NEW YORK – Over the last week, filmmakers pulled scenes from movies, shelved upcoming releases and rewrote plot lines. But what big-screen fare will Hollywood create in response to last week's terrorist attacks against United States?
While film experts concur the subject and style of filmmaking will change, there is some disagreement about how studios will react and what the American people will want to see.
"First of all, this is a situation like none other," said Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. "We don't know how this will play out so it's difficult to judge." He added that World War II and the Vietnam war took place under radically different circumstances than today's conflict, so history cannot provide a model for possible entertainment.
The lack of consensus among experts likely reflects the thinking among studio heads and points toward a future with theaters full of comedies, war movies and family fare – something like they were before the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked by terrorists, but not quite.
"Out of general sensitivity shelving of certain things was a good idea," said Robert Thompson, pop culture professor at Syracuse University. "I think after a reasonable period ... say three to four weeks presuming there isn't some other major shoe that drops, we will go into the opposite direction." He suggested that films about elusive enemies, spies and mysteries will be popular.
And he could be right. Although some have speculated comedies will be America's brain candy, video rentals of action movies with terrorist themes spiked beginning September 11, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
"Hollywood is about our dreams as well as our fears, and this is a big one," said Thompson. "I don't think renting terrorist movies says we're sick. Fiction is how we work out what's going on in real life."
But professor James Seguin of Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh disagrees. "There's a sense that we're too free, that we go too far sometimes, and that’s the price of freedom," he said. "Terrorist themes aren’t going to be made."
He predicts that historical movies about the American experience will become a major subject for Hollywood to tackle. "I think there will be an attempt to figure out our history and what it all means and how we fit into the world," he said.
Reports from video stores also suggest that children's movies have become more popular as parents try to comfort their kids.
"Parents were probably looking for their kids to watch something other than what was on the news," said Blockbuster spokesperson Randy Hargrove, who also mentioned that overall rentals were up.
But Boyd said that while Disney-style films may be reassuring to youngsters, the nation will not be satisfied with such innocent flicks.
"We have to take into consideration, as a society ... there is an appetite for entertainment that supersedes G-rated fare," Boyd said. "I don't know if people will start embracing Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music." Instead, he said, "I do think that we will continue to see movies that foreground violence in dramatic ways."
Experts agreed films like Independence Day, in which aliens blow up American landmarks such as the White House and the Empire State Building, will disappear from the landscape. Given the government's long battle with Hollywood over gratuitous violence and the recent events, it's likely moviemakers will be more sensitive.
"We may see less in pyrotechnics," Thompson said. "There may be more intrigue. But it may be a long time until we see that Independence Day shot of monuments being destroyed."
"There have been a number of movies lately that have in some ways been like a blueprint for something like this," Boyd said. "You wonder to some extent by putting those images in the culture, well, it puts those ideas in circulation."
Though Hollywood may hold off on the shoot 'em up, blow 'em up films, James Bond or an American equivalent, could get a lot more work.
Indeed, said Thompson, "People will be really hungry to watch and cheer for CIA operatives."