PUBLICIST: Fox displays foresight with PR push for 'Day After Tomorrow'

As the summer movie season was being officially launched last weekend, two studios were performing tricky high-wire acts with their opening releases.

As the summer movie season was being officially launched last weekend, two studios were performing tricky high-wire acts with their opening releases.

As the summer movie season was being officially launched last weekend, two studios were performing tricky high-wire acts with their opening releases. Fox very effectively tightroped its way to an $86 million opening-weekend box-office haul by both using and distancing itself from the political and environmental undertones of The Day After Tomorrow. MGM, meanwhile, had to take a more defensive posture against attacks that its Soul Plane comedy was racially insensitive. The studio went through this once before during its release of Barbershop, but that movie had the built-in defense of being funny. Throughout the extensive publicity campaign for The Day After Tomorrow, Fox spokesperson Florence Grace repeated the company mantra that it was all about entertainment. Nothing else. Knowing that "message" movies can be box-office poison and that no one goes to summer movies to learn anything, the PR team wisely played dumb about the film's hot-button issues, stressing that the utter destruction of the planet was all in good fun. Just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no room for polemics in effects-laden, tent-pole blockbusters. "Go ahead and try to find some sort of a morality tale here, if you must, " the studio challenged, "but for goodness sakes, keep it to yourself and be sure to buy some popcorn. Extra large." Meanwhile, Fox screened the film for eco groups and encouraged responses from leaders of anti-global warming movements. Brilliant strategy. Ignite an argument and then take no part in it. Just stand back and reap the benefits of controversy. Now that's good PR. Tomorrow is also a good movie. That can't be said about Soul Plane, which came under fire for its racial stereotypes and unflattering depictions of African Americans. Its references to fried chicken and 40-ounce malt liquor are the most obvious targets for criticism and are also, unfortunately, about the only jokes in the movie that come close to being humorous. If it's true, as the old saying goes, that "the only offensive jokes are the ones that aren't funny," then Soul Plane is a habitual offender. Its weak box-office makes it yet one more in a succession of MGM duds. The once-proud Lion - passed around to different owners the past 15 years like a pipe in a Cheech & Chong flick - is in the process of potentially being sold again, this time to Sony. This "error plane" disaster shouldn't crash and burn the deal, but it will likely cause a rougher landing. Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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