At ground zero in New York City, volunteers continue to sift through the rubble, trying to make sense of a senseless act.
Three thousand miles away, at the epicenter of America's popular culture, people are sifting through rubble too. Hollywood hotshots are realizing that, in the wake of last week's tragedy, many of the seemingly innocent pieces of entertainment they turn out don't seem all that innocent -- or all that entertaining -- anymore. Which is why studios are scrambling to salvage what they can.
In some instances it's just a matter of postponement. Warner Bros' "Collateral Damage," an action thriller that starts with Arnold Schwarzenegger losing his wife and child in an Oklahoma City-style bomb blast, and Disney-Touchstone's "Big Trouble," a black comedy that tries to get laughs out of lax airport security, both had their release dates delayed at least until next spring.
In other cases, last week's events in Manhattan forced studios to alter major motion pictures still in the works. Columbia Pictures had built its "Spiderman" marketing campaign -- as well as a huge action sequence in the finished film -- around Spidey's capture of a helicopter full of bank robbers by stringing a huge web between the World Trade Center towers. Columbia quickly pulled all trailers that featured those images, and ordered them destroyed.
Sony did the Hollywood shuffle with its still-in-production "Men in Black II." The trade center reportedly serves as the setting for both the opening and closing of the big-budget sequel to the 1997 blockbuster, and location work had been shot in the trade center plaza. Now, Sony's scrambling to find another Manhattan spot where the film's agents can face down the alien menace.
Disney's extraterrestrial animated feature, "Lilo & Stitch," also may get a makeover. After all, the climax of this feature-length 'toon, produced entirely at the backstage animation facility at Disney/MGM Studios, was built around the then-comical notion that a cute little alien would sneak on board a 747, then take the jumbo jet for a joy ride through the towers of Honolulu. That sequence, which had gone over great with test audiences, now may be sacrificed.
Consider also Disney/Pixar's big November release, "Monsters, Inc." Taken at face value, this computer-animated fantasy seems pretty innocuous -- until you dissect the storyline, which involves machines in the monster realm powered by energy given off when children scream. Only -- according to the film's plot -- today's children don't scare as easily, giving rise to a monster energy crisis. The worry is that by minimizing the fears of kids who now have witnessed the all-too-real horror of planes smashing into skyscrapers, "Monsters Inc." is no longer simply silly but instead uncaring and callous.
This is uncharted territory. No one quite seems sure what the appropriate action is anymore. Should we still be actively mourning the people who were lost? Or try and get on with our lives?
That's what Disney CEO Michael Eisner would like us to do. In a specially taped intro for last "Sunday's Wonderful World of Disney" broadcast, Eisner, while paying tribute to the thousands who died, also suggested it was time "to return to a way of life that is the very cornerstone of our country."
Though the corporation -- out of safety concerns -- quickly closed all four of its Orlando theme parks on the day of the attack, it also provided free food, entertainment and discounted room rates for those who were trapped in their on-property hotels last Tuesday. And Disney gave refunds to those who called to cancel trips to Orlando last week.
The execs who currently run Disney are keenly aware of the unique, warm-n-fuzzy relationship their corporation has with American consumers. The bulk of the public looks to the Mouse for safe, family entertainment that's consistent and reassuring. That's why Mickey's trying to help guests take their minds off of the World Trade Center tragedy -- unlike Universal Orlando's Islands of Adven-ture, where a huge American flag clearly visible from I-4 now hangs on the side of the "Jurassic Park River Adventure" ride building. In contrast, the million-point grand prize for Disney/ MGM's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? -- Play It!" attraction used to be a trip to New York to attend a taping of the ABC quiz show. The Regis wanna-bes have now removed any reference to the Big Apple from their spiels. All contestants are told is that the prize is an all-expense-paid trip for two. To where? Disney's reps will explain that part once they get the contestant off-stage.
If Hollywood moguls tread lightly for a while, until we all find firm emotional footing again, it's hardly a tragedy.