A peek at how the studios control press coverage of their movies: Last week I received an e-mail from a publicist at Allied Advertising inviting me to a prerelease screening of Pathfinder: Legend of the Ghost Warrior, a Viking epic from 20th Century Fox that’s scheduled to open nationwide on Friday. A few minutes later a second e-mail notified me that the screening had been cancelled. What I didn’t learn until this week is that a third e-mail went out shortly thereafter, inviting a more select group of TV and daily outlets to a “rescheduled” screening at exactly the same time.

This news came in a letter of complaint that Daily Herald critic Dann Gire, president of the Chicago Film Critics Association, fired off to Fox publicity director Julia Perry on behalf of all the disinvited critics. “To sandbag professional critics from screenings while allowing ‘select’ media to see a movie creates friction—between the press and the studio. What does Fox gain by making it impossible for Chicago critics to compete with other outlets in a tough Midwest market? More important, what kind of relationship is Fox building in this market? Last year, in the wake of discriminatory invitations to Just My Luck, X-Men: The Last Stand and The Sentinel, we asked for some accountability on this continuing problem in hopes that we might be able to negotiate a fair and reasonable policy that benefits us all. . . . Fox has nothing to lose and everything to gain by adopting a uniformly fair and equitable policy of screening for professional film critics. It costs no more to show a Fox movie to 49 critics than it does to four.”

Perry didn’t reply, and apparently the more exclusive screening went ahead as planned. Gire and Erik Childress of eFilmcritic.com, a tireless crusader on this issue, are trying to rally the CFCA membership against Fox, but this is usually an uphill battle because: (1) The studios have no obligation to preview their movies to anyone (more and more often, they don’t) and (2) The critics affected work for outlets that are all competing with each other. No one ever complains about the velvet rope once he’s inside it.