Postponed after Sept. 11, 'Collateral Damage' to be unleashed on theaters

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HOLLYWOOD — On Sept. 10, posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger dotted the national landscape, hawking the film "Collateral Damage." The tag line: "What would you do if you lost everything?" A faint impression of newspaper articles was visible in the background, with headlines such as "Veteran Firefighter Wife and Child Killed in Bomb Blast."

One day later, that headline was too newsworthy for comfort.

After Sept. 11, major studios immediately postponed a number of high-profile films with topics the moguls deemed inappropriate for a grieving nation. These included "Collateral Damage," an action film about a veteran firefighter whose family is blown up by Colombian terrorists and who heads south of the border to seek revenge.

Its postponement drew the lion's share of attention, partly for the title, which was probably one of the first times many Americans had heard the lingo for the accidental killing of civilians during war.

Four months later, after U.S. troops have vanquished the Taliban (and caused a certain amount of collateral damage themselves), America is deemed ready for Arnold again. The Warner Bros. film is scheduled to premiere next month. "It was the right decision to move the movie," said Schwarzenegger, from his Los Angeles home, where he was recuperating from a motorcycle accident in which he broke six ribs.

"When we tested the movie in November, there was more want-to-see than when we tested it earlier." Audience members thought it was right to postpone, but said they were ready for the film now.

Although not a frame of the film has been changed, the marketing campaign has been readjusted. The new commercial highlights more strongly the identity of the lead male terrorist. "They tried to find similarities to what the bad guys were in the Middle East and this Colombian character," explained director Andy Davis.

While the initial poster posited Schwarzenegger as a man grappling uncertainly with death, in the new poster headlines have been replaced by a small photo of a helicopter performing a daring maneuver, presumably a rescue. The tag line now trumpets the reassuring Schwarzenegger trope of trampling enemies: "Nothing is more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose."

Producer David Foster says the genesis of the project was that he and the original screenwriter, Ronald Roose, saw a "Nightline" report on the relatives of the victims who died when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988:

"We kept saying, 'How would you respond?' That's what started it. It's not about the terrorist, but an ordinary person. How do you live the rest of your life?"

In the beginning, there was concern that Schwarzenegger's character's profession — firefighter — wasn't heroic enough. "Then we see after the incident on the 11th, where firemen become the ultimate heroes," says Schwarzenegger, pointing up the irony.

"I always liked the idea of him being a fireman. My wife (Maria Shriver) became intrigued with the script because it was a fireman. It was my wife who kept chasing the script until it was offered to me."