Movie Marketing Madness: Shark Tale

sharktalemmm01storyAnimation has had a spotty record of late, with only the Pixar offerings bringing both a fair amount of artistic integrity as well as success at the box-office. Their latest, Finding Nemo, did nothing but continue that trend with a heart-warming story of a father’s love proving a solid draw for both adults and children.

So Dreamworks now shows up to the CGI-animated underwater story an hour and a half into the party and, to make matters worse, they forgot to bring the beer. Dreamworks’ philosophy seems to be to make movies that are “edgy” and “hip” but which come off as “lame” and “not worth our time”. Shrek was funny for about 15 minutes after it stopped playing in theaters and Shrek 2 seemed to have rehashed the jokes from the first one without even putting any extra gravy on to mask the leftover taste. Since “Shark Tale” doesn’t appear on the surface to be much different, my expectations aren’t great that this will be a breakout hit.

The Trailer

When it comes to their animated films Dreamworks is very big on referencing other movies. Disney does it to some extent too (bonus points to everyone who picked up on the source of the name of the head shark in “Finding Nemo”), but between “Shrek” and the two minutes in the trailer for “Shark Tale”, using jokes and allusions to previous movies is obviously part of some in-house guidance memo.

The trailers do not work for me on really any level. The casting and voice work were probably done two or three years ago when Will Smith was still considered a hot property. He has a large role in the trailer, but they make such a point of playing up the supporting characters that it appears they’re trying to minimize the size of his part. Instead, the subplot involving Jack Black being the son of Robert DeNiro godfather-type character gets a good percentage of the trailers. This leads to a very disjointed feel to the spots, with no flow.

The Poster

Jack Black’s shark holding Will Smith’s fish. There’s so little to work with here that I almost feel like I can’t even comment. There are a few pun-type gags in the background (a store called Gup in the same style as signs for the Gap, which my buddies and I used to call “The Ravine” during our misspent youth) point to the studios penchant for lame gags. The dual marquees that show the names of the cast members is so jarring in their brightness and style compared to the look of the background that it kills my suspension of disbelief right there and then.

The Website

One thing Dreamworks can’t be accused of is skimping on their websites. Much like the website for “Shrek 2″ there’s a lot of content here, some of which is geared toward adults and some designed for kids.

The first option in the chain of links is the “Gallery” which contains about a dozen still shots of the movie. There are no captions, there are no character descriptions, no nothing. Apparently we’re supposed to know all of this ahead of time. “Video” should actually be named “Trailers” since that’s all that’s contained in there, the two trailer spots. “Downloads” has the now-ubiquitous AIM icons, wallpapers and screensavers. The wallpapers are all character-themed as is the norm with these large-ensemble movies.

My favorite section of the site is “About” since it has the most information on various aspects of the production. About the Cast is about, well, the cast. Pretty detailed bios on the major players are presented. My favorite is when it gets to Martin Scorcese’s info just for the fun mental image of Scorsese taking time off from prepping Gangs of New York to provide the voice of a puffer-fish. Has to make you wonder what kind of secrets Robert DeNiro knows. Moving on, there are also long pieces on The Production and The Filmmakers which go into almost pornographic detail while offering almost no actual knowledge, a skill perfected by marketing professionals.

The “Soundtrack” link actually takes you to a completely separate site for the “Shark Tale” soundtrack, featuring artists which are all the rage among those aged 13 to 14-and-a-half and who won’t be remembered by anyone in…say…four months. The site is very nicely designed, though, giving you the option to listen to each song as well as email information on the site to your friends. “Characters and Story” plays a brief video clip (mostly pulled from the trailers) on the character you select. Nice idea, but why use trailer clips and not a different cut from another part of the movie?

Finally, the marketers make a direct appeal to kids with the “Games and Partners” section. The Games include the Whale Wash, a Flash-based game where you clean off a whale, Oscar’s Aqua Art is a lame painting game and Ernie and Bernie’s Mix Master lets you, as far as I can tell, play music, just changing the levels of the drums, guitar or bass. Um..yeah. Ok. Great. Where’s the line for the movie again?

Overall

There’s a little bit here for everyone to be insulted by. The games are obviously going to be below the intelligence level of the hip-teenage crowd the movie is meant to attract or their parents who will take them. The soundtrack and most of the website is geared at pre-teens and teens with disposable income and the movie seems geared at older folks who will actually get the joke when the shark goes flying through the “Jaws” poster.

The main danger faced here is that “Shark Tale” is following the enormous success of “Finding Nemo”. They are obviously trying to differentiate themselves as a straight-forward comedy instead of a family adventure but they forgot one little thing: to include jokes. The campaign fails to present this as an attractive offering to most groups and does not bode well for the success of the movie.

And the best part is it saves gas!

Beginning a couple weeks ago I decided to try out Blockbuster’s online rental service. I’d like to say I chose Blockbuster over Netflix based on some residual company loyalty from the eight or nine months I worked for them, but the honest truth is that it came down to $19.99 a month over $21.99 a month. Two bucks can sometimes make all the difference.

So how is it working out? Wonderfully from my perspective. The best part about it is that online Blockbuster carries so many titles that they just don’t realistically have room for in their stores. As much as they should, it’s impractical from them to carry all of Kurosawa’s films in the Chicago suburbs, where only 12% of the population would be interested in them. Being online, though, I can load up my queue with Godard, Trouffaut, Peckinpah and Altman movies that I have not yet seen and they will be mailed to my doorstep when I get to them.

Yes, I still have a mix of new releases in there, but that’s not any different from what I would be renting at a brick and mortar location anyway (think Coen Bros., Punisher, etc). It hasn’t really changed my renting habits as given me more elbow room to rent what I would like.

It’s about a three day turn-around from when I mail a movie back to when I get the next one from my queue, which to my mind is perfectly reasonable. If there happens to be a gap of a day or two (as just recently happened) that just gives me an excuse to pull something out of my own collection that I may not have watched in a while. All in all, I’m loving this system.

Movie Marketing Madness: Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow

skycaptainposterAs it says below, one of my favorite posters, as well as one of my favorite films, is “The Rocketeer”. I love the art-deco look of the poster, with the character soaring into the sky. The movie, too, continues to dazzle me with its set design (not to mention Jennifer Connelly in the white dress. If you’re a guy over 25 you know what I’m talking about).

So when I began seeing the first posters for “Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow” I was intrigued. It seemed to have a similar aesthetic sense and nostalgic feel. Then I realized it co-starred Angelina Jolie and the feeling in the pit of my stomach began to grow. After all, this is the woman who is such a bad actor she actually made Lara Croft look un-sexy. Quite an accomplishment. It also looked like a terrific CGI mess and, most confounding, looked like a black-and-white movie that had been colorized. I’ve slowly lost all but a little desire to see it.

The Trailers

It’s my understanding, based on various press accounts, that this movie was shot almost completely against green-screens, with backgrounds, props and just about everything else CGI-ed in during post-production. I can tell you, it shows. All three trailers have a computer-generated shine to them. The sets (if you can call them that) have that “just barely out of proportion” look to them that I find common in CGI. The perspective of where the human actor is standing just doesn’t quite match up with the backgrounds.

The trailers do all have a consistent look and feel, exhibiting the grayish tinge that seems to hang over the entire movie. I admit to thinking the visuals are pretty cool, but can they sustain an entire movie?

The Posters

There are, by my count, at least four different posters floating out there, most of which show a single character in half-profile. This is a common tactic for comic-book or sci-fi adventure movies where there are a lot of actors (think “Matrix” sequels, the “Lord of the Rings” series, etc). Here, though, is why I don’t like this play for this movie: It’s not a sequel. Why are you selling me Angelina Jolie’s character when I have no idea what character she plays? It’s one thing when you’re dealing with an established property, but when it’s the first movie it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The Website

The whole site carries the cloudy grey look and feel of the posters and trailer over very nicely and has a consistently pulpy feel to it, almost as if it was lifted straight from a dime-store novel.

“The Film” contains the usual Synopsis of the movie but lacks the accompanying About the Film section that most sites seem to have. Since I’m rarely able to tell what differentiates the two concepts, I didn’t really feel anything lacking. You can also find information on the soundtrack as well as the Trailers here. There is also a brief video of the filmmakers speaking on a panel at the recent Comicon about the movie. This was a great thing to add as Comicon is really all about whetting the fans appetites. Including it here shows they are reaching for this to be a grass-roots type hit, where the excitement of the early viewers will turn into a general positive buzz on message boards, forums and chat rooms.

The “Character” descriptions are fairly brief and, as a stated above, very pulpy. Interestingly there is no profile here of a villain. What a gyp! I don’t know about anybody else, but it was always better to be Cobra or the Empire than G.I. Joe or the Rebel Alliance. You had the freedom to blow up an entire planet with no sense of remorse. Heck, nobody cared who played Batman in the last two movies, it was all about who was playing the villains. Alright, I’ll admit by the time they got to “Batman & Robin” nobody cared about that either, but still…

Moving on, “The Chronicle” (named after the newspaper Gwyneth Paltrow works at) brings you to the latest News, Updates on the game demos and various Contests. “Downloads” lets you sign up for the Flying Legion Dispatch, an e-mail newsletter and download about 25 different desktop images. There is also the usual array of AIM icons, Wimamp skins and IMvironment (an instant messaging background tool. I have no idea.)

Finally, there is a Game you can download for either PC or Mac and play online. You can then post your scores, assuming of course that you Join the Resistance (read: register).

Overall

I’ll give higher than usual marks to any campaign, such as this one, that demonstrates such nice carry over from one aspect to another. All aspects of the trailer, web and poster all have the same look and feel to them so that, if you were to see the poster devoid of text, you would still be able to identify it as belonging to “Sky Captain”.

The problem is that none of this, particularly the trailers, seems particularly good. I don’t mean they blow outright, but they seem to have been assembled by people who weren’t so much going by what they thought would work but what they thought had worked for other movies in the past. This is no way to assemble a campaign for a movie that has the potential (despite my feeling this movie will tank in a spectacular fashion, ala “Wild Wild West”) for being fairly original even if it is in a nostalgic slightly derivative way.

My main problem, though, is that there is no mainstream crossover appeal. If only comic book fans had gone to see the first “Spider-Man”, it would not have been the whopping success it was. You have to get people to cross the parking lot from the mall to come see your movie not just lure the geeks out of their basement bedrooms.

Movie Marketing Madness: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Gaming, as a trend, has completely passed me by. Back in my junior high/high school days, gaming was a term reserved for those who put on their cloaks and did the whole role-playing thing. Now it seems to apply to anyone who plays any sort of non-physical game or sport. Everything from video games to customized card games to traditional D&D type stuff is now lumped under the gaming heading.

So I am only passingly familiar with the Resident Evil franchise. I kind of know it’s a game or series of games in the Tomb Raider mold, with one badass chick fighting all sorts of demony types (a genre which reached its pinnacle with Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, a show which ironically spawned what I understand to be mediocre video games).

The Trailers

The teaser trailer continues a trend, begun recently by spots for I, Robot and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, of masquerading as an infomercial. It’s a spot for a new age-defying cream from the Umbrella Corporation which, we see as the spot goes on, tends to turn people into zombies and/or kill them. There is a brief shot of Milla Jovovich holding a shotgun, but that’s about the only time it breaks out of the infomercial mode.

The theatrical trailer is more traditional, with a vague government/corporate conspiracy hinted at and lots of expendable troops running around until Milla shows up and starts kicking ass. This seems to play out a lot like Escape From New York, with the population trapped behind a barrier and a single vigilante running through the mess.

Despite the fact that this looks like a horrible movie the theatrical version did work pretty well for me. It contains a good amount of exposition without giving away the farm. The editing is tight and does seem geared toward those not familiar with the first Resident Evil.

The Poster

Milla Jovovich carrying a gun and wearing only a towel. This works for me on so many different levels it’s almost mind-boggling. I may need to take a minute….

The Website

There are four major portions to the website: Laboratory (which unfortunately does not include the option to have Marty Feldman as your assistant), Police Station, Church and School. These sections are, based on a few references in the trailers and some sound snippets on the site, where most of the action in the movie take place.

Before you enter the site to get to these locations, though, there are a few options presented. “Preview” gets you to the two trailers. Sony has partnered with eBay for an “Auction” where you can bid on memorabilia from the movie. A good idea, but kind of, I don’t know, pointless for a disposable sequel action flick. Lastly, there was a “Poster Contest” (now over) which allowed fans to try to create their version of a RE:A poster. Why (or more accurately, how) you think you could improve on Milla in a towel with a shotgun is beyond me. Hold on – I need to take another minute….

“Laboratory” has got to be one of the most pointless exercises I’ve seen on a movie website recently. You get to design your own creature or monster and then have it compared to what everyone else has created. I guess for the gaming crowd, who pride themselves on getting those extra two strength points for their characters, this is an attractive feature but it has almost no correlation to the movie. Nice idea, lousy execution.

In the “Police Department” you will be beaten and interrogated without the presence of an attorney until you confess to a crime you didn’t commit. Sorry, that’s Chicago’s police department not the movies. Anyway, biographies and filmographies of the major players can be found here. There are two discoveries I made while here: 1) Sienna Guillory is just gorgeous and I can’t wait to see her again and 2) The name of a type of creature is “Lickers”. Something named Lickers in a movie with Milla Jovovich and Sienna Guillory….I’m taking another moment.

The “Church” is just a list of the movies promotional partners as well as the opportunity to listen to songs off the soundtrack which was actually a cool feature. “School” contains a fairly basic Synopsis and Production Notes.

Media Coverage

There was a good deal of press generated a while ago about what’s called a “viral marketing” effort gone awry for the movie. Mobile phone users were getting messages saying they had been infected with a “T-Virus” and gave directions on where to go to resolve the issue, an internet destination which turned out to be related to the movie. The problem was, well, they were pretending to send a virus, something most electronics users are wary of in this day and age. The move was exposed as a hoax and ultimately backfired because it’s not a good idea to joke about viruses. They did, however, get the inadvertent benefit of the press on how the hoax was exposed so the effect on public recognition was probably greater then they had anticipated. Just proves that even though you may be swinging for a home run a double can be just as good.

Overall

I’m impressed at the quality of the campaign. The theatrical trailer is not heavy on references to the original film and it’s easy to be intrigued with little or no familiarity with it. The website is well done and, while not containing a great deal of information, is laid out very nicely. Being able to preview tracks off the soundtrack is a great bonus and something more sites should do.

The filmmakers’ target audience is going to be fans of the first movie as well as the gaming and sci-fi crowds in general and the campaign for the most part is geared toward them. The only part I didn’t feel fit in with the rest is the teaser trailer, which, if it were just come across on TV, I can see being skipped. I applaud their attempt at creating a word-of-mouth campaign with the virus hoax, an idea which didn’t pan out but which I’m sure will see more of in the future.


Movie Marketing Madness: Wicker Park

There’s no good reason I can give as to why I am reviewing the campaign for Wicker Park. There really isn’t. It looks horrible. However, in reviewing this weeks releases, it was either Wicker Park, The Cookout or Vanity Fair. Since I have a long brewing dislike for both Queen Latifah and Reese Witherspoon I went for the one named after a neighborhood in Chicago. Hardly scientific, but it didn’t result in any self-mutilation which is a good thing.

Anyway, Josh Harnett stars in some sort of psychological drama involving mistaken identities and ill-advised romances. How is it Hartnett has a career? Is really considered a “movie star”? The guy got his start in Halloween: H20 and went on to Pearl Harbor and 40 Days and 40 Nights? When you can’t act to begin with and then go on to prove it in a succession of crappy films it’s time for the authorities to get involved.

The Trailer

This plays out as a mix of Fatal Attraction and Vertigo. Hartnett never lets a single emotion other than complete and utter apathy enter his eyes as we see him fall in love, lose the girl and then get involved in some sort of crusade to figure out who or what may be causing all sorts of confusion in his life.

There’s very little original here. In addition to the previous movies mentioned there are also quite a few stylistic allusions to Single White Female, What Lies Beneath and Dead Again. If they had actually included Hartnett going to consult Robin Williams in the freezer of a grocery store I’d have a little more respect for the movie but they don’t. “Karmically, self-defense is quite cool.”

The Poster

There’s more tripping down memory lane with a poster that unfortunately reminds me of the Cindy Crawford and Stephen Baldwin classic Fair Game. Rose Byrne looks on as Hartnett has sex with Diane Kruger. I’m trying to figure out why they used a typeface for the title that looks like those little stickers with letters on them but really can’t think of any. The style of the movie title in the trailer and poster should reflect the overall attitude of the movie. Since the Wicker Park location seems to play some central role in the film why not use a style more reminiscent of a park entrance or something?

The Website

Everything about Wicker Park’s site just reeks of a movie MGM is trying to get off the shelves in the Demilitarized Zone between the summer blockbusters and late fall Oscar-bait.

Here’s what I think the “Synopsis” portion of the website is: The description used by the filmmakers when pitching the idea to a studio. There’s no other reason I can think of that a movie which supposedly relies on character development and interaction would have a two-sentence description. This feeling is backed-up when the “Production Notes” section of the site has a description of the film which is about five or six paragraphs long, all of which seem to say the same thing.

The “Gallery” contains about ten still pictures from the film. “Cast & Crew” has surprisingly in-depth filmographies of the main players and crew members. The “Trailer” section actually contains instructions on the care and feeding of sea turtles, which I thought was an odd choice of content for a movie website but, being a marine biologist by trade, I was none the less fascinated.

The PR and Marketing department padded their billable hours by creating blazingly obviously fake content for the “Message Board”. There are a couple leaps of logic that I’m not sure anyone would make to believe these messages are from real people: 1) So many people care about this movie and really identify with the themes of it; 2) They would take the time to register and post comments here when they could be downloading the latest Ashlee Simpson song off Kazaa and 3) People such as those are actually allowed near electrical equipment by their own hospital’s version of Nurse Ratched. I can’t make those leaps.

Finally the “Soundtrack” area lets you view the playlist of the record and wonder aloud who the hell some of these bands are. There is a link to the site for the soundtrack’s label where you can preview one of those songs or, of course, “Buy Now!”.

Overall

As I said above, this looks like MGM is clearing storage space and dumping this film where hopefully few people (such as those studios interested in buying MGM Studios) will notice. Everything is unoriginal and uninspired. They are hoping that the presence of Josh Hartnett will bring in some young women who will, in turn, bring in their boyfriends, but I don’t see this campaign actually trying to appeal to anyone. The trailer is confusing, the website does nothing to clear anything up and the poster, meant to be erotic, comes off instead as goofy.