LOS ANGELES—Executives at Sony Pictures are anxiously awaiting the Second Coming of Christ.
Tracking suggests that The Da Vinci Code will have a huge opening weekend, and Sony could get a taste of the lucre pulled in by Mel Gibson's gore-fest (The Passion of the Christ). Presumably the two pictures won't be drawing the same crowds, since one is supposedly as blasphemous as the other was supposedly pious.
Sony's strategy with the film has been unusual in that so far, no outsiders have seen Ron Howard's two-and-a-half-hour opus. Sony has forgone the usual advance press screenings and a splashy stateside premiere, forfeiting some coverage in the interest of keeping the picture under wraps. The studio will unveil The Da Vinci Code at the Cannes Film Festival this week.
Several sources associated with the film said the studio knew this strategy might create bad buzz. If the potato isn't rotten, people might ask, why hide the potato? That concern was well-aired in internal discussions, according to these sources. But wedged between religious foes and book fanatics, the studio concluded that the risk was worth taking.
As it is, some Christian groups are calling for boycotts and protests of the film, sight unseen. And if the movie had been screened, the geeks would have gone into an online frenzy over any departures from the novel's text. "There is a feeling of entitlement to this title that is a little unreasonable," says an executive close to the film, adding, "It turned out people started writing about Tom Hanks' hair. Not the controversy that we expected."
Sony was aware of the backlash that ensued when Steven Spielberg declared that he was doing no interviews at all for Munich but forgot to mention that he was making an exception for Time magazine. But Sony stayed so committed to its idea that the studio didn't even show the film to exhibitors until last Friday, May 12.
Studios are legally required in many states to screen pictures for theater owners before making a deal to book them. Usually, according to the distribution chief at a Sony rival, these screenings are held two or three weeks before a picture opens, leaving time to set terms and handle logistics. "It's not a digital world yet," this executive says. Thousands of prints have to be shipped. It would normally happen this late only if production problems had hampered completion of the film.
"I've never been this close to a release without having someone tell me what they thought," acknowledges a key player in the making of the film. Those big tracking numbers must provide some comfort that audiences will turn out. But another person involved with the picture remembers that the producers of Da Vinci at Imagine Entertainment had very high hopes for Cinderella Man and that turned into a pumpkin. So, until the box office numbers are in, producer Brian Grazer's hair will presumably be standing even straighter on end than usual.