Burning Question: I hear there's a tornado scene in the upcoming "Man of Steel." Are people angry about this? Where does Hollywood draw the line when real-life tragedy is mirrored on film? Does it negatively impact viewers or box office? – Peggy F.
There is indeed a tornado scene in that joyless-looking Superman reboot set for release later this month. Participants in the film have told reporters that the film version of the disaster isn't going anywhere.
"It's a terrible tragedy, mother nature doing its thing," Henry Cavill, who plays Clark Kent and Kal-El, told reporters. "I hope that everyone who can salvage things can salvage things, grieve if they need to grieve, move on from stuff and repair and rebuild, if they have the opportunity. I can't even imagine what it's like."
Certain residents of Oklahoma can imagine all too well, of course. Boston bombing victims also may have a problem with major plot points in "Iron Man 3" and "Star Trek: Into Darkness," both of which involve terrorism-like explosives. But those scenes, again, were not removed, to the dismay of some critics.
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis ripped into "Iron Man 3" for being the "latest, most conspicuous example of how profoundly disconnected big studio movies" are from the fears of our post-9/11 world.
Indeed, the decision to keep such scenes on celluloid seems like a departure for Hollywood, given that the makers of "Gangster Squad" cut a mass-murder scene after the Aurora theater shootings, and the 2002 film "Spider-Man" lost a shot of the Twin Towers in between filming and release.
Why the apparent change in Hollywood's attitude? Well, maybe there isn't one.
"It's not like our culture makes these decisions," says Robert Thompson, a TV and pop culture professor at Syracuse University.
Instead, film historians say, we're likely looking at individual suits at specific studios coming to isolated conclusions — perhaps influenced by nothing more than a movie plot itself.
"Hollywood is very inconsistent in a lot of ways," says Rob Weiner, a Texas Tech University film historian.
But Weiner does notice one thread woven throughout each of these decisions: How pivotal is the controversial scene in question? The "Man of Steel" tornado sequence is crucial to Clark Kent's character development, but the Twin Tower shot in "Spider-Man"?
"That was more just a pretty piece of footage," Weiner suggests, and therefore easier to cut.
For the record, big real-life disasters do not tend to show up on box office receipts, no matter what filmmakers decide to do. As Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations points out, "The Dark Knight Rises" "was the second-highest grossing film of the year."
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