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‘Dark Knight Rises’ Opening Clouded by Brutal Theater-Shooting Spree; Ignites Larger Debate UPDATED

'Dark Knight Rises' Opening Clouded by Brutal Theater-Shooting Spree; Ignites Larger Debate UPDATED

“There’s a storm coming,” Catwoman whispers in Bruce Wayne’s ear in Chris Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”

A gunman firing into the crowd inside a Thursday midnight show of the film at a Colorado movie theater, wounding 59 and killing 12, will yield a firestorm of debate in this presidential election year.  Shortly after the start of the film, the alleged shooter, 24-year-old neuroscience grad student James Holmes, wearing a bullet-proof vest and gas mask and carrying an assault rifle, a shotgun and a pistol, threw something resembling a gas cannister into a Century 16 theater in the Denver suburb Aurora, and fired, wounding some 71 attendees, 59 treated in six area hospitals (including a four-month old baby who was sent home with minor injuries), and killing 12.

Back on the table: the easy accessibility of firearms in our violent society. President Barack Obama reacted, saying he was shocked and saddened by the “horrific and tragic shooting” and was “committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded.” He stated: “As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family. All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors.”

Also returning as a subject for debate: the impact of movies about violence on behavior. Nolan’s superb well-reviewed trilogy finale  could not be in any way responsible for what this man did. Few people had seen the film as of Thursday midnight. And yet the movie is about fanatics who hold a city hostage as they blow up bridges and threaten to ignite a nuclear bomb. Now the “Batman” franchise will be forever linked with this sad event. UPDATE: Here’s the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane and Roger Ebert’s op-ed piece for the New York Times.

It’s the “worst mass shooting in the U.S. since the Nov. 5, 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas, when an Army psychiatrist killed 13 soldiers and civilians and more than two dozen others wounded,” wrote the AP.  Warner Bros. cancelled the film’s Friday Paris premiere and press junket and issued a statement:

“Warner Bros. and the filmmakers are deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident. We extend our sincere sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time.”

The MPAA issued a statement from chairman Chris Dodd:

“We share the shock and sadness of everyone in the motion picture community at the news of this terrible event. We extend our prayers and deepest sympathies to the victims, their loved ones and all those affected by this tragedy.” 

Theaters around the country are reportedly beefing up security after the most deadly in-theater incident ever. UPDATE: Following reports that the suspect was wearing “Joker” makeup, AMC is banning costumes and fake weapons from theaters. The National Assn. of Theater Owners stated:

“On behalf of all the members and staff of NATO, our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of this despicable act and their families. We are grateful for the quick and effective response by police and emergency personnel. Guest safety is, and will continue to be a priority for theater owners. NATO members are working closely with local law enforcement agencies and reviewing security procedures.”

AMC Theatres stated:

“For the safety and security of our guests and associates, we are actively working with local law enforcement in communities throughout the nation and under the circumstances we are reaching out to all of our theatres to review our safety and security procedures.” And later they added:

AMC Theatres is deeply saddened by the Aurora tragedy. Movie going is part of our social fabric and this senseless act shakes us to our core. We’re reinforcing our security procedures with our theatre teams, which we cannot discuss in detail for obvious, safety reasons. Local law enforcement agencies, our landlords and their and our local security teams are stepping up nationwide to ensure we provide the safest environment possible for our guests. We couldn’t be more grateful for their collective support.

At this time, our show schedules circuit-wide will not change. We will not allow any guests into our theatres in costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable and we will not permit face-covering masks or fake weapons inside our buildings. If guests wish to exchange or refund any tickets, we will honor our existing policy and do as our guests wish. We are taking necessary precautions to ensure our guests who wish to enjoy a movie this weekend can do so with as much peace of mind as possible in these circumstances.

Landmark Theatres stated:

“Everyone at Landmark is stunned and saddened at this horrible tragedy in Aurora. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and friends as well as everyone who was at the theatre. Guest safety which has always been of utmost importance will continue to be a major priority for us
and all theatre operators. What was one of the world’s most anticipated nights of movie-going has now been affected in the worst imaginable way. Although the media coverage naturally is focused on the shooter, it is the innocent victims and their families who we mourn for today.”

The shootings bring a PR nightmare for the studio, reports Variety:

On Friday morning, U.S. TV news outlets mounted extensive coverage of the mass slayings. ABC and CBS were confirmed to broadcast their nightly news programs from Aurora on Friday as a horde of journos descend on the Denver suburb. “TDKR’s” association with the slayings is sure to be a PR nightmare for Warner Bros., which has so carefully tended its Batman franchise over the decades. By early Friday morning, ABC News was branding its coverage: “Tragedy in Colorado: The Batman Massacre.”

TV newsers were quick to point out that Aurora is less than twenty miles from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where two students shot and killed thirteen people in 1999.

As for media coverage of the shootings, ABC News had to apologize for incorrectly reporting that Holmes was a Tea Party member. Slate addresses the politicization of the tragedy.

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