JOURNEY TO HELL POSES MOVIE AD CHALLENGE: POSITIONING OF ROBIN WILLIAMS FILM IS NOT DECEPTIVE, POLYGRAM SAYS

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Movie studios are often accused of giving away too much of a film's plot in ads. But PolyGram Filmed Entertainment's campaign for "What Dreams May Come" is raising eyebrows for not disclosing an unsettling plot point.

The film, opening Oct. 2, is promoted as a story about a doctor played by Robin Williams who dies and goes to a custom-made heaven -- except it will forever lack his wife. Deciding he can't spend eternity without her, he journeys through the afterlife to be with her.

But according to those who have seen the film, what the ads don't disclose is that Mr. Williams must rescue his disconsolate wife from hell after she commits suicide. What's been positioned as a metaphysical romantic adventure is actually a visually stunning meditation on troubling theological issues such as salvation and damnation.

Peter Graves, PolyGram's president of marketing, acknowledged the plot makes the film challenging to promote. But he doesn't believe the campaign is deceptive.

"Our campaign supports the idea of the film but tries not to give too much away," said Mr. Graves. "We're trying as much as possible to keep [the plot point] away from audiences only to preserve the film's emotional power."

EPIC LOVE STORY

The studio positioned the film as an epic love story. Said Mr. Graves: "Epic appeals to all audiences, while the adventure angle plays to males and love story with females."

A TV campaign for the film broke Sept. 13. TBWA Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., buys PolyGram's media. Spending wasn't disclosed, but could exceed $20 million.

While the film is rated PG-13, PolyGram is wooing sophisticated adults via tie-in promotions with Oscar De La Renta, Epson America, and the Museum Store.

The studio also is targeting the New Age and religious communities. Mr. Graves said a separate print campaign, running in alternative magazines such as Utne Reader, focuses on endorsements of the film, and the novel it is based on, from noted spiritual writers. Mr. Graves said screenings for religious leaders will take place this week.

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