Dark Knight Rises tragedy overshadows summer at the theatres

John Cairns

Usually this would be the time of year when I would begin to write my annual column summing up box office results for the summer months.

But the results this summer have been shrouded in tragedy after the horrific shootings at the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.

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The horrific killings of 12 people and injuries to 58 others justifiably shocked everyone in North America and the world -- but none more so than those who love to go out to the movies.

Going out to the movies often serves as an escape from everyday life. It has certainly been the case for me. Many times when I would feel down in the dumps or stressed about real life, I would go to the cinema. Usually it worked. Seeing a movie would be enough to lift my spirits back to where they ought to be.

True, there are plenty of movies that focus on newsworthy or real-world issues which are bound to depress you or otherwise get you thinking. But often movies are there to give you a laugh, show you action and special effects, and show you other things that you don't normally see. You can travel back in time or far into the future to distant lands or even planets far, far away. The movies are supposed to be an escape from the stresses of the real world.

The actions of a cowardly gunman in a movie theatre brought moviegoers back to reality in a big and horrifying way on July 20. For a good many movie fans who look to the movies as an escape from real life, that unwanted invasion of reality is enough to turn people off of going to the theatre for good.

Already, we've heard of copycat incidents such as one in the Cleveland area where a moviegoer was caught with a loaded gun in a theatre. It turned out the theatre was showing The Dark Knight Rises.

What was it -- what is it -- about this movie that brings out the maniacs? In the days leading to the release, Rotten Tomatoes had to take down the comments at its movie-review website because of threats that were posted against a few reviewers that had written some negative reviews about The Dark Knight Rises. One guy named Eric D. Snider had even posted a negative review as a joke to see what kind of negative reaction it would get.

That overreaction to the small minority of film critics who didn't like the movie set a bad tone and was a bad omen for what came next. Now, any cinematic achievements of The Dark Knight Rises are overshadowed forever by the events in Aurora.

No question, the shootings made people think twice about going to the movies, and about going to The Dark Knight Rises in particular, in the days and weeks that followed.

Personally, I've had second thoughts.

In fact, I've pretty much decided I won't see The Dark Knight Rises, because I simply don't think I'll have a good time at it. Even if the chances of another shooting are remote, the fact is my thoughts would undoubtedly wander back to what happened in Aurora and that would take away from my experience at the movie.

As for the whole box office race this summer, the Aurora tragedy completely ruined the fun for box office followers like myself. Even now, several weeks removed from the tragedy, writing about the movie grosses seems irrelevant and unseemly.

People were anticipating a big and interesting box office battle between The Dark Knight Rises and that other summer blockbuster behemoth, The Avengers, with many predictions of a few box-office records being toppled.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, that all went by the wayside. Ads for The Dark Knight Rises were pulled and celebrity red-carpet premieres were cancelled. Box office became an afterthought for everyone: Warner Brothers declared they would hold off on reporting of box office totals for The Dark Knight Rises, in respect of the victims of the Aurora massacre.

The weekend box office totals did leak out, but by that point everyone in the industry was more focused on the tragedy and those directly impacted than on their own bottom line.

Looking at the numbers now, weeks after the massacre, you have to put an asterisk beside the results of the box office.

There is no question now that The Avengers will wind up as the winners of the summer box office, having grossed $617 million in North American domestic revenue as of August 17 and setting numerous box office records in the process. The Dark Knight Rises was expected to pass $400 million on the weekend and was expected to move past The Hunger Games into second place for the year in domestic revenue.

But the question remains unanswered: if the shootings in Aurora had never happened, could The Dark Knight Rises have toppled The Avengers and won the box office race for the year?

That we will never know.

The ramifications for the future of movie going are not yet fully known. Cineplexes are looking at clamping down on security measures to prevent this sort of tragedy from ever happening again, including securing the exits so people aren't able to enter with weapons through a back door.

I worry, though, that we are going to go down the same path as the airports. We may yet be forced to line up for security screenings and go through metal detectors, just to get in the theatre.

I shudder at the thought of what the future holds for moviegoers, theatres, and the film industry in general --- all because of the actions of one crazed man in an Aurora cinema who opened fire on innocent people who simply wanted to see a movie.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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