ADS RETOOLED FOR 'POSTMAN': WARNER BATTLES BAD BUZZ FOR EPIC WITH MORE FOCUS ON COSTNER, SCI-FI

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Warner Bros. this week will put its marketing prowess to the test with a revamped campaign for "The Postman" that aims to silence a bad buzz for the film.

The ads -- and a new trailer -- will focus on actor/director Kevin Costner and the film's sci-fi imagery, after a first round of creative that underscored the film's dark, apocalyptic themes.

"The Postman," opening Dec. 25, has been plagued with bad buzz for weeks. Cryptic outdoor ads have left consumers confused and the earlier trailer evoked groans for its hokeyness. Both were done in-house. The movie is starting to get above-average reviews, but hopes for its box-office success are not high, especially with sophisticated urban audiences.

Warner Bros. admits the trailer set the wrong tone. "It's the nexus of all the bad buzz," said Barry Reardon, the studio's president of domestic distribution.

PUSH FOR 'L.A. CONFIDENTIAL'

Warner Bros. also launched a new print push, done in-house, for "L.A. Confidential" this past weekend, touting its five Golden Globe nominations and showcasing actress Kim Basinger.

"L.A. Confidential" has swept the best picture honors from every major film critics organization. The complicated, adult-targeted period film has mustered $36 million at the box office since opening in September -- respectable for a film noir. But it has failed to generate the pop culture buzz the studio had hoped for.

The movie was given a market-by-market release, and print ads -- also done in-house -- featured a sinister image of shadowy figures brandishing flashlights and surrounding a dead body. The film's few familiar stars weren't pictured.

The studio's then-president of theatrical marketing, Chris Pula, received some criticism for the strategy, which he takes personally.

"I'm a little sensitive about that one," said Mr. Pula, who left the studio earlier this month over a clash in working styles. The movie "could have made nothing. I was on the record before it opened saying it would make about $35 million. It's a brilliant movie, but it's also dark, bloody, violent and very long."

Warner Bros. agreed with its former employee. "It's a tough movie to sell. There's basically no youth appeal. It has limited appeal to women. It's a genre movie about cops and gangsters. . . . and there's been so much of that kind of stuff in the marketplace that it's tough to differentiate our product," said Mr. Reardon.

MORE COMMERCIAL

The studio's new approach to "L.A. Confidential" is more commercial, said the executive. Print creative will have a lighter tone. Ms. Basinger, who received a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress, will be featured.

The film has been expanded into more theaters and will stay at that level of distribution until Feb. 13, when Academy Award nominations are announced. If the movie receives the expected shower of Oscar nominations, Warner Bros. will double the number of theaters and support with TV spots.

Theaters appear ready to rally around the film. "It's tough to relaunch a film but if you can do it with any film, you can do it with 'L.A. Confidential,' " said Howard Lichtman, exec UP-marketing and communications at Cineplex Odeon Corp. "We're an industry that operates on word of mouth and, hopefully, all the

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