Hollywood Boulevard has hosted its share of outrageous movie premieres over the years. When “Oz: The Great and Powerful” debuted in 2013, James Franco hopped in a hot air balloon and floated over the red carpet, waving to tourists. A year later, a pitching mound was created in the middle of the street for the baseball flick “Million Dollar Arm.” And just last month, the area outside the Hollywood & Highland complex was shut down to make way for a royal ball in honor of “Cinderella.”
But a bull-riding competition? That’s up there.
To celebrate the premiere of the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, “The Longest Ride,” on Monday night, 20th Century Fox teamed up with Professional Bull Riders. The cowboy group trucked in a handful of bulls and horses and had the organization’s top athletes on hand to participate in a demonstration competition.
The result wasn’t exactly up to a premiere’s glamorous standards. A clown danced to Taylor Swift songs in a misguided attempt to rev up the crowd. Hay was strewn across the red carpet. The street smelled like manure.
The event also didn’t put everyone with the rodeo spirit -- members of one notable animal-rights group turned out to register their objections.
And what in the name of Ty Murray does a Nicholas Sparks movie have to do with bull riding? Well, “The Longest Ride” follows a young art student (Britt Robertson) who falls for a bull-riding champion (Scott Eastwood) who is looking to make his comeback on the rodeo circuit following a dangerous injury.
Eastwood -- Clint’s son -- spent a lot of time with PBR riders researching the role. He was forbidden from actually getting on a bull during production, but that didn’t stop him from sneaking behind Fox’s back to try it out with some buddies earlier this year after the movie wrapped. (The film hits theaters this Friday.)
The actor stayed out of the ring on Monday -- which was probably for the best, given the controversy the event was already stirring up. About three dozen PETA protesters gathered by the entrance to Will Call, holding up signs condemning the use of bulls in the film.
“The Cruelest Ride: Electric prods, spurs and bucking straps,” read one poster.
Liam Cronin, a PETA spokesman who helped organize the event, said the animal rights organization had written to Fox during pre-production urging the studio not to create a new rodeo for the movie.
“It’s 2015 -- people don’t want to see animals abused for entertainment,” Cronin said. “This is not a family-friendly event. These bulls never see retirement or have comfort in their lives. They’re just sent to slaughter.”
In response to the accusations, Fox said the bulls were “treated with the utmost respect and dignity.”
“PBR and the filmmakers consider these animals to be elite athletes in their own right,” a studio spokesperson said in an email.
Fox said the American Humane Assn. was on set for all of the film’s bull riding scenes, and had reports done on the bulls by veterinarians when filming finished.
“Bucking bulls are genetically predisposed to perform (i.e. buck),” the studio added. “No negative stimulation whatsoever is induced to make them buck.”
During the bull riding event on Monday night, the PBR emcee stayed on-message, assuring the crowd that the bulls were not prodded with any “electrical stimulation.” He then invited former bull rider Cord McCoy -- the cowboy who competed on “The Amazing Race” -- on stage to talk about how well the animals are treated.
“The bulls eat breakfast before I do,” McCoy insisted. “They’re better fit and fed than I am. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should come out to the ranch.”
As for the film itself, while bull riding is an important element -- Robertson’s character threatens to break up with Eastwood’s unless he quits the sport -- this is still a Nicholas Sparks film. Our young lovers come from two different worlds! She dreams of a life working in a New York city art gallery; he would be content to work on a ranch. And yet she finds herself falling for him, and during one of their dates they save an old man from a car accident. This kind man (Alan Alda) becomes their friend and teaches them the true meaning of love.
The film has many moving moments, and for large stretches it’s not really about bull riding. But you’d never know that from the atmosphere outside Monday’s premiere.
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