Movie Marketing Madness: W.

Well if you were going to release a biting satire of the current sitting President when would you do it?

If you look back at the last few years of Oliver Stone’s career you’d be hard pressed to figure out just what he’s got in mind. Since 1994’s Natural Born Killers (a movie I despise with a fiery, fiery passion – it’s the very definition of a convoluted mess) Stone has alternated between overtly commercial epics like Alexander and Any Given Sunday, seemingly liberal tracts like Commandante and the “HOORAH!” weeper World Trade Center. Somewhere in there the strongly opinionated and almost morbidly nostalgic filmmaker who put together an amazing body of work in the five years between 1986’s Salvador and 1991’s JFK (I like it, deal with it) seemed to get lost as he looked to update his image. In that time he became, to some extent, a competent director-for-hire who was willing to forego his own vision for a decent paycheck.

W. marks a sort of return to the Stone of old. Shot over about 50 days with a shoestring budget and reportedly with a loose sort of vibe, the movie aims to tell a slightly dramatized version of the life of the man who would become the 43rd President of the United States, going back to his younger days as a heavy drinker who couldn’t find success in any of his various business venture and continuing right up through his Presidency.

The Posters

The first teaser poster showed simply a large “W,” with it being presented like a dictionary entry whose definition is “the improbable President.” It follows with a handful of Bush’s most misunderstanded quotes, most of which are the same sort of thing you likely saw on Slate’s “Bushisms” online feature and eventual books.

The second poster shows the President standing in front of an American flag and below a boom mic getting his hair coiffed. The implication being that this is a very image-concsious man whose chief skill is in managing his public persona. It’s a tad more effective than the first teaser, largely because it’s a bit more subtle, but it’s really a matter of opinion.

Around the time of the Democratic National Convention, two new posters were released that show Brolin as Bush kind of in thumb-twiddling mode behind the desk of the Oval Office. The first has him with his head on the top of the desk looking like he’s just bored and doesn’t know what to do about it. The second has him gazing wistfully at the ceiling like he’s just thought of a really funny joke and is smirking to himself about just how clever he really is.

Eventually there was a whole series of these posters released with Brolin in various poses behind the desk, including one where all you see are the bottoms of his shoes. The message is clear that this is a president who just enjoys the trappings of power while not knowing exactly what to do with the power he has.     

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer certainly not only sets up the film’s core story point but also nicely provides its own little indictment of the title character’s personality. It starts off with George H. W. Bush dressing down W. for his failure at just about everything he had been involved in to date, from the oil business to the Air National Guard. It presents a character that had little ambition, little sense of responsibility and little talent for anything but getting into trouble. It then shows this perpetual screw-up eventually sitting in the Oval Office and then introduces us to the other characters that will populate the movie, from wife Laura Bush to eventual Vice President Dick Cheney. It doesn’t tell us the names of the actors playing these roles, just the names of the real people they’re portraying, which makes their presence even more real and more than a little funny.

The second trailer that was released more clearly presents the film as a wacky comedy of relationships. Brolin’s Bush in this is constantly struggling against the weight of the expectations that have been laid on him, which he deals with by either freaking out or putting on as much bluster as possible. We get more lines from the supporting cast as well, giving us a little better look at the film as a whole. The use of the Talking Heads as the music for the spot is meant to enhance the trailer’s zoned-out and slightly surreal tone. It’s likely to excite liberals in the audience who are going to relish any portrayal of the cast of characters such as Dick Cheney going on about enhanced interrogation techniques and Bush seeming jovial and frat-boy like in response.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with a countdown to the film’s opening with various pictures of Brolin as Bush rotating in the background.

The first section, “Trailers” features both the teaser and theatrical trailers as well as an extended version of the latter and one of the TV spots created for the movie. If anything, the extended theatrical trailer works a bit better than its shorter counterpart simply because the extra running time allows the insanity to build to a bigger head before coming crashing down at the end.

“About the Film” is pretty skimpy, featuring just a single paragraph describing what the film is all about. I guess there isn’t much that needed to be said, but this would have been a good spot for something like a note from the director or a similar longer feature. Likewise “Gallery” features just about 10 stills from the film.

The “Cast” and “Crew” sections are, conversely, quite cool and full of good content. Not only do the descriptions of the actors tend to be written in a bit more of a human, conversational style than many such sections but the navigation between each individual is pretty sweet. The way they sort of expand when you mouse over them reminds me of a Mac icon dock and that led me to play around with it a bit more than I usually would have, which is a good thing.

Unfortunately we go back to the bare-bones end of the spectrum with “Downloads,” which has just six Wallpapers, all of which are variations on the series of desk-bound promotional posters.

Lionsgate setup a dedicated YouTube channel, linked to via “MashUp” on the site, for W that contained trailers, clips and other promotional materials. It also housed a trailer mash-up contest that encouraged people to create their own trailers. Unfortunately the lawyers at the studio weren’t told, apparently, and were taking down the clips citing copyright violation as soon as they were put up.

Finally there’s a “Widget” that will bring you much of the official site’s content, as well as a banner across the bottom that promotes other current and upcoming Lionsgate releases.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Not coincidentally, the film got a lot of publicity from – and staged a bit of marketing around – the two national conventions from the Democratic Party and then the Republicans. The studio launched a whole series of outdoor ads featuring the poster artwork of Brolin in character and behind the desk of the Oval Office looking very Bush-like in an effort to find those politically-minded movie fans.

The movie got a ton (even I saw some and I don’t watch that much TV) of television advertising support, not surprising there were better than even odds that whatever programming it was appearing in was political in nature. Most of those ads were variations on the trailers and contained much of the same footage. There was even some radio advertising done, though Rick Klau did not appear to be a big fan of those efforts.

Media and Publicity

There were plenty of clips released from both the film itself and its making in an effort to give people a glimpse at the performances, seemingly identified as the strongest aspect of the movie and so pushed to the forefront of the campaign. In this clip, which comes from CNN, we see W. meeting Laura for the first time, with mixed results.

Director Stone was also out there in full force talking up the movie and the timing of its release to the media, sometimes taking the outrageous position that the film wasn’t supposed to be all that controversial. What seemed to be oddly missing, though, was any sort of witch-hunt from the conservative media. My only assumption can be that they were too busy trying to stay positive about a certain vice-presidential pick to worry about this too much.

Overall

Looking back on the whole campaign, it comes off with the same sort of vibe as the movie itself does, one of feeling very sort of laid back and patched together and something a great deal of people never really had a serious plan for. The posters and trailers sort of arrived apropos of nothing and never seemed to be labeled as “teasers” or “theatrical” or anything like that. They were just there and apparently were meant to be taken at face value and not as part of a larger whole.

But taken as a whole it’s a pretty good campaign. While the posters and trailers are slick and funny to some extent, the website really shines for its presentation value alone. We can argue about the take on the characters all day long (and beyond) but that site lays the movie out in a very professional and compelling way and that counts for a lot. That makes me wish it were more fully fleshed-out, especially since it doesn’t feature any of the print assets, something that I think is a major oversight.

Other than that, though, I think this is a solid campaign for a movie that’s going to be largely dependent on word-of-mouth and critical recommendations in order to succeed.

DVD Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

When I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in the theater I went in, like the rest of humanity, with the weight of 19 years of expectations and baggage weighing me down. This would be, after all, the first time in almost two decades that a new adventure of Indiana Jones would be experienced and so there was a lot of anticipation over how it would live up and fit in with the rest of the series that I’d loved as a kid and still appreciated to this day through various home video incarnations.

Under that sort of weight it’s hard to know how any movie could prove to be fulfilling and so it’s not surprising it disappointed to some extent. I still liked it and certainly didn’t feel cheated by it, but the reality is that it felt off, something that likely had more to do with my advanced years than with any problems with the film itself.

That’s why watching it again on DVD turned out to be so refreshing. Free of all that baggage, and having a few months in which to process the movie from a logical, non-emotional point of view, it turns out to be every bit as enjoyable as the first three entries in the series.

By now you likely know the story of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indy finds himself caught up in the hunt for a mysterious crystal skull after he’s sought out by both operatives of the Soviet Union and a young man who says his mother sent him to enlist his help. As he seeks to outsmart the Communists and come to terms with outcome of past actions, Jones winds up running, jumping and falling down amidst the jungles of South America.

Watching it again allows for a better look at what works in the movie. Chief among these is Harrison Ford, who shows more vim and vigor by once again grabbing the fedora than he has in years. In fact most of the performances improve upon repeated viewing, even that of Shia LaBeouf, though his probably least among the leads.

The two-disc DVD of the movie is filled with some good stuff. It contains features on the return of the filmmakers and talent to the franchise, detailed looks at pre-production and the creation of everything in the film, including an interesting look at the process behind making the titular skulls. There are also galleries, trailers and more.

If you’re a fan of the movie already this is definitely going to be on the list of things you have to pick up. And if you missed it in theaters it’s well worth checking out, assuming you can go in with an open mind.

And don’t forget – We’re giving away a copy of the DVD each day over at Spout. Click here to find out how to win your own.

Twitter badge problems

I heard from several readers that they’ve been having a problem when visiting MMM in the last few weeks. Specifically, when they hit the page they would get a prompt to enter a password for Twitter, something that probably shouldn’t be happening. I’m assuming this is a glitch in the Twitter badge I had in the sidebar so I’ve taken it off for the time being and hope that alleviates the problem.