Par, Sony 1st at bat

'Hardball,' 'House' will test waters post-attack

HOLLYWOOD — Distribs will send out a pair of wide releases as planned this weekend, but it’s anybody’s guess as to whether auds will show up on a weekend sure to be marked by heavy TV news viewing.

One scenario has the public ready for a bit of diversionary entertainment by then after the emotionally draining events on Tuesday. But it’s also possible that continuing news developments might continue to preoccupy prospective moviegoers.

“I think news events will dictate what happens,” said Rick King, a spokesman for exhib AMC Entertainment.

Sony will bow its thriller “The Glass House” in 1,591 theaters and Paramount its baseball drama “Hardball” in roughly 2,500 locations beginning Friday. Most prints have already been distributed, and ground transportation may be used to shuttle around a few that might have been air-mailed had the nation’s air travel not remained disrupted Wednesday.

Sony’s Leelee Sobieski starrer is expected to skew to young femmes, but Sony marketing and distrib topper acknowledged some uncertainty over overall prospects for the pic due to the week’s lingering news preoccupation.

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“I really don’t know what the overall impact on moviegoing will be,” Blake allowed. “But we have decided to go forward, because it is a moderate release for which we already had spent most of our marketing money.”

Par vice chairman Rob Friedman said the studio carefully re-checked “Hardball” content for any inappropriateness in light of the New York and Washington D.C. tragedies.

“But since our motive is really an uplifting movie about kids and family values and such, we will be on good ground and might be offering a refreshing change for people if they wanted to get away from the TV for awhile.”

He noted public officials have encouraged Americans to resume business as usual in their lives as much as possible. “Ultimately, we decided getting back to normalcy was the right thing for us to do,” Friedman said.

Like Sony’s modest investment in “Glass House,” Par’s “Hardball” is a relatively low-profile release for the studio, its A-list topliner notwithstanding. Produced at an estimated $21 million, it’s believed Par is responsible for less than 40% of those costs, with “Hardball” production partner Fireworks covering the rest.

Tom Borys, prexy at box office tracker ACNielsen EDI, noted Tuesday grosses were off a relatively modest 22% from Monday’s box office at theaters operating that day.

No model

“But in terms of trying to predict what will happen this weekend — there’s just nothing scientific that can be said,” he added.

Borys noted that the fall movie season is often a “soft” one even in normal times, with the presence or absence of a couple of big hits swinging the season one way or the other for distribs and exhibs. “Beyond that, it’s way too early to predict what this means for the rest of the year at the box office,” he observed.

Meanwhile, though studios are scrutinizing second-half slates for releases whose violent content could turn off moviegoers, an argument can be made that many titles slotted for the year-end holiday period represent perfect diversionary fare. Among such releases are Warner Bros.’ family adventure “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and New Line’s fantasy “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”

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