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How much will the fainting reports hurt '127 Hours'?

November 5, 2010 | 11:08 am

The e-mails and tweets came back the moment I'd sent out a message chronicling the latest fainting/seizure at a "127 Hours" screening this week: Is it possible that at least some of this could be a publicity stunt from distributor Fox Searchlight, designed to emphasize the movie's edginess and draw in audiences?

It's a kooky but not entirely illogical question. The Danny Boyle movie about stranded canyoneer Aron Ralston (James Franco) already is expected to skew a little younger, with its flashy direction and extreme-sports undertones. Could making the experience seem like an extreme sport in its own right help it appeal to endurance-minded filmgoers?

Unfortunately, it's a bunk theory. Those involved with the film are unquestionably worried about these reports, and rightly so. The pre-release talk, at least among a certain squeamish section of the moviegoing public, reminds a little of the vibe just before "United 93" came out in 2006: Words of  admiration followed quickly by "But I could never watch that in a theater." (In reality, the amputation scene in "127 Hours" that has caused all the panic is hardly that graphic, and the incidents have occurred at a rate of a fraction of 1%. Mike McClellan, an executive at Landmark, did say the chain is prepared for the incidents, although he didn't specify how.)

The question now will be how much of a liability these reports turn into. Perception is reality when it comes to word-of-mouth-driven movies, and it's unlikely the occasional filmgoer who comes to check out what the fuss is about will offset the larger number of queasy types who stay away. Then again,  the movie has strong reviews and an appealing star and director, and a Searchlight push to sell it as much as a story of redemption as a tale of outdoor survival might broaden the audience. 

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: '127 Hours.' Credit: Fox Searchlight


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