Planet Hollywood? Hey, why not Planet B'more? Chain: The restaurant is coming to town, and how divine if it were decorated with local movie color. Think Formstone, pink flamingos . . .

March 29, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

"The Chamber of Commerce has always been wrong on how to sell Baltimore," local filmmaker John Waters proclaimed in a recent interview with radio talk-show host Marc Steiner. "To hell with crabs, you know? Let's come to Baltimore and be appalled!"

Waters' notion that Baltimore should celebrate its quirks and foibles bears particular consideration as the city awaits its next big waterfront attraction: a Planet Hollywood restaurant.

As the 75th branch of an international chain, Baltimore's Planet Hollywood is not the sort of place you might expect on a John Waters list of must-see attractions. Best known for its elaborate displays of costumes, props and other Hollywood memorabilia, Planet Hollywood celebrates the glamour and allure of the motion-picture industry more than the host city.

But that's not the way it has to be. When the restaurant opens this May inside the Pratt Street pavilion of Harborplace, it could serve up a taste of Hollywood and plenty of local flavor, too.

A key to making Baltimore's Planet Hollywood more "content-specific" is Maryland's emergence as a center for motion-picture and television production.

More than three dozen major movies have been filmed in central Maryland since the Maryland Film Commission was founded 17 years ago, and Baltimore has been the setting for exactly 100 hourlong episodes of the NBC-TV series, "Homicide: Life on the Street."

Locally filmed productions have shown every possible nuance of Baltimore and its environs, from the beauty of the countryside ("Her Alibi") to the grittiness of the inner city (" And Justice for All"). In some cases, Baltimore is part of the story ("Accidental Tourist," "He Said, She Said," "Men Don't Leave"). In others, Baltimore stands in for other places ("Absolute Power," "Washington Square," "Guarding Tess").

The two directors who have filmed more movies here than anyone else are natives: Waters (from the notorious "Pink Flamingos" through the soon-to-be-released "Pecker") and Barry Levinson ("Avalon," "Diner," "Tin Men").

In his interview with Steiner, Waters noted that both his movies and Levinson's focus on the idiosyncrasies of characters who happen to be from Baltimore.

"Barry doesn't make movies about Harborplace," Waters said. "Barry makes movies about eccentric kinds of Baltimoreans. They may be different than the kind I make, but they're also about fringe people and outsiders. Neither one of us makes movies about 'regular' people."

Thanks to Waters, Levinson, Terry Gilliam, Bruce Beresford, Curtis Hanson and many other gifted directors, Baltimore has a rich body of cinematic work that captures the city and its residents, warts and all. It also gives Planet Hollywood a wealth of material to draw from for its restaurant here.

Worldwide phenomenon

Since it was launched seven years ago, Planet Hollywood has become a worldwide phenomenon with dozens of celebrity investors. Its founding partners are actors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.

The focus of each restaurant's main dining room is a large diorama that combines celebrity images, memorabilia and lighting effects. Video monitors flash film clips designed to keep the space pulsating with energy.

The chief designer of Baltimore's Planet Hollywood is the Rockwell Group of New York, which is working in conjunction with the restaurant chain's staff.

Rockwell Group is headed by David Rockwell, a 41-year-old architect and movie buff who has become a leader in the field of "entertainment architecture." Besides Planet Hollywood -- for which he has designed more than 60 restaurants on four continents -- Rockwell's client list includes Disney, Sony, Loews Theaters, Caesar's Palace, Cirque du Soleil, Coca-Cola, NBC and CBS.

Planet Hollywood's vast memorabilia department is the primary source for the restaurants' props and other paraphernalia. And, although Planet Hollywood was established to celebrate movies of all kinds, representatives for both the architects and the restaurant chain say they try to tailor each restaurant to its location.

"Anything we can do to bring more of a local perspective -- all the better," said Evan Todd, Planet Hollywood's vice president of memorabilia. "People get excited when they know they're looking at something that was filmed on location nearby. It's part of the community Zeitgeist."

Nearly every Planet Hollywood has a room that plays off the region. London has the "James Bond Room," entered through a gun barrel. Chicago has a bullet-riddled "Gangster Speakeasy Parlor." Washington has the "War Room." Paris has a "film noir" room.

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