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`The Hunt' Juggernaut Rolls On

For its powerfully hyped movie ``Red October,'' Paramount played hard-to-get with critics

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ORDINARILY, studios and distributors hold several previews of each new movie for the press. Exceptions rarely happen, except when a company is downright ashamed of a picture and assumes that press previews would invite only bad notices. Most movies have several advance screenings in New York, giving busy reviewers a fair chance to see, think over, and write about the film before it opens. ``The Hunt for Red October,'' the new submarine epic from Paramount Pictures, was screened exactly once for the New York press. Paramount has every right, of course, to play hard-to-get with its latest offering. But it's unusual for a major film to have only a single preview, and this sends a clear signal to everyone concerned: The studio feels that reviews simply don't matter in this case.

And that's probably true. Long before ``Red October'' was even completed, editors and reporters fell all over themselves doing features and ``think pieces'' about it, thus becoming part of the movie's energetic public-relations machine. After all that free publicity, the studio sensibly reasons, America is itching to see this powerfully hyped adventure - based on a powerfully hyped novel, moreover - and reviews, good or bad, aren't likely to make a dent in its initial box-office prospects. After the first few days of release, ``word of mouth'' will take over anyway, for better or worse. So why cater to the critics?

As it happens, Paramount guessed right. Critics who attended that one-time-only preview are giving ``Red October'' very mixed notices. Variety, the entertainment trade paper, loved it. But the influential New York Times, in an admirably brief and pithy review, poked mischievous fun at its lazy and mechanical contrivances. Although far more people read the Times than Variety, its pan hasn't slowed the picture's juggernaut so far. Audiences are flocking to ``Red October.''

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