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Uncanny accuracy: when real-life events delay movies

A growing list of films are being delayed due to real-life tragedies.
A scene from Gangster Squad. Courtesy Warner Bros
A scene from Gangster Squad. Courtesy Warner Bros

The 1940s mafia movie Gangster Squad is scheduled to hit US cinemas this weekend after a four-month delay. Trailers for the film, which contained footage of the protagonists shooting at a movie theatre audience with machine guns, were showing last July, when the real-life cinema shootings during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises took place.

Immediately after the Aurora, Colorado, killings, Warner Bros, the distributors of both films, pulled trailers for Gangster Squad. A decision was then made to delay the expensively assembled film while the script was rewritten and new footage was shot.

Josh Brolin, who plays a Los Angeles cop in the film, told the Daily News: “The movie theatre sequence was too exact. It’s not like you change the scenes because you let the [murderer] win by manipulating everything and letting him control all this other stuff because of the psychotic decision and manifestation of himself. It was too similar. It was gross it was so familiar. There was no decision to be made.”

Warner Bros, which cancelled several international premieres of The Dark Knight Rises after the Aurora killings, released a written statement about the changes to Ganster Squad: “We always review our materials to ensure we are being sensitive when horrifying events such as these occur.”

Sadly, the postponement has meant that Gangster Squad is being released in the wake of the Newtown massacre, the December school shooting that led to the delayed premiers of Django Unchained and Jack Reacher.

The phenomenon of altering films because of real-life tragedies really came to the fore after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The trailer for Sam Raimi’s 2002 film Spider-Man originally featured a sequence in which Spider--Man captured a helicopter in a web between the Twin Towers. The scene was deleted after the attacks.

Both out of respect for the dead and so that the movies would not be dated, images of the towers were cut from many other films that were made before the attacks but released after. Special effects technicians digitally removed the towers from the Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander, the crime thriller People I Know and the romantic comedies Serendipity and Kissing Jessica Stein. In Spy Game, the level of smoke shown following a bombing was reduced because of its similarity to the images seen in New York.

Men in Black II was rewritten, with the climax that originally featured the Twin Towers moved to the Statute of Liberty. The Matt Damon thriller The Bourne Identity was edited because of the terrorism storyline, with the changes explained on the DVD extras. The special-edition DVD of the children’s film Lilo and Stitch contains the original ending in which Stich erratically flies a 747 through tall buildings. In the released film version,  Stitch joyrides a spaceship around mountains.

Technological advancements in recent years have made altering films more feasible. But when a film’s budget or actor availability don’t allow for big reshoots, the release is usually delayed. Collateral Damage, View from the Top and Bad Company were all pushed back after September 11.

The release of Clint Eastwood’s film Hereafter was delayed in Japan because of opening scenes revolving around the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which were deemed unsuitable following the tsunami that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Phone Booth was delayed after the 2002 Washington DC Beltway sniper attacks. Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone was pulled in the UK because of its likeness to the Madeleine McCann disappearance, and V for Vendetta was put on hold after the 2005 London bombings.

The most famous incident of a film release being affected because of real-life events arose when Stanley Kubrick asked Warner Bros to withdraw his film A Clockwork Orange from British cinemas. After its release in 1971, the film was linked to a number of violent crimes seemingly inspired by the storyline.

A British judge sentencing a 16-year-old who stabbed a boy dressed in one of the iconic droog costumes from the film cited “a horrible trend” prompted by “this wretched film”.

This film was only re-released in Britain after the death of the director in 1999.

Updated: January 7, 2013 04:00 AM