By Scott Brown
April 05, 2006 at 05:20 AM EDT

So it begins: Theater owners and families of 9/11 victims are starting to register their distaste for the United 93 trailer. Universal is standing behind their trailer and their movie. A New York theater has already elected not to show it on preview reels. The crux of the argument: You can choose whether or not to see United, but the trailer comes at you unbidden, tucked sneakily between sneak peeks for, say, Poseidon and Garfield 2.

Theater owners have always exercised discretion (and market savvy) with the trailers they show, so you can’t fault AMC/Loews Lincoln Square for taking the temperature of their customer base and acting accordingly. But that doesn’t mean this is the right choice for every theater. Personally, I’m not sure I want to see United 93, and the trailer isn’t one I’ll be revisiting willingly any time soon. But I do want to know I have the option to see it. And, assuming not everyone trolls the Internet obsessively awaiting new trailers, in-theater trailers are the way studios and theaters let moviegoers know what’s on the menu in coming months.

[I’m leaving aside, for a moment, the question of “inappropriate benefit,” and whether the studios should pay the revenues to victims’ groups or other charities. “Inappropriate benefit” characterizes large sectors of our “legitimate” economy, including the oil industry, the bedrock of our lifestyle. I have trouble listening to arguments about “inappropriate benefit” when we’re all living in system that’s clearly amoral.]

I don’t blame anyone for feeling blindsided. I can only imagine the horror and rage I’d feel, having something like that coming at me when my guard is down. I’d almost certainly demand that the theater yank the trailer. To be outraged would be my right. To make the demand would be my right. But I’m not sure I’d be right.

Still, marketing this movie as if it were just another movie is disingenuous at best. Universal may have made a spectacular miscalculation — the dispassionate marketplace is becoming pretty passionate. And there’s not a clear constituency for this film. This isn’t a Passion of the Christ situation. And there is no Society for Uncomfortable Truths. Only time and ticket buyers will tell.

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