Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Seeking a Friend* (*For Possible End of the World. Inquire Within.)

Or: Marketing in Film and the Increased Problem With Misleading Advertising (...which sounds less interesting, but is more to the point.)

OK.  I promise we're going to get back to the older stuff soon, but this was one of those moments recently that really got me thinking on film in general.  As with most of those 'get to thinking' moments, once it burrowed its way in, it was only a matter of time before I finally just caved and wrote about it.

In this case, as the title suggests, it comes from recently watching the movie Seeking a Friend For the End of the World.

This isn't a review per se, though for the record, I have to say I did find the film worth seeing.  However, one of the things that I was struck by was just how, compared to how the film was marketed, it was a rather different beast of a movie.  Yes, there was some comedic parts to it, and those were entertaining (in particular a brief appearance by Patton Oswalt leads to probably the funniest scene in the movie.)  At the same time though, I was struck by just how much of the film was more understated and, as it went on, downright sad in terms of content.  I mean, yeah, the title lets you know how that yes, by the end of this movie the world will end.  But watching the ads, you get the sense of a much more light-hearted and goofy ride to that proverbial 'Great Gig in the Sky' than the film actually delivers.  Very little is said in the promotion for the fact Carrel's Dodge spends much of the first half of the movie bordering on a despondent depression, or the fact that, by the last half hour, the film has abandoned the joking road trip entirely and takes on a much sadder feel before getting to a fairly heartbreaking ending.  Now, granted, I'll accept that that makes for a much harder sell in a film, so that may be why people were hesitant to mention it within the ads.  At the same time though, it really sells the film short as a more disposable comedy than the finished product actually is.  As a result, those who do go in based on the strength of those ads are in for a pretty harsh trapdoor opening beneath them.

Unfortunately, by this point, the film has already been subjected to a painful opening weekend, coming in #10 at the box office.  While I hold some hope that word of mouth could help it regain some wind, the fact is that, in the eyes of the distributors, it's already dead.  Thanks to the general practice of abandoning a film if it fails to perform right out of the gate, it's safe to say this won't be getting any help from the ads any more...if one could say they helped in the first place.

In thinking back at how misleading the advertising on this film was, and subsequently how it probably did have a hand in the poor box office performance (being put up against Pixar for their opening weekend wasn't doing them any favors either,) I couldn't help but realize how much of a track record there has been in recent films for ads that leave you feeling like you're in for one sort of film, only to find yourself looking at a different film entirely.

Earlier this year also saw a different example of this at work, albeit with more success for the film in question.  After being trapped on studio shelves for two years, the movie Cabin in the Woods was finally released this spring with marketing emphasizing it as a creepy horror film that turns conventions on their ear (to a degree that some felt was spoiling elements of it.)
...what those ads didn't really mention was that, for as seriously as they tried to depict the proceedings, the actual film was less of a horror film, and more a surprisingly sharp black comedy that made light of a LOT of horror movie tropes as the basis for much of its humor.
It was in that light that the word of mouth about the movie spread (well...word of mouth and some strong buzz in fan circles, partly thanks to Joss Whedon's involvement,) and arguably actually did more for the film's success than the actual marketing did, going on to make a film that was something of a dark horse into one of the more successful films of this spring.

While looking at examples of this, another curious one, that others before me have pointed out, comes from the above mentioned Pixar release of this summer, Brave.

Now, I imagine some of you are probably going "...really?  How the Hell can you say a Pixar film is mismarketed?"

Well, here's the weird part - for an interesting experiment, and one I'm sure some of you may have already done since I know I'm not the first to point this out, look up the American trailer of the film compared to the Japanese trailer.

The former is much more focused on the comedic and character elements of the movie, with emphasis on the film's female lead and her desire to break out of her role within the medieval society.  The latter, meanwhile, brings up elements of plot completely omitted from the American version (such as the fact Merida makes a deal with a witch in her quest to change her fate) and, as some have described it, feels less like a light-hearted comedy and more like Pixar's version of a Studio Ghibli story.

 (If Blogger's formatting cuts off part of the video, click here)
I have to admit, while both of these look fairly worth the watch, the Japanese take is the one that really has me interested to see it.

Finally, and in another example of how advertising can hurt box office performances, let's travel back to approximately this past winter.  Before the Oscars really helped bring the film back into the limelight, Martin Scorsese's Hugo ushered its way into theaters with probably one of the most vague ad campaigns this side of the much less fortunate John Carter.  Unless one was already familiar with the novel the film was adapting, the ads told you almost nothing about what you were in for.  Looking back, all I remember of them was "Martin Scorsese directed, and there appears to be some sort of clockwork person...also Ben Kingsley."  Even what information I could find online was a mixed bag.  From talking to others, I certainly wasn't alone in this sentiment, and it showed in its performance.  For its budget and high profile director, the movie opened #5 at the box office, and only managed to climb up to #3 by virtue of word of mouth after the fact.  It did eventually manage to regain some steam thanks to said word of mouth and the eventual push by the Oscars, but it's hard to deny the cypher that was its initial marketing likely had a hand in its rather lackluster debut.

These are, of course, just a few examples, and far from isolated incidents (again, take a look at the equally vague advertising on John Carter, as well as their decision to shorten the title in fear of 'Mars' driving away viewers, and how that lead to one of the biggest flops in recent movie history.)  They can, however, be said to be indicative of a problem that seems to have increased in recent years, as it seems like the people in charge are either uncertain of how to advertise these films, if not unwilling to mention certain elements of them for fear it will turn off general interest.

Is it my place to tell these people how to do their jobs?  Not officially, no.  However, I will say, at this point, it might do for studios to re-evaluate the role marketing has in movies,and hopefully start taking it more seriously in the future.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Great Expectations - Separating the Slip-Ups From the Unforgivable Sins Since...

Or - I Throw My Hat In On the Mountain of Internet Chatter On Prometheus

For the record, while I can appreciate a good bit of fanservice
as much as the next guy...Ridley, you really should have known
playing up the ties to Alien was gonna bite you here.'s technically a bit behind, but what the Hell?

There's been a lot of buzz on the web over the last two weeks about Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus.'  It's been a rather curious mix.  On the one hand, it's doing fairly well critically, sitting at a comfortable 73% on Rotten Tomatoes and having enjoyed a 2 week stay at the #2 spot at the box office, even this week only sliding down to 4th.

When you look on the web, however, it's a different story.  Just going on the internet's reviews, this movie would seem an absolute flop.  Sure, some people have liked it, but there has been a LOT of hate for this movie.  I mean genuine, venomous hatred.  Entire articles about putting one's finger in the plot holes and wiggling around to get more blood to come out of them.  People acting like this is one of the worst films to come out of Hollywood this summer (I'm going to guess this is partially because their survival instinct has allowed them to forget things like last week's 'That's My Boy' coming out.)

I'm going to start by saying, I'm not going to defend this...not entirely, anyway.  I'm not going to say the movie is perfect.  I do feel the story had some very good ideas at its core, but the execution DID leave a lot to be desired (sorry Lindelof, those stunts work well when you only need to keep people distracted for an hour a week.  It loses much of its allure when you only get one shot to keep people busy and you're still expected to have an explanation for why you kept them so busy.) 

I'd also like to mention on an aside, though this is only a partial slight against this movie and more a general complaint about the current industry in general, that Guy Pearce's makeup as old man Weyland was, for a film with this much attention paid to its visuals, downright awful.  It looked rather last minute and was definitely another strike against the film, albeit not one as damning as the script.  Plus, again, I can't say this one's so much exclusively a fault of this movie, as there has been a fair amount of terrible aging jobs in recent film these days.  Especially sad when films from decades earlier, using more basic makeup, can manage to add 30 or more years to an actor's face and be much more convincing for it.  Or, as others have asked, they could have simply cast an older actor from the get-go and leave Pearce to the viral videos.

But, like I said, that's an aside and not fully prevalent to my main point.

Despite these complaints, I do feel the hatred for this film is rather exaggerated.  To put it mildly.  I mean, from the way some of these people have declared it, you'd think the film had absolutely nothing of value to offer for it.  Which isn't the case.  Yes, the script was a mess of conveniences, awkwardly telegraphed symbolism and interesting, if half-formed ideas.  At the same time, the cast mostly still manage to make good work of what they're given, despite some receiving pretty underwhelming tools to work with (especially Fassbender, who even many of the most angry reviews can still manage to speak well for) and the visuals are some of the best I've seen in a film this year thus far.

At worst, I'd say it's still about a B- in terms of its quality.  The script is certainly a weak point, but it's not bad enough to sink the whole deal when the rest of the pieces mostly manage to carry themselves well.

So why the hate?  Why is it there are people that act like this movie was such an utter waste of their time, even as crappier films can and have been released this year.

Honestly, I think it's a large part the inevitable backlash that occurs from heightened expectation.

It's easy to forget a dismissable abortion like the above-mentioned TMB because no one had high hopes for it.  Sandler's career has been limping along for ages now and this is just another nail in its casket, albeit not as damning as Jack and Jill.  Prometheus, however, was something people legitimately wanted to be good.  As they had every reason to, mind you.  I'm not saying people are to blame for the fact that the movie is being hated.  Simply that a lot of the dislike for this seems to be more an exaggerated response.

People in general were expecting a lot of this film, both with regards to its relationship to Alien, and as the next big summer blockbuster after The Avengers.  Unfortunately for the crew here, with an opening act like that, they REALLY needed to bring an A-game on all fronts.  So when one of the team's star players underperformed with a script that expected its viewers to accept his 'build a lot of mysteries, answer none of them' style that managed to keep him working on TV well enough, people were quick to catch his failure.

This was a film that should have been better than what it was.  Does this necessarily make it a bad film?  Not particularly.  Nor does it make it a great one.  It's a pretty decent film that I'd argue is at least worth seeing in theaters to really get the most out of the visuals. 

Unfortunately, because people were expecting more of it (and again, that's not entirely their fault,) and thanks to the general 'love it or hate it' extremes that have become so prevalent on the web in the last decade or so, this in turn has translated to people calling it an unforgivable mess of a movie and acting like it has absolutely nothing of any value to give to a moviegoer.

Of course, part of this may also be a matter of timing.  We're still in the first weeks of release for a film that had spent a LOT of time building to a boil with viral marketing campaigns and general hype being played as far as the studios could get them to go.  The promotion was handled as such to work a good chunk of the web fanbase into a mild frenzy for this.  A risky game to play no matter who you are.  I mean, if you can please the people, great.  But if you're film stumbles, that crowd you've worked up won't hesitate to turn on you in an instant.

Consider, if you will, the infamous summer of 1999, for example.  Granted, the web wasn't quite as connected back then, so this didn't have quite the same levels, but the principle will remain the same here.
That summer saw the release of the much awaited, and hyped, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.  We had a lot of hopes riding on that movie...and, despite bringing some serious star power, Lucas managed to completely underwhelm everyone.

At the time, admittedly somewhat understandably, the web was PISSED.  Episode I hate became a sport in some circles of the web (in some, it till is, but that's a matter for another discussion.)  You'd swear everyone who saw this movie got treated to a reel of George Lucas punching their parents and then violating their most beloved family pets before he wiped is buttocks with the money they'd just shelled out for tickets.  It angered people THAT much.

Flash forward to now.  Sure, some people still REALLY hate the movie...but for the most part, people have calmed down.  The general consensus is more that it was just a disappointment or a forgettably bad movie rather than something that would drive people to absolute hatred.

I suspect, given time, Prometheus will follow along similar lines.  It hasn't even been a month since its release, so a lot of the hype and subsequent disappointment are still pretty fresh in everyone's minds.  The further it gets from its initial public consciousness, the absolute "Fuck this movie!" mentality will likely cool to "Eh.  It was a letdown." or "It was OK.  Could have been better." or any number of iterations in between.

As it stands, I'm still marking the film as 'watchable, if flawed.'  I plan to give it a rewatch later down the line when the hype has died down to see if my opinion changes any now that I won't have it being constantly out there to effect me in any way, though I suspect I may still look at it with the same level of "Just OK."  That I currently see it as.

Unless Ridley Scott plans to replay his 'Kingdom of Heaven' hat trick and turn up a director's cut that SERIOUSLY reinvents the movie, anyway.  That will be a whole other matter to discuss when the time comes.  For now, I'm just going to leave it at not really worth the hype, but not really deserving of the contempt either.  A largely pretty good effort sadly hindered in one of its vital spots by two writers who, based off their resumes, were probably not the most experienced people for the job (between them only two other feature films had been written prior to this.  Of them one tanked horribly and the other was based on an existing piece of media, so he kind of had half the story structured for him.)

A shame, certainly, but not one to really get as angry as some people have over.

...interestingly on the note of Lindelof, no one seemed to mind the holes in his Star Trek reboot as badly.  Though it probably helps that expectations seemed to be generally lower for that movie.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Concerning Bath Salts, Zombies, and The Fine Art of Letting Things Go

OK.  I was telling myself I wouldn't write this.  I was telling myself once I go back to work, I'd actually start things off with a review.  Even picked out the movie and got the review started.

But sometimes, something comes along and you just have to comment on it.

I know I'm not alone on this one, and frankly, some people have already said this probably in better terms than I will.  At the same time, it's one of those statements where somehow, it's not enough to just point to someone else and go "What they said."  You just have to get it out there yourself.

And so it comes to this.

When the first news report came out of Florida, we all had a somewhat macabre laugh.  Sure, some poor bastard just got his face chewed off by a guy who was pretty far out of his mind on bath salts.  Like the Darwin Awards, it's something horrible that happens to a person, but at the same time, we couldn't help but be amused.  Inevitably, once reports of a naked man eating another man's face hit the web, murmurs of the zombie apocalypse inevitably started.

...but it didn't stop there.

Suddenly, the web became riddled with stories of people eating people.  An event that, surreal as it sounds, is apparently more common than we gave it credit for.  Especially where drugs are concerned. 

On a quick aside on that note, I'd just like to say - THIS is the kind of shit we need to show people in anti-drug videos.  People aren't gonna remember the video of some idiotic stoner shooting themselves, because that shit almost never happens anyway.  But show them someone who's baked their brain on bath salts eating another man's flesh and kids are GONNA remember it.

Anyway, I'm getting off point here.  The thing is, this all turned into a surreal cause and effect.  The web caught fire with the first story and got caught up in zombie fever, and the news sites got wind of it and obliged people with more stories of people eating people, the unluckiest people in the world.  Any question of whether or not the news sites were deliberately feeding on this (no pun intended) went out the window for me earlier today whe I saw the most recent cannibalism account on The Huffington Post with the interest tag 'zombie apocalypse'

Incidentally, I'd also be VERY concerned about anyone who votes 'Hot' on this story.

What am I getting at with this?

It's an uncomfortable thing I've been batting around for a while now.  With each new account of the production clusterfuck that was the World War Z movie, I figured it was a stumbling block.  When every new FPS game suddenly had a 'zombie' mode, I got even less certain.  With the lackluster performance of the second season of The Walking Dead, I was seriously starting to wonder (though I will admit, I am somewhat hopeful for season 3 based on what we know of the process so far.)

...but that last part aside, in light of these news stories, as well as just all the backlogs of merchandise for it that, by this point, are starting to clutter store shelves like the creatures they depict, I honestly don't mind saying...

I think we finally killed the zombie trend.
Or if we haven't it's time to finally lay it to rest.

I hate to say that, cause it's been some fun times getting to this point.  Sure, not everything we got out of it was gold, but we DID have some pretty fun stuff leading up to it.

But it's time to put it back on the shelf for a while and let it take its much deserved rest instead of letting it linger and overstay it's welcome like...well...a zombie.

Especially given how eagerly some people seem to be latching onto these bad trip stories with an almost eagerness to see a zombie apocalypse happen.  I know this is giving you news sites some great traffic, but really, ease off now before someone really gets worked up enough that some poor bastard gets a shotgun to the chest.

In short, much like in the Italian movie Zombi, the undead craze has jumped shark.  Unlike in that movie, however, it's not ending well for the zombie.

I'm not saying it's never again, but let's give it a well deserved break for a decade or two.

So thanks in the meantime to, among the following: George Romero, Robert Kirkman, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Max Brooks, Frank Darabont Sam Raimi (OK, you didn't actually add to the genre during this new wave, but hey, the Evil Dead movies are still great times) and too many others to properly hope to thank without this going on any longer than it has for the years when this new wave went well...even if Boyle won't actually consider his work zombies.

...of course, this will raise the question of what's to follow.  Time will tell, really.  But for now, let's just leave this one to rest for a while.

To quote another film involving the undead:
"Sometimes, dead is better."