Movie buffs go hunting

• Portlanders get their first look at the long-awaited film As 'The Hunted' opens, two collectors show off their treasures

Propped up against a wall inside a discreet warehouse on Northeast Columbia Boulevard is a 20-by-10-foot piece of plywood that's worth $500 to Walt Pelett.

It's not just any piece of plywood. With a bit of camouflage paint and a large dose of Hollywood special effects magic, the artfully carved piece Ñ when it's secured to the side of a forklift Ñ appears in three dimensions to be a real T-34 Russian army tank patrolling the city in a scene for 'The Hunted.'

'I would've never guessed the tank was plywood,' said Howard Flick, the warehouse foreman for City Liquidators, 823 S.E. Third Ave., who bought the tank Ñ along with a number of other kooky 'Hunted' collectibles Ñ at Pelett's request.

The tank, as well as more than $3,000 in leftover movie paraphernalia, will be viewed for the first time on the big screen when the long-awaited Paramount Pictures' movie opens for media screenings and invited guests today. It opens nationwide Friday.

Taking a starring role in the film are the two TriMet buses that were transformed into MAX trains, seen zipping across the Hawthorne Bridge. Pelett, a collector of eccentric items for a quarter century, bought the buses with the idea of creating a mobile showroom of his inventory to take to First Thursday and display to merchants.

The buses sat in his back lot for months, but the plan never panned out, so the buses are now at a scrap yard. 'Everything's gone,' he said. 'Sad but true. All I saved was the Jeff Gianola signs.'

The other items he nabbed have found new owners, including four 30-foot-tall fake tree trunks used in a scene in the Columbia River Gorge; some skeletons and bloody torsos meant to be bodies (they sold for $50 apiece during Halloween); and a few fake rocks that the store managed to include in a furniture showcase.

'It would be neat to put the tank on top of the building with rocks,' said Flick, himself an avid collector who took one of the rocks home for his yard. 'I liked 'em. They looked neat.'

Flick and Pelett aren't the only ones who have had fun with the movie, which made a big splash during its 13 weeks of on-and-off filming in the Portland area in 2001.

Its debut has locals buzzing.

Mayor Vera Katz and Multnomah County Commissioner Diane Linn said they would love to see today's screening but will be tied up in meetings.

Deborah Wakefield, executive director of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association, is looking forward to seeing the city showcased on a national level.

Charles Matthews, director of the FBI's Portland office, wants to make sure his agents Ñ several of whom were extras in the movie Ñ portrayed the department well.

'I wouldn't miss it,' he said.

Film gives cash infusion

Benicio Del Toro plays a Special Forces assassin gone renegade Ñ he hides in a wooded area of Oregon and protects animals by killing hunters. Tommy Lee Jones is a deep-woods tracker who battles Del Toro's character in several hand-to-hand knife combat scenes. And Connie Nielsen plays an FBI agent hired to bring Jones' character down.

Some fans say the movie's story line resembles the Sylvester Stallone film 'First Blood.'

Locals familiar with the production said Oregon, especially Portland, fares well on the big screen.

'Even though it's gory, bloody, violent, we look pretty good,' said Mary Volm, city spokeswoman. 'They wouldn't have done it here without the Hawthorne Bridge.'

When the film's production crew came to town in 2001, thousands of residents across the state felt a personal connection as they caught a glimpse of the stars; acted as extras or hired hands; or provided hotel rooms, catered meals or other amenities to the crew.

As the largest film production ever to hit Oregon, it contributed more than $30 million to the state economy, said Liza McQuade of the Oregon Film and Video Office.

The studio also donated $50,000 for a bike oasis Ñ a covered shelter for cyclists Ñ on the Hawthorne Bridge, which was part of an existing transportation project that is set to get under way next year.

New closure rules approved

Portland's brush with fame wasn't without inconveniences. Bicycle, pedestrian and car commuters who routinely used the Hawthorne Bridge were disrupted when the bridge closed for 13 weekends in a row.

A large number of shops, restaurants and pubs along Hawthorne Boulevard said the lost traffic kept business away. Coupled with nearby sewer projects, the impact was considerable, they said.

Volm said it was a compromise.

'What they wanted to do was close it completely for a period of time,' she said. 'I think we backed them way off of that. It cost them some money to have to come back, set up every weekend, as opposed to keeping the set whole.'

Most merchants, however, were mainly upset by the fact that the bridge seemingly closed without notice.

'They didn't ask anyone,' said Alex Stiles, owner of the Lucky Labrador brew pub. 'There was no public discussion. (The mayor) was more than happy to shut down that bridge. It kind of ticked us off, and I'm sure everyone up and down Hawthorne was ticked off.'

The closure during the movie production, in fact, spurred so many complaints to the county commission office that a committee was formed to work on a policy that would smooth out the planning for special events Ñ including movie productions Ñ to be held on the bridge.

County commissioners approved the policy late last month. Everyone from merchants to local film industry representatives seems pleased with it and said the restrictions would not discourage other studios from using the county's bridges for future film productions.

For the film industry, 'the easier and the quicker they can do their planning, the better,' said Veronica Rinard, executive director of the Oregon Film and Video Office.

'Some other jurisdictions would not require going to the county commission to approve of closure. But I also understand why Multnomah County felt that was necessary.'

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