Movie Marketing Madness: The Village

villagemmm01storyAlfred Hitchcock movies are still scary. When the birds attack Tippi Hedrin we all start to feel phantom scratches and pecks on our scalps. We empathize with Cary Grant as he tries to convince the people manipulating him that he’s not Kaplan. Even with all the moviesthat have come since then, they still pack a visceral punch that can’t be fought.

So will the movies of M. Night Shyamalan hold up as well? Will we still be discussing The Sixth Sense twenty years from now? That may depend on two things: 1) How well this film does financially and 2) How well this film does artistically. Shyamalan needs to really make his mark and prove that he can keep producing at an exceptional level from movieto movie.

The Trailers

All three trailers are put together remarkably well. They all move from peaceful and subdued to nerve-racking, pulse pounding and breast-heaving at a pace that builds anticipation well.

The teaser does exactly what any good teaser should do. We get faint glimpses of the plot, the setting and the characters and that’s about it. There’s almost no allusion to who is going to be the main protagonist of the story. The theatrical version goes only slightly farther. William Hurt (who is now and will be forever atoning for Lost in Space) provides some exposition and there are vague warnings of the creatures, whatever they may be, that live in the woods surrounding the village.

What looks to be a TV spot (it’s labeled on the website as a “60 second trailer”) is the weakest of them all. It carries a completely unnecessary voice-over narration that kills whatever atmosphere the trailer is creating. It’s also the only version to provide an executive summary of the Shyamalan’s career, with brief clips from Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs.

The Poster

“Let the Bad Color Not Be Seeen…”, “Heed the Warning Bells…”, “Never Enter the Woods…”. The three rules of the village have such a nice progression I almost expected there to be a fourth one espousing the virtues of using BurmaShave. Whether the phrases appear on their own individual posters, or all on one, they at the same time elude to the plot while giving almost nothing away. I just have this fear that as cool as the posters are the cover to the eventual DVD will suffer from either Big Floating Head syndrome or Give Away the Entire Plot With One Picture disease. Enjoy these posters because they’re about as cool as the concept gets.

The Website

The main pages of the site are very serene. On the main menu page there is a picture of the village. Two birds suddenly start flowing out of the woods in the background. I kept expecting them to do something or thinking that clicking on them would open up some secret portion of the site. Neither guess was accurate. They did nothing which, in keeping with Shyamalan’s overall style, helped build the anticipation.

All the usual pieces are here: Laudatory biography of the director, story recaps, downloads, trailers and production and story notes. There are a few that caught my attention as being unique so let’s focus on those.

“Face Your Fears” is this site’s version of registration. You are actually encouraged to enter your fears for viewing by and discussion with other registered members. The tactics used to get personal information out of people always intrigues me. It reminds of something Kramer said on “Seinfeld”: “Why does Radio Shack need my phone number to sell me some batteries?”.

“Enter the Woods” is a very cool interactive portion of the site that allows you to get in on the action (but not in a Traci Lords kind of way). You can ring the warning bell or open the trapdoor in the watchtower. While this may not sound like much these really capture the feel of the trailers.

Media Coverage

I want to take a brief moment and mention the media coverage in the weeks leading up to the movie’s release. The Sci-Fi channel had been hyping a documentary on MNS, conveniently timed to coincide with the release of “The Village”. About two weeks prior to release stories began to emerge that Shyamalan had ended his participation with the makers of the documentary. Sources said the makers were digging too far into his personal life and exposing secrets M. Night didn’t want out there. There was much speculation as to what these secrets might be and how they may have influenced his work.

It was then revealed that the stories about pulled participation were false. In fact, they had been planted by the marketing team behind the movie as a part of a “viral marketing” effort. There was no controversy, only hype. This was a great play in that there were then two rounds of stories, all of which mentioned not only the Sci-Fi channel program but also the movie itself. Masterstroke in my opinion.

Overall

There’s not a bad play in this campaign. They cut nice trailers (except the narration in the TV spot), they created wonderfully mysterious posters and put together a website that nicely compliments everything else. The inclusion of the planted stories about the Sci-Fi channel documentary accrued at least three or four more news cycles for the movie at a critical time just before the opening.

A rose by any other name

The media airwaves, newsprint and web pages have been inundated in the last week with the news of and commentary on bloggers being credentialed as press at the ongoing Democratic National Convention in Boston, MA.  Pontifs have pontificated, pundits have pundited and commentators have.. well, there’s got to be something that starts with a “p” otherwise my whole scheme is off.

Anyway, the general tone of these is that some great paradigm shift is underway with blogging.  There’s also the sense that the DNC is acting so magnanimously by allowing these writers, who more often than not are not associated with an established (read: corporately owned) media outlet into their hallowed hall.

A writer is a writer is a writer.  No matter what outlet they may use, be it a newspaper with a circulation in the hundreds of thousands (at least that’s what they tell advertisers) or a lowly web log with a dozen visitors a week.  What the DNC has done is not really all that groundbreaking, despite what NPR or the Washington Post may try and tell you.  All they have done is give more writers an opportunity to cover the event.

So why are writers whose works appear on privately operated web logs seen as such a brand new dynamic?  Because they are not accountable to subscribers or seven layers of corporate management.  They need not run their copy past three editors and a legal department in order to espouse their opinions or do any kind of reporting.

Things like this used to be confined to the “Letters to the Editor” or “Voice of the People” sections of the major papers.  It’s a measure of how far the faith of a certain demographic has fallen in the major media outlets that they have felt the need to self-publish in order to feel their voice is being heard.  Generally, according to various surveys (which I don’t have the time to find the links to), blog writers are fairly affluent with full time jobs and more often than not families.  These are not lonely frustrated nihilists.  They are the people on the train or on the highways commuting to their jobs and coaching kids sports.

So why the massive differentiation between writers and bloggers in the medias’ eye?  I can’t help but feel it’s a good amount of jealousy and snobbery coming into play.  If any Cletus, the Slack-Jawed Yokel with an internet connection can report/opine on current events than the sanctity that reporters and editors – as well as the managers who must justify their budgets – wrap themselves in.

The voice of the electorate will be heard this election, if not at the ballot-box then definitely online.  Web logs have achieved a kind of cache among the digirati that message boards never really did, despite their inherent similarities.  All you need for either is an ISP, some imagination to come up with a title for your post and possibly a User handle and an opinion.  Message boards, though, since they were always sub-sections of larger sites, were seen as kind of a playground where the kids could play while the adults did their important work.  By offering equal footing for all comers, web logs have truly democratized the writing format and should be noted by all.

What all this means for the future of journalism I can’t and won’t say.  If there is one constant in the field it’s that things will change so any prognostication is useless and a waste of space.  I write to my blog because it’s fun and free.  If you want to know why anyone else does so, visit their blogs and ask them.  They’ll probably love to explain it.

Bestowing titles

So the title for the sixth and final Star Wars film has been officially announced.  I can now put together the following list:

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

As anyone who knows me will attest, I am completely George Lucas’ bitch.  I’m powerless.  If I misbehave there’s the threat he will punish me in some fashion.

Before Ep. 2 came out a few years  and Lucas was trying to appease all the fans he pissed off with Ep. 1 he made quite a few comments about how the films were like poetry, where certain cadences and themes would be repeated.  This was all in the context of attempting to tie the prequel trilogy into the classic trilogy (never mind that he has done everything in his power with CGI and more to revise the classics to fit his new prequel mindset).  He may as well have just said, “Really, this will remind you why you loved the first three movies.  Please come see my movie!”.  Unfortunately he then cast Hayden Christiansen as Anakin Skywalker.

One area Lucas has been good at hitting his “repeated themes” concept with are the chapter titles.  They fit a very nice pattern as you can see:

Eps 1 & 4 – Descriptive
Eps 2 & 5 – Decisive action by a large group
Eps 3 & 6 – Emotional action by a small group

Kudos to Lucas also for using “Revenge” which any Star Wars fan will be able to tell you was part of the original title for Ep. 6, i.e. “Revenge of the Jedi”.  The story goes that this was the title until Lucas decided that the concept of revenge didn’t really fit into the idea of the Jedi as a group who have learned to master their emotions and not let them cloud the use of good judgment to decide action.

However it turns out, I’m going to be there for Ep. 3.  I’ll get the DVDs of the original trilogy no matter what the CGI changes are that have been made.  I’ll get the DVD of Ep. 3 and probably the box set of the special editions of the six-part epic that is a couple years away.  I’ll get the DVDs of the Ewoks and Droids TV series  and pretty much anything else that comes with the SW name attached.  As I said, I’m Lucas’ bitch.  We all have that one relationship that we can’t break off no matter how self-destructive it might be.  I know it’s not healthy, but that really doesn’t change anything.

But let’s get back to the big question: Do I like the title?  Yes, I do.  It fills out the pattern nicely.  My hope is that when the entire epic is viewed we will be able to see one arch reaching over 12-15 hours of film, with “Revenge of the Sith” dovetailing nicely into “A New Hope”.  It would be a shame if Lucas can’t bridge the two (something he has said he will do primarily with hairstyles) as that would almost completely invalidate everything he strove for.   Here’s hoping.

The glory of a $14.99 sale

In April of 2003 I began working for Blockbuster as a lowly worker-bee.  The best part about this employment (which was part-time in addition to my full-time job) was that I got five free rentals a week.  This included movies that weren’t hitting shelves until the next Tuesday.

I stopped working there in January 2004 for personal reasons.  The company had been great, the people I worked with were fantastic, especially my manager, and I loved the free rents, but life dictated other things.  So after about a month I signed up for the Movie Pass program, which gives you unlimited rentals in a month for a flat monthly fee.  The first month I did this I rented 40 titles.  Just to break that down, I paid $24.99 for the Movie Pass.  40 titles at $3.99 a pop would have otherwise cost me $159.60.  The second month I had the pass for I rented 20 movies ($79.80 worth).

I had been thinking about buying another pass and kind of knew it would be sometime in the next few weeks when I saw a commercial advertising a $14.99 sale when you buy a new Movie Pass.  Couldn’t resist.  I went that morning and bought one.  Rented two movies when I bought it, so I have already used $7.98 of the total cost.  Two more and I’ve gotten my money’s worth and everything else is gravy.

Gotta love a sale.

Movie Marketing Madness: Catwoman

catwomanmmm06storyDC Comics has been struggling lately with bringing their comic book characters to life on the big screen. It’s an ironic position since the publisher is owned by Time-Warner and therefore, theoretically, has a direct pipeline to the movie going public. It also comes at a time when its chief rival, Marvel, has been hitting nothing but triples and home runs by farming out their characters to a half-dozen different studios.

So while they try to iron out the seemingly infinite number of problems getting a new Superman movie off the ground (Haaa!) and before the upcoming resurrection of the Batman franchise, they give us “Catwoman”. The character was introduced in 1992’s “Batman Returns” and is now being given her own vehicle but this time with Halle Berry taking over for Michelle Pfieffer. Not only is the actress different, but so is the character (I’m not well versed in the continuity of the DC universe so don’t ask) and the costume, which dispenses with all that annoying material that usually connects the parts covering various naughty bits. If fact, those naughty bits are barely covered, but that’s the subject of a completely different column.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer does a very good job of teasing the ideas behind the movie. There is a little bit of text alluding to the transformation Berry’s character will undergo, a few shots of Berry herself both before and after becoming Catwoman and, most importantly, a few shots of the costume.

The theatrical trailer goes a bit further, still playing up the story but devoting more screen time to Berry as well as co-stars Benjamin Bratt and Sharon Stone, who is probably aching for a career doing something other than attending the premieres of other peoples’ movies at this point. Without a hit movie soon Sharon Stone is about one year away from the next iteration of “Celebrity Mole”.

The Poster

Here’s where I just couldn’t keep a straight face. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. I don’t care how hot Halle Berry may be, the costume is ridiculous in a still picture. This is what caused millions of fanboys and girls to simultaneously utter, “Are you kidding me?” when shots were first released to the public. When the wearer of the costume isn’t moving around it may as well be Ernest Borgnine wearing it (and there’s todays fun mental image. I can almost hear people shutting down their PCs after reading that).

Anyway, the poster simply features Berry looking like she’s crouching or straddling something and may shatter ESPN columnist Bill Simmons’ “Unintentional Comedy Scale”.

As an aside, how much do you think Halle Berry being pissed that Storm wasn’t the main character in the X-Men movies had to do with her taking this role? I have to believe she purposely accepted the title role in a rival’s comic adaptation on some level simply to stick it to Bryan Singer, Hugh Jackman and the others who pushed Storm into the background.

The Website

Despite every instinct in my body saying the movie will be a disaster, the website is actually fairly well put together. A very nice and slick cats-eye graphic comes up when switching between sections of the site. I only wish they had incorporated this graphic into the trailers or perhaps a teaser poster a little more instead of pouring all the focus on Halle Berry.

“Media” contains the usual assortment of trailers, a production sketchbook and a photo gallery. One nice touch in the photo gallery is the ability to zoom in on a picture and, by grabbing the picture with your mouse, move it around in the frame. Of course that could lead to (unintentionally of course) repositioning a photo and zooming in on Halle Berry’s boobies. Again, though, this was entirely an accident. Really. Come on, sweetheart, I didn’t mean to. Really, you’re the only one for me.

Moving on, there are fairly good story synopses and production notes in the “About the Film” section. For once these recaps don’t seem to have been written by (and for) mentally challenged orangutans. “Cast and Filmmakers” leads you to short bios for the major cast and crew, including Pitof, the director. I’m struggling for a joke based on that name but they all seem so easy I’m just going to let it go. There’s also a pretty standard “Game” you can play on line which is just a Catwoman variation on the right-scrolling shoot something/someone and keep moving concept.

“Downloads” lets you put Halle Berry on your desktop (but not the way some of you out there would like) in the form of wallpapers, screensaver, AOL IM icons (since this is of course a Time-Warner film) and, in a unique touch, a media player skin.

Occasionally a little black cat will come running across your screen. Click on the cat (as opposed to pounding it against the wall as Eric Idle comes by to collect the dead) and you get a new window where you can download desktop wallpaper. Cool concept, but I wish they had done something more original with it.

Overall

As I stated above, I really think they should have incorporated the cats-eye from the website into more aspects of the campaign. Creating an instantly recognizable logo is an important part of branding a product and this is a good one. As it stands the campaign does a nice job of displaying Halle Berry and that’s what they needed to do. There is a dark mysterious edge to the trailers that unfortunately is completely shot to hell by the poster. If they had worked a little harder to bring that same sense of danger to that part of the campaign it would have seemed a little more nicely rounded out to me.

With that darker more gritty edge they are attempting to bring in the guys out there who may otherwise see this as a chick-flick, albeit one with Halle Berry kicking Sharon Stone into a wall (my favorite shot from the trailer). Guys may want to see the hottie in the nine-square inches of torn leather but they have almost an allergic reaction to the female empowerment genre. Making it look good is half the battle for the studio to reach this audience and, I feel, they succeeded everywhere but in the poster.

View From the Rental Counter: 7/16/04

DVD Releases for 7/20:

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)  PG13
Synopsis: Spoiled city brat finds out she’s actually not that important when her family moves from the city to the suburbs.
Box Office: $29.3 million
Market: Anyone above the age of 13 is likely to have their intelligence insulted by this movie, so expect it to do well.  Families including at least one girl will gravitate toward this one.
Similar Titles: Freaky Friday (2003 remake), Princess Diaries

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) PG13
Synopsis: Nobody puts Baby in a corner, which is beside the point because Jennifer Grey isn’t even in this sequel to the 1987 classic (did I actually just write that?).  Patrick Swayze appears briefly, but that can only be a good thing.
Box Office: $14.1 million.
Market: May lean heavily on nostalgia for the original.  Couples in their 20s or 30s may enjoy this one.
Similar Titles: Dirty Dancing (duh), Titanic

Secret Lives: Hidden Children & Their Rescuers During WWII (2002) NR
Synopsis: Documentary on European families who risked the wrath of Nazi Germany to hide Jewish children during World War II.
Box Office: —–
Market: Adults seeking more serious subject matter.  People interested in this may not be fighting the crowds on Friday or Saturday night but may come in earlier in the day.  Parents who are bringing their kids may find this interesting for themselves.
Similar Titles: Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary (2002), Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000).

Starsky & Hutch (2004) PG13
Synopsis: A very loose and very tongue-in-cheek remake of the 70s TV series starring Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller in his 35th movie of 2004.
Box Office: $88.2 million
Market: This is the big one.  Everyone is going to be interested in this.  At PG13, this is the perfect compromise for families wanting to watch a movie together as well as teens and 20-somethings getting together with friends.
Similar Titles: Old School

The Big Bounce (2003) PG13
Synopsis: Comedy about small-time con artists all double dealing each other in this adaptation of an Elmore Leanord book.
Box Office: $6.4 million.
Market: If (or more accurately when) Starsky & Hutch is out, point customers here since it also stars Owen Wilson.  Not quite the same level of comedic hijinks, but may serve as a consolation prize.
Similar Titles: Get Shorty, Ocean’s Eleven

The Goodbye Girl (2004) PG
Synopsis: Remake of the 1977 original, which was itself originally a Neil Simon play, this version stars Jeff Daniels and Patricia Heaton (from “Everybody Loves Raymond”) as strangers forced to share an apartment.
Box Office: N/A.  This was originally a TV movie.
Market: Nice, gentle middle of the road romantic comedy will probably skew more towards 30-somthing couples looking for a date movie.
Similar Titles: Goodbye Girl (1977), Seems Like Old Times

The Human Stain (2003) R
Synopsis: Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman star in this drama about a college professor (Hopkins) and how the secrets he’s kept for years impact his life when they are revealed.
Box Office: $5.3 million.
Market: Adults looking for something that is just a few steps off the beaten path should enjoy this one.  This movie was well received by critics but never found a mainstream audience, making it perfect for someone who may not know exactly what they would like to rent.
Similar Titles: The Hours, Hearts in Atlantis.

Movie Marketing Madness: I, Robot

In “I, Robot”, Will Smith plays Rick Deckard, a blade runner assigned to eliminate five replicants… wait. That may be a different movie. Let me try that again.

In “I, Robot”, Will Smith plays Del Spooner, a robot-phobic detective assigned to investigate how a robot may have violated the three laws inherent in its programming and murdered a human being. Based on the Isaac Asimov novel, this is sure to be a deep, penetrating voyage into the human mind and the world that it creates. With lots of explosions and car chases, which I’m sure was the point of Asimov’s novel.

Anyway, the thinking going into this is pretty simple: Sell Will Smith.

The Trailer

The theatrical trailer for this movie makes it very clear they are selling it on Will Smith’s charisma and charm. At least half the scenes shown have Smith cracking wise, reeling from someone else cracking wise or chasing something while cracking wise. Sense a trend? The robots do look very cool, but, as with most mass appeal trailers, it gives away far too much of the plot. There’s a shot where a robot Smith passes looks at him suspiciously. If they had left it at that and not included the mass CGI hordes breaking through doorways it would have created a much better sense of anticipation.

The Posters

The posters both present a very slick, futuristic look that, quite frankly, made me think of Minority Report.

The teaser version presents a robot that is presumably Sonny, the murderous fiend, in profile. It works at its basic goal of teasing what the robots will look like but not much more. Giving up what the robots will look like on the teaser poster seems almost to me like an act of desperation to build buzz. “What will ____ look like?” is the question fanboys and geeks ask about movie adaptations of all their favorite subjects, from Godzilla to the Elves in Fellowship of the Ring to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in next year’s “Star Wars: Episode III” – Thank God Lucas is Finally Done. Giving away the good stuff on the first date leads nowhere, something every father has told his daughter.

The theatrical version doesn’t fare much better. Will Smith stands in front of a legion of robots. Yawn. He isn’t featured in any action pose, such as running, nor does he look all that intense. Instead, Smith looks like he’s getting up from watching “Trading Spaces” to get some pretzels. There’s almost nothing here to work with.

The Website

Like the site for The Day After Tomorrow, another 20th Century Fox production, the website initially gives you almost a dozen locations and/or languages to choose from. I give them credit for expanding the geographic reach of the sites for these movies. Dumb American action films do very well in overseas markets so giving residents outside the U.S. the same sort of access to the website helps build buzz there.

Broken down into three major sections, the website provides all the usual features of modern movie sites with a few surprises.

“USR Labs” is where most of the interactive features live, from a NS-5 Assembly Platform, where you can design your own robot to a quiz on your knowledge of Isaac Asimov to some fairly standard games. The Robot Lab link takes you to the teaser site, which is essentially a mock infomercial for the company that builds robots. There is also a brief video clip of Will Smith explaining Asmiov’s three robot laws: Robots must obey human orders (unless it’s something kinky), robots do not kill humans (except Jessica Simpson) and robots can protect themselves (unless Stormtroopers are looking for them). I may have been making some of that up.

“Downtown Chicago” was a little surreal for me to click on considering I work in downtown Chicago. Anyway, here’s where you can download wallpaper, system icons and, interestingly, an Audi car advertisement disguised as a screensaver. Clever way to sneak in some corporate sponsorship. You will also find the trailer and a featurette (see my previous columns on how I think web features and DVD features are slowly becoming the same thing) and, using the Media Viewer, some slide shows of set photos, almost all containing Smith, and some cool looking concept art.

The “Chicago Police Department” analyzes what age and ethnicity you are, makes snap judgements and, depending on the level of your clout with City Hall, decides whether or not to beat the crap out of you. Sorry, that’s the actual CPD.

This section of the website on the other hand, contains usual PR fluff in the form of cast and crew databases, production notes and a brief plot synopsis. And I really mean brief. Imagine the effort it would take to, say, punch James Van Der Beek in the crotch. If they could have put that much effort into writing more than a paragraph long plot synopsis it would have been a good thing. That doesn’t bode well for the movie.

Overall

The posters are uninspired and disappointing. The trailer is uninspired and disappointing. The website has some interesting facets, but is still vaguely uninspired and disappointing. Three strikes and you’re out. There’s nothing here that suggests there’s a good movie behind this push. Instead, it relies almost entirely on the Will Smith recognition factor. It’s one thing to create a great marketing campaign and have the movie ultimately suck, it’s another to create a mediocre to poor campaign and have the movie live up to those expectations.