The Publicist:

Cruise and Spielberg should try saving Hollywood, not the world

Cruise and Spielberg should try saving Hollywood, not the world

The War of the Worlds has the weight of the world on its shoulders.

Movie attendance has been sliding in recent years and the industry is counting on its two biggest figures, Spielberg and Cruise, to change that. "Don't save the world, Steven and Tom - save us," is the cry from Hollywood this summer.

Pretty tall order, even for the twin titans. Sure, the latest Star Wars is making its fortune, but that's not enough to end the doldrums. Competition from home video, computer games, the internet, new summer TV programs, and, good grief, a resurgence in book buying are "peeing on the rug" of the box office. Oh, and perhaps the quality of movies has had something to do with it. When was the last time you saw a film you couldn't wait to tell your friends about? A mesmerizing adventure like Jaws, Indiana Jones, or ET?

The cinematic slack has some publicists wringing their hands, thirsting for a hit like a man lost in the desert. The press, meanwhile, under the thumb of publicists for 15 years, is looking to get in a few shots when the chips are down, accusing publicists of everything from orchestrating phony Hollywood romances to sheer incompetence.

The Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson recently wrote a candid story about Cruise and his "publicister," sibling Lee Anne deVette, insinuating the actor's recent PR mishaps - the sofa incident on Oprah, the criticism of Brooke Shields - were due to Lee Anne taking a softer hand with the media than did her predecessor, Pat Kingsley.

Similar stories echo suspicions that Cruise's relationship with Katie Holmes is a publicity stunt. A common query: Why do we always hear about his love life when his films come out? Brad and Angelina's status has also fueled a rumor maelstrom, which seems to have helped sales for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. (Doubtful it was due to Pitt imploring us to save Africa.)

Despite Smith's strong numbers, it's iffy to rely on personality stories to draw people to the box office. Remember Gigli? You want to fill seats, offer something audiences can't get three months later at a video store. Bring back the grand entertainment experience that was once the trademark of the motion-picture theater. Go old school. Moviegoers in New York in the 1950s, for example, were once treated to a short film by Stanley Kubrick, a Robert Mitchum feature, and a Frank Sinatra concert. Let's see Blockbuster do that.

Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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