Following the Aurora theater shooting, Hollywood barely paused to pay respect to the victims before speculation began about how the tragedy would affect the box office prospects of The Dark Knight Rises, the movie that was screening during the rampage. Partly in defiance of downturn predictions, partly because I just wanted to see the flick, I joined my family at a screening Saturday afternoon, and the experience was memorable in at least a couple of ways.
The nearest theater to my Ken-Caryl Ranch house is Bowles Crossing, which has a connection to the 1999 Columbine tragedy that probably only a few locals remember at this point: Days after the slaughter, then-Vice President Al Gore spoke from the venue's steps during a memorial service for its thirteen murder victims. In the end, though, we wound up driving a little further, to the AMC theater in Highlands Ranch, to see Rises -- not because of the Columbine connection, which didn't occur to me until afterward, but because my nineteen-year-old twin daughters Lora and Ellie and my wife Deb think the seats there are more comfortable.
My daughters, by the way, were at a different midnight screening of Rises that fateful Friday morning. By the time they emerged from seeing the film, Facebook postings about the horror in Aurora were blowing up their phones. They were well and truly freaked out, as you'd expect, and had a damned hard time getting any sleep afterward.
Nonetheless, they liked the film so well that they were eager to see it again with ma and pa the next day -- meaning that they weren't so traumatized by the proximity of the attack across town to swear off movies for the foreseeable future. Call it the resilience of the Columbine generation.
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Upon entering the Highlands Ranch auditorium, which was about half full (a percentage lower than I would have expected under different circumstances), I realized I was hyper-aware of the surroundings and the people sitting around me -- at least at first. The same was true of the previews and even the pre-show trailer that advised attendees to walk instead of running "if you really need to escape." Ellie, who currently thinks adding the word "hashtag" to any comment is automatically hilarious (she's right), responded by saying, "Hashtag 'insensitive.'"
Then the film got underway with a midair kidnapping by the villainous Bane (Tom Hardy); it featured plenty of gunplay but was distant enough from reality for me to process it with ease. Not so a subsequent Wall Street sequence, with Bane and his thugs firing automatic weapons as traders took cover. Maybe other Coloradans will be able to watch that sequence without mental images of the scene at the Aurora Century 16 popping into their head, but I couldn't.
While those moments threw me out of the movie, however, I was immersed in the vast majority of it. Thanks for that is due largely to the quality of director Christopher Nolan's work, as well as a narrative that found most community members in the film rising up against violence and oppression rather than succumbing to it.
Afterward, as we talked about Rises, our conversation naturally mingled the on-screen happenings with the all-too-real mayhem in Aurora -- and the combination actually allowed all of us to think about the tragedy in a way that might have evaded us without seeing the movie. There was no doubt that what happened on the screen and what took place in theater nine in Aurora were totally separate, even if they'll be forever equated due to one man's vile act.
Oh yeah: Warner Bros., the studio behind Rises, wisely decided not to release box-office estimates on Sunday, as is customary. Yet unofficial reports suggest the movie earned approximately $162 million, a total below the predicted $180-$200 million, but still an enormous pile of cash.
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People in Colorado and beyond who may have stayed away from their neighborhood cinema this weekend will likely check out Rises in the future, though, and they should -- not just because it's one of the best mass-audience pictures out there right now, but also because movie theaters are among our culture's last, best public gathering places, and they're well worth preserving and celebrating.
Even in Colorado. Even in the Denver area. Even the day after one of the worst events in state history.
More from our Television & Film archive: "Aurora theater shooting & disgusting questions about The Dark Knight Rises box office."