Posted on Wednesday, June 4th, 2008 by Peter Sciretta
For a couple weeks now it was rumored that 20th Century Fox had made the decision to not screen M Night Shyamalan‘s The Happening to press after a bad review leaked onto the internet last month. And as you probably know, when studios decide not to screen a movie for the press, it’s usually for good reason.
But as it turns out, Fox has decided to screen the movie for press after all. Studios usually hold WOM screenings (or Word of Mouth Screenings) for the popcorn movies before release. It is typical for movie critics to see the film at these type of screenings. I think the general thinking is that a theater packed with the exact target demographic usually leads to a better theater experience (ie a comedy audience laughs more at more jokes, a horror audience jumps more at scares…etc), which in turn might be likely to influence the invited press also in attendance.
Instead, my local screening of The Happening is being held in a small private screening room, which is very odd for this type of film. Also, I’m not allowed to even bring a guest (another change from standard operating procedure). And I’ve heard the same from friends in other territories, so it appears to be a direct order for Fox themselves. Clarification: The reason I mention this is not that I’m bitter that I can’t bring a guest… 95% of the time I don’t even exercise the option. If I were to read between the lines, I would say that Fox wants invited members of the press, and ONLY invited members of press to screen the film early. Not allowing press to bring a friend or family member means one potentially less negative review on the web the next day.
Even New York Post’s Lou Lumenick notes an unusual addendum to the invite which warns against blogging: “Please keep in mind that reviews cannot post (online blogs included) or run until opening day, June 13th.” Is M Night really afraid of blogs? Is that why no one other than invited press is allowed to screen the film?
It should be noted that even though we are technically a blog, we always hold our reviews of a film until opening day (unless otherwise approved by a national publicist). The note above that Lou mentions is not directed at sites like us, per say (as we follow embargo rules), it is directed at movie critics with personal blogs.