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How timing of film on SEAL raid to get Osama could backfire on Obama

- - Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Harmon Kaslow, the producer of the forthcoming "Atlas Shrugged: Part II," has been fairly straightforward in acknowledging that the pro-capitalist movie sequel's Oct. 12 release date, just weeks before Election Day, is intentional.

Having part two of the cinematic adaptation of Ayn Rand's classic novel — the first installment flopped big time last year — in theaters "will give like-minded people an opportunity to get together and sort of discuss the issues, and the course of action that they're going to take in connection with those elections," Mr. Kaslow told The Washington Times earlier this year.

More guarded about their intentions are those behind "SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden," a new film about the 2011 military raid that killed the terrorist mastermind, which is set to debut on the National Geographic Channel on Nov. 4, two days before the election. The following day, the movie will be available on Netflix.

To judge from the action-packed, heart-thumping trailer, "SEAL Team Six" promises to be a well-produced movie intended to appeal to anyone who was gripped by the news stories about the intelligence officials who planned the raid and the elite soldiers who executed it. But given President Obama's highly publicized role in approving the operation, some suspect the movie, which is being distributed by proud Obama supporter Harvey Weinstein, will function in effect as an "in-kind contribution" to the president's re-election campaign.

National Geographic denies politics played a role in its decision to air the film so close to the election. Mr. Weinstein has remained silent about his intentions, but the veteran Hollywood producer and studio boss, who has hosted plenty of star-studded fundraisers for Mr. Obama, no doubt hopes the film will remind audiences of the administration's greatest success — killing the man behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But if Mr. Weinstein hopes to influence the election with the timing of his movie, he could be in for a disappointment.

Remember, for starters, that many progressives despise Mr. Obama's Bush-like continuation of the war on terrorism, so the movie might actually help depress the president's liberal base in a critical, close election. Swing voters might negatively react to any attempt to use the story of the raid as a political tool, especially as Mr. Obama himself continues to trumpet his role on the campaign trail. And the president may not even significantly figure into the film's plot at all; he appears briefly in stock news footage in the released trailer, but he won't be portrayed by an actor.

It remains an open question, moreover, how many will end up actually seeing the film at all. "I think it can have an influence, but it depends on how broad the audience is," says Cyrus Nowrasteh, a screenwriter and the filmmaker behind the 2006 ABC miniseries "The Path to 9/11." "I mean, how many people are going to watch a National Geographic movie?"

To top it off, "SEAL Team Six" will likely be overshadowed by another bin Laden raid movie, "Zero Dark Thirty," a big-budget thriller directed by Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") and set for a December theatrical release, a month after the election.

Mr. Weinstein wouldn't be the first politically minded filmmaker to try to influence an election with a mainstream movie. Michael Moore's 2004 anti-George W. Bush flick "Fahrenheit 9/11" (also produced by Mr. Weinstein) was released five months before the election that year. Four years later, the liberal Oliver Stone released "W.," an unflattering dramatic interpretation of Mr. Bush's life, weeks before the 2008 election, which was in some ways a referendum on Mr. Bush's eight years in office. And earlier this year, conservative activist Dinesh D'Souza set box-office records with his "2016: Obama's America," an anti-Obama polemic that is now the fourth-highest-grossing documentary ever.

But it's difficult to gauge what effect, if any, these and other movies had on voters' decisions. "Fahrenheit 9/11" was the most successful documentary feature of all time, and the film won plenty of accolades and acclaim from liberals in and out of Hollywood. For all we know, Mr. Moore's effort reinvigorated some voters discouraged by the lackluster Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry. But if so, it wasn't enough to topple Mr. Bush.

Similarly, "2016" may be energizing conservatives, but the legions of moviegoers packing in theaters to see it were most likely predisposed against Mr. Obama.

And despite some critical cheerleading for "W." back in 2008, audiences were lukewarm. Not that it mattered — the country was already on its way to electing Mr. Obama over Sen. John McCain, and voters didn't need a movie to persuade them they'd had enough of Mr. Bush and the Republicans at the time.

James Frazier contributed to this report.