The battle for moviegoers' money should begin to heat up in earnest over the next week, first with the release of several big Easter films and then with the advertising blitz that will follow Monday's Academy Awards ceremony.
Over the past few weeks the country's biggest films have remained steady: "Beverly Hills Cop," followed by "Witness," "The Breakfast Club" and "The Sure Thing." But these should be challenged by the resurgence of "Amadeus" -- if, as conventional wisdom has it, it is chosen Best Picture -- as well as by a some lower-brow offerings: "Porky's Revenge," "Friday the 13th, Part V," Motown's martial arts musical "Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon" and Disney's tale of a man, a woman and a dinosaur, "Baby." A week later, some potential heavy hitters should arrive in the form of Bruce Beresford's biblical epic "King David," the return of "Return of the Jedi," Neil Simon's "The Slugger's Wife" and the much-hyped "Desperately Seeking Susan."
The problem with the last two films is some pretty abysmal word-of-mouth. "Stay away" has been the word on "Slugger's Wife" for some time, and "Seeking Susan" has reportedly suffered grievously at the hands of an eleventh-hour edit designed to capitalize on the recording success of Madonna, apparently at the expense of both the movie and the rock star's costars, Rosanna Arquette and Aidan Quinn . . .
Universal Pictures was silent when director Peter Bogdanovich sued the studio for tampering with "Mask," but has now apparently decided it's had enough. Early this week Universal issued a detailed rebuttal of Bogdanovich's charges, saying it had the right to make cuts because the director ran over his contractual maximum running time of 115 minutes, and that a deleted scene featuring Cher singing at a campfire tested poorly, reminding audiences of Cher's not always distinguished musical career. The studio also fired a volley on the issue of Bruce Springsteen versus Bob Seger, which came up when Universal declined to pay the asking price for background music by The Boss, Bogdanovich's choice.
The director says the right music is crucial because the real Rocky Dennis -- the deformed teen who is "Mask's" main character -- was a Springsteen fan, and in the current issue of People magazine Dennis' mother, Rusty Mason, says her late son never even knew who Seger was.
But Universal has added a twist: Dennis, it says, probably didn't know who Springsteen was, either. According to the studio, Springsteen was never mentioned in the extensive research that screen writer Anna Hamilton Phelan conducted. Phelan, meanwhile, told the L.A. Times that Dennis' real favorites were the Beatles and Black Sabbath. . . .
The producers of this year's Oscar show swear that East Coast viewers will be able to watch and still be in bed by midnight. Sure, it sounds farfetched, but they've got a few new policies to help in their Speed It Up campaign. For one thing, if six people you've never heard of win awards for, say, Best Achievement in Sound, only one of them -- the "designated spokesperson" -- gets to go on stage and accept the statuette. Before the show starts nominees will be shown a how-to tape, the chief lesson of which is, naturally, "If you win, be concise." Finally, anybody who gives an acceptance speech longer than 30 seconds will be faced with an off-camera bank of flashing red lights -- talk longer than 45 seconds and the lights will stay on . . .
Some of the envelopes, by the way, have already been opened, but not because Price Waterhouse goofed. The winners are Donald A. Anderson, Diana Reiners, Barry M. Stultz, Ruben Avila, Wes Kennedy, Gunther Schaidt and a dozen others, all honored in the academy's separate dinner for scientific and technical awards.
While Monday's big winners will get golden statuettes, worldwide TV coverage, big production numbers and a ceremony hosted by Jack Lemmon, the technical honorees got plaques or certificates, a mention in the Hollywood trade papers and dinner at the Beverly Hilton hosted by Janet Leigh. They won for such achievements as a nontoxic fluid for creating fog and smoke, an improved sound-track stripe on 70 mm film and the R-2 Auto-Collimator, which "examines image quality at the focal place of motion picture camera lenses" . . .