the gripe

The TV version is not the same thing


In 1993, Walter Hill's Geronimo: An American Legend opened days after the cable premiere of a TV movie called Geronimo. Hill's picture was a moving, sumptuous, ferociously alive American epic. The cable film was generic and forgettable. But more people saw that production in its debut and its immediate repeats than have seen Hill's great Western to this day.

As Hill said at the time, "How are you going to get people to pay their way into a theater to see a story they think they've seen for free on basic cable? Are you going to say, `Hey - my film had prettier locations?'"

Nearly every major talent associated with Geronimo: An American Legend blames its popular failure on the TV film's theft of its audience. And it was theft, of a kind. The cable film piggybacked on the publicity for Hill's big-studio production. Many people probably thought they were seeing not just the exact same story, but the exact same movie.

The big-screen remake of The Poseidon Adventure, called simply Poseidon, has roused little advance excitement partly because a terrible TV remake (named like the original, The Poseidon Adventure) beat it out by seven and a half months.

Now United 93, after five days in the theater, will face off against the DVD release of the cable movie, Flight 93, which had its premiere Jan. 30 on A&E. Flight 93 is competent and gripping - a respectable memorial. But United 93 is a feat of hard-edged empathy and journalism. It would be a shame if some audiences stayed away because they think they can rent it - or they think they've already seen it on TV.

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