The words Hollywood and ethics together may seem like a Starburst-esque contradiction, but an issue has come up that needs addressing. Following the tragedy in Aurora Colorado where a man opened fire into an audience during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the media and studios alike are trying to figure out how violence in films impacts society. Some point the finger at violent films like Batman. Others want to just move on. Warner Brothers recently delayed the release of their upcoming crime film “Gangster Squad” due to a climactic scene involving the protagonists shooting into an audience at a movie. They didn’t just delay the release, but are bringing all the big name actors back to shoot a new climax and change the film so the ominous connection no longer exists.
Now, those who don’t follow movie news and see “Gangster Squad” in its new January 11 release date will have no idea how the film was changed or what it originally was supposed to look like. That is, unless a director’s cut gets released at some point. The question we need to be asking ourselves is this: should art be altered so it doesn’t offend after events like this? What kind of impact would the film have had if it was released unaltered in its new delayed release date?
Let us recall a somewhat similar predicament Warner Brothers found themselves in when “V for Vendetta” was slated to come out on November 4, 2005 following the London subway bombings in July of that year. It eventually got pushed back to a March release, with the given reason being a longer post production time period was needed. Many speculated that the film was actually pushed back because the climax of that film deals with the bombing of Parliament through use of the subway. Can you imagine if that had been altered? Warner Brothers was apparently confident enough with the film to simply delay the release and not think twice about the subject matter.
Nearly 45 movies were edited differently or altered following the September 11 tragedy. This ranges from a huge number of films digitally editing out the World Trade Center buildings or in some cases, climaxes were rebuilt. A great amount of concern for “The Bourne Identity” ensured that the studio toned down the terrorism themes throughout it. Films like “Collateral Damage,” “The Time Machine,” “Bad Company,” and “Big Trouble” were all delayed due to themes involving either bombings or destruction of New York. Even as far back as 1928 saw Buster Keaton altering the ending to his film “Steamboat Bill Jr” to include a cyclone rather than a flood following a particularly devastating flood in Mississippi.
Now, let me bring up something even more current. What if “Inglourious Basterds” was set to come out later this year?
Quentin Tarantino’s beloved 2009 Best Picture nominee is entirely built around the climactic destruction of a cinema. The entire film is a slow build to a fictional ending of WWII all as a direct result of killing everyone in a theater. In the above example of studio changes to films, there have not been many complaints. What about this? Realize that, to alter this climax, one would essentially have to make an entirely different film. Quite simply, it’s about the movies.
So, this brings us to the ethical dilemma. What should Hollywood do following real life tragedies? Is it the ethical thing to do to reshoot the film and take out a potentially offensive scene even if that means drastically altering the climax? Should an artistic vision that predated the tragedy be compromised in this case? It’s not a new phenomenon, and it’s very easy to see both sides of the argument. In the past, many studios have been content with a delayed release date. Not with “Gangster Squad.”
What would you do if you ran the studio who had a film that would bring up haunting memories of a real life tragedy? Is Warner Brothers doing the right thing by changing “Gangster Squad” into something less offensive? You tell me.