away quickly,” Sherak said. “If I have a picture that is very violent now, I would try and find another place for it later on. It just makes common sense.”

He says it is not only the right thing to do but would be good business: “You have to think about protecting the movie because you have an investment in it, and also you don’t want to do something that in any way or form would turn people off.”

Sherak gives Warner Bros. high marks for the way it handled the situation. “I can imagine the shock, the horror, to have this happen just as such a big movie is released," he said. “It doesn’t cease being a big movie. There is still joy, anticipation and excitement. ...Then all of a sudden this unfortunate thing comes along, and you are shocked. You were ready to be crowned, and now, all of a sudden, you have got to say to yourself, ‘Oh my god!’"

“I think they acted appropriately,” Sherak added. "They acted incredibly differential and weren’t thinking of the grosses. (It was right that they) did not report them (over the first weekend). I think they acted completely professional, as much as one could act when this happens.”

Overall, the movie was well-received, Sherak maintained.

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“I thought the evening ended the way it started,” adds Sherak, “with people seeing an incredibly well-made movie, knowing what happened, watching it and then going home.”

Here is the complete text of Sherak’s statement to the audience at the Academy screening:

“As president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I would like to take a moment, before we begin the movie, to acknowledge the events of this past Friday morning, during the showing of Batman in Aurora, Colo.

“We are all stunned and horrified by such a senseless act of violence, by a deranged individual, who took the lives of so many innocent people and wounded so many others.

“The moviegoing experience is one we should be able to enjoy with others, in our community, in an environment that is safe. We should be able to go to our local theatres, leave our problems behind and allow the movie to transport us to a place that entertains us and captures our imagination.

“For now, though, we understandably feel angst and uneasiness with this tragic event and question the how and the why.

“Let us take a moment of silence, before we begin, to hold those innocent people and their families in our hearts and in our prayers. Our condolences, surely, go out to all of them. Thank you.”