Police officers have been on hand for showings of the controversial film “Joker” at two Cache Valley theaters — a step taken as a safety precaution as opposed to a response to any specific threat.
Logan City Police Chief Gary Jensen said his department has provided single officers at the University Megaplex Theatre, 1225 N. 200 East, for several showings since the movie opened late last week. A similar security arrangement was made at the Megaplex Theatre in Providence, 535 W. 100 North, through the Cache County Sheriff’s Office.
Mexaplex Theatres, headquartered in Sandy, has not returned a phone call from The Herald Journal, but representatives for local law enforcement agencies said the police presence was set up by contract with the theater company.
“It’s $70 an hour to hire a policeman if you want to do some security work,” Chief Jensen said, explaining that the officers in such cases come in a standard uniform with no special equipment. “They’re just present and available if there is any trouble.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Mikelshan Bartschi said his office is providing a contract officer only for selected showings of “Joker” in Providence — not for the entire run of the film — but deputies will continue to keep an eye on things at the theater as part of their patrols.
“Obviously there are still levels of concern with the ideation that some bad people might have,” Bartschi said, referring to the violence in the movie and possible copycat incidents connected to the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, theater in 2012 on the opening night of another D.C. Comics movie involving the Joker character.
“That being the case, we will continue with some random patrols just to make sure that we can keep all of our citizens safe,” Bartschi said.
Armed, uniformed police officers have been stationed at theaters across the nation after the FBI and Department of Homeland Security last week warned law enforcement about a number of non-specific threats to theatergoers that had been posted online since as early as May.
According to Newsweek, heavily armed uniformed police officers in New York were posted outside multiple early screenings of the film. Officers wearing helmets and armed with assault rifles stood outside a screening at the New York Film Festival on Wednesday night, where audiences had their bags searched and K9 officers were on duty, video footage showed.
Plainclothes officers were also said to be hidden in among the crowds in New York as similar scenes played out across the country in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.
No specific threats were reported in any of the cities.
The Associated Press reported extra layers of security, intense on-screen action and a frightening incident inside a New York theater combined to create an unsettling experience for some moviegoers who went to see “Joker” on its opening weekend.
A young man who was loudly cheering and applauding on-screen murders sent some people heading toward the exits in a crowded theater in Manhattan’s Times Square on Friday night. Other patrons yelled at the man, who spit on them as they left early, said Nathanael Hood, who was in the theater.
“I was scared. I’m sure a lot of other people were,” Hood said in an interview conducted by private messages.
Social media users posted photos of police, security sweeps and safety notices at theaters in California and Florida. And in Tennessee, a drive-in theater banned moviegoers from wearing costumes to a screening of “Joker.”
The Warner Bros. film, directed by Todd Phillips, presents the backstory of the man who becomes Batman’s classic foe.
Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix as the title character, in an origin story which is believed to feature a more sympathetic take on the character, according to Newsweek. The “loner” Joker is said to become a vigilante hero after committing acts of violence, often using a gun. In the official synopsis from Warner Bros., the character is described as “a clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night... but finds the joke always seems to be on him.”
While Phillips has said he hopes the film inspires discussions about guns, violence and the treatment of people with mental illness, some feared the movie could inspire violence, particularly after a mass shooting killed 12 at a Colorado theater during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Despite the increased law enforcement activity, CNN says the gritty film about the origins of the crazed Batman nemesis brought in $96 million in North America this weekend. That makes “Joker” the highest-grossing opening in the history of October. The film shattered the record held by Sony Pictures’ “Venom,” which made $80 million last October, according to CNN.