It hasn’t been all fun and games at Universal Studios Florida since the $630 million theme park opened in Orlando this past spring. Two of the park’s major attractions have been either closed (like the Jaws ride, whose great white is pictured in dry dock right), or in ”technical rehearsal” — meaning they operate only sporadically (such as the shaky Earthquake ride). As a result, Universal is suing the designers, Ride & Show Engineering, for undisclosed damages. A third attraction, Kongfrontntion (not designed by Ride & Show), is also having trouble — but this time it’s not beauty that’s killing the big beast, but glitches in the computer software that are causing headaches. According to Mark Messersmith, Ride & Show’s marketing director, the problems are due more to Universal’s inexperience with grand-scale theme parks and its insistence on opening on schedule rather than to any design flaws. ”Disney’s philosophy is, if it’s not perfect, it’s not ready for the public,” says Messersmith. ”Universal said they were going to open it at this time and that’s it. I’ve even heard that a lot of the concession stands have run out of soda pop.” Not so, counters Steve Lew, Universal Studios president. He contends that all the rides will be open soon, and notes that ”there isn’t a restaurant in the world that doesn’t sometime or another run out of a baked potato. Everything is very positive at USF. Everything.”
Whenever moviemakers decide to shoot additional footage for a film that’s already wrapped and well into the editing stage, it’s usually a signal for industry tongues to start wagging. So when director Francis Ford Coppola was spotted filming additional scenes for The Godfather, Part III in New York’s Little Italy in mid-September, the whispering began: The picture’s in trouble, Paramount has another Two Jakes on its hands, Coppola’s way over budget, the film’s scheduled November 21 release date has been postponed, and on and on. For the record, no one connected with the pr prction will say exactly what has been shot or why, except that some of the new scenes include Sofia Coppola, the director’s daughter, and Andy Garcia (below, left). Garcia plays Sonny Corleone’s (James Caan in the original Godfather) illegitimate son who” looking to join the family business, while Sofia is cast as the child of Michael and Kay Corleone (Al Pacino and Diane Keaton). Paramount now says the film will be in theaters by Christmastime, and execs there think that will be an offer hard for moviegoers to refuse.
Residents of upscale Manhattan neighborhoods recently found a surprise between the Sharper Image and J. Crew catalogs in their mailboxes. Twentieth Century Fox sent out 150,000 colorful 10-page booklets publicizing Miller’s Crossing, the studio’s new gangster drama directed by Joel Coen, and starring Albert Finney and Gabriel Byrne. Direct mail is an unusual approach to advertising a film, and according to Geoff Ammer, Fox’s senior vice president for marketing, ”It’s hard to tell if it will be successful yet, but we thought it would be an elegant and classy way to get people interested — it’s much more personalized than seeing a big sign at the bus stop.” Whether this approach will turn out to be the wave of the future for the movie business or just an expensive experiment is still unknown, but Fox has heard from at least one pleased recipient. Actor John Turturro, who plays the double-dealing Bernie Bernbaum in Miller’s Crossing, called to thank the studio for sending him what he thought was part of the press material. It turns out he just happened to live in the right zip code.