Hollywood Cautious Despite 'Borat' Buzz

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat i i

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Twentieth Century Fox hide caption

itoggle caption Twentieth Century Fox
Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Twentieth Century Fox

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For months, the Internet has been full of buzz about Borat, a new movie that opens Friday. But on the eve of its release, entertainment-industry research reveals that many potential moviegoers have never heard of the film. How could a picture generate so much chat and still fly below the radar?

In the film, British comic Sacha Baron Cohen, star of HBO's Ali G show, poses as a bizarre, bigoted interviewer from Kazakhstan who affably ambushes real people with weird questions.

No doubt there are people on both coasts and in every college town who are wild to see Borat. But the disappointing box-office research has prompted some in the industry to wonder whether it will suffer the fate of Snakes on a Plane, which was hyped to the skies but turned in a very middling performance last summer.

That Snakes on a Plane analogy has to grate on the nerves of Jim Gianopoulos, co-chairman of Fox, the studio that's releasing Borat.

Despite the comparisons, what happened with the buzz around Snakes on a Plane is in some ways the opposite of what's going on with Borat.

Snakes on a Plane was a film with a very broad concept — Samuel L. Jackson battles snakes on a plane. The buzz took off on thousands of Web sites as the film became the butt of many jokes. The problem is that the movie wasn't really meant to be that funny. Borat, on the other hand, is meant to be funny. But at this point, it is anticipated by those who are most plugged in to popular culture.

At first, New Line Cinema — the company that released Snakes on a Plane, was pleased to find that chatter was starting to build on the Internet more than six months before the movie's release in August. The company nurtured that buzz by leaking bits and pieces so fans could feel that they were discovering the material.

But the buzz took off too fast. New Line did research and found that Snakes on a Plane was a topic on about 10,000 Internet communities — but not the sites frequented by horror fans that the company hoped to attract. In fact, those fans were turned off by all the camp humor. When opening day came, Snakes disappointed.

In Borat's case, the chat isn't nearly so widespread. And after its warm reception in Toronto, Gianopoulos says, the studio considered opening Borat on 2,000 screens. But in light of the box-office research, Fox will start with 800 screens and hope that the Borat wave builds.

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