One of the key compliments that was paid to 300 when it was released a couple years ago was that the visual style of the film, through the use of computer graphics that created virtual sets, almost exactly matched that of the source graphic novel. It’s by no means the only movie to do so – the Star Wars prequels had done that to an increasing extent – and it’s by no means the last – 300 director Zach Snyder will do a lot of that again with next year’s Watchmen adaptation – but this was a great example of a look and feel being taken directly from the page and placed on the screen.
One of the movies that preceded it and garnered much of the same commentary was Sin City. Like 300 the movie was based on a Frank Miller creation but this one was directed by Robert Rodriguez. Unlike that epic, though, Sin City was almost completely black and white (fully recreating the look of the comic) and intensely stylized. The movie was always said to be co-directed by Miller himself, who Rodriguez said was integral to getting the look and feel of the story right.
Well now Miller has decided to take the director’s chair himself. For his debut in this role he’s chosen an adaptation of Will Eisner’s iconic comics series The Spirit, the story of a former cop who dons a mask and hat and strikes out to battle the city’s criminal elements. While the source material was a brightly-colored comic Miller has decided to stick once again with the same sort of look that dominated Sin City for the movie and, reportedly (I’m not an expert on the comic) changed a bit about the title character’s origins and his modus operandi. That’s always a risky proposition when you’re dealing with a targeted, knowledgable and passionate audience like the one that exists for The Spirit so let’s see how they’re selling it to the masses.
The first teaser poster laid out the movie’s intention to sell itself primarily on atmospherics and style and it winds up being pretty darn cool. Almost entirely black and white, the only splashes of color are the red of the title treatment and the tie of the main character, who is standing atop a cityscape that contains the rallying cry “My City Screams.”
Next up was the release of a series of character posters featuring the lovely ladies that grace the movie. Each got their own one-sheet with a line of dialogue on the poster as well. They were lovely and fit in with the overall stylized design that was coming out of the movie’s publicity machine. When they were released online at Yahoo they actually included an audio snippet with that dialogue being spoken when you moused-over each individual poster. That’s a nice touch but didn’t necessarily add to the value of the posters. More of an online curiosity than anything else. There was also one created that just featured Eva Mendes as Sans Serif that featured her in black leather and kind of an action pose. Seemed like this was going to be the direction they were going to go with the character posters but it seems to be the only one that was released along these lines.
In an interesting promotion, Lionsgate worked with nine art schools nationwide on The Spirit Art School Program. Each school submitted a poster from one of its students, and that poster was incorporated into the campaign in that city. The first one to hit was a winner from San Diego and was announced at Comic-Con in 2008 in that city.
One of the coolest poster components that came out of the campaign was a triptych that had The Spirit on one end of the line and his flowing red tie billowing through the other two parts. The idea is that the posters would be lined-up and displayed on something like a bus-stop or other outdoor venue and a lot of people loved this idea, including myself.
Three posters then came out that featured the title character and his primary nemesis, The Octopus. The first was another bit of mis-direction in the form of a poster featuring just The Spirit in a manner similar to the female leads before. It’s just him, shown in a half-lit way, with the primary component again being that red tie.
Then both The Spirit and The Octopus were shown standing imposingly in a city street. Like the first teaser, the buildings that surround them on their respective posters is made of words.
These would set the stage for the visual style of the final theatrical poster, which combined elements of many of the one-sheets that came before it. It’s got the same orangish lighting as the two most recent character posters but then adds in the images of the four ladies from their character posters in the background – along with a new one of Jackson that fits in that same vein – arranged like billboards. It’s not bad but doesn’t create a very strong visual identity for itself. It’s not bad but while I can easily see it getting people’s interest in a hallway, the lack of any connection to what’s happening on the poster is probably not going to generate a strong call to action among the audience.
The teaser trailer was pretty cool in terms of its ability to set a tone for the movie. There’s almost nothing from the movie here, just an extended sequence of the title character receiving a distress call and leaping into action, with narration about how his city depends on him and he loves her and such. While the visuals are very cool – very evocative of Sin City’s look and feel, something that led director Miller to make multiple statements stating this was not going to be a duplicate of that movie – the choice of music was a bit odd. It’s the theme from The Untouchables, one of the most identifiable bits of music out there. Why use something that’s so associated with one movie for the teaser trailer?
The first full trailer that was released was, to say the least, odd. Instead of revealing anything about the movie or its story it focused on the women of the movie and their sexuality, with each one either naked, seducing The Spirit or being seduced by The Spirit. All the ladies are shown off, with Samuel L. Jackson appearing at the end to bring a little non-sexual conflict into the mix. It’s basically a video representation of the character posters that were released – the trailer even uses the same text as the posters – but it’s not really what I was expecting from the second trailer for the film. An odd choice in my opinion.
The second full trailer was a tad more conventional. Starting out with the character explaining to the audience – and himself – that he should have been dead by now but somehow isn’t, it’s much more explanatory, something that’s needed for a character the audience might not be completely familiar with. It then sets up the movie fairly well, showing a good mix of over-the-top cartoonish violence, some of the movie’s sex-based allure and a bit of exposition. It’s the most traditional of the batch but that’s exactly what the movie needs.
The official website launched well over a year ago with initially just a teaser image that, because production was just starting, was based on Eisner’s original design for the title character.
The site now is, obviously, more fully featured and content-heavy as well as sporting a design that more closely adheres to the rest of the campaign.
It opens with an image that’s essentially pulled straight from the final theatrical poster with the city street and billboards motif. There’s also snow blowing across the screen, presumably not for any plot reason but strictly because the movie opens on Christmas, which is in winter, where there’s usually snow. OK.
There are links across the bottom to Watch Trailer and the Art School Project, as well as to the Central City Experience. That last item is an extremely slow-loading game that puts you in the role of a detective in the city who is trying to solve a mysterious heist. I tried to play it a couple times but when it stalled out loading at about 67 percent both times I gave up to move on to better things. Sorry.
Once you Enter the Site you’re greeted by the movie’s actual promotional content. There are sidebars on both sides of the screen. On the left there’s a widget – dubbed by some people I’ve talked to as a “Spidget” – you can grab that brings much of the site’s content to your blog or social network profile as well as the “Answer the Call” feature that’s all about recycling your old cell phone as well as take other environmentally friendly steps in your life. It’s actually a pretty good site and I applaud the initiative here.
On the left is another link to the Central City game and a feature that allows you to upload your face to a photo or video taken from the movie. That latter feature was also largely replicated as a free iPhone app people could download and add.
Via the Menu you’ll find the more traditional content, starting with a “Synopsis” that outlines where the movie’s path will take the audience, including mentions of most of the main characters and the emotional conflicts. At the end it compares itself to Batman Begins, which might be a bit of a stretch but I think I know what they were going for.
“Photos” features a scant 11 stills from the movie, including one of director Miller. For all the featurettes and TV spots that were created for the movie I’m a bit surprised to see just the three Trailers under “Video.”
The usual biographies and backgrounds on the actors and filmmakers, including creator Will Eisner, can be found under “Cast & Crew.” A selection of Wallpapers, most of them based on the various poster art, and some IM Icons are all you’ll see under “Downloads.”
Finally here you’ll find another link to “Answer the Call” and “Merchandise,” an online store for various goodies based on the movie and the characters.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Lionsgate certainly didn’t skimp on the advertising for The Spirt, running a whole bunch of online ads as well as creating many, many TV spots, all with various points of focus and themes. Those themes ranged from specific characters to a couple of Christmas-themed spots that again tried to position the movie as the perfect Christmas gift.
Media and Publicity
Unfortunately the movie seemed to be honking off, at every possible turn, the very fans it needed to be embracing. Kevin Kelly goes into detail on why they were so displeased with everything that had been presented through the marketing campaign.
It doesn’t get any prettier from there. For every story involving the ladies of the movie or talking about Jackson’s over-the-top performance there was some sort of backlash – especially when the movie started getting screened – that this was a big old disaster on an epic scale.
There were plenty of interviews with cast members and stories comparing the movie’s version of the character to the original, but it seemed the movie’s fortune had been cast by these early reactions coming out of Comic-Con and elsewhere, most of which were less than complimentary.
Later in the campaign Lionsgate announced an eBay auction of six posters signed by the cast. Five winners get just the poster while the sixth gets the poster and a collection of other goodies such as a snow globe, action figure and more. You can view them all here.
You can’t fault Lionsgate for shorting the effort on the campaign for The Spirit. There’s a ton of content here. You also can’t fault the studio for not putting together an enthusiastic campaign. The entire thing has the energy of a comedian working hard to make you laugh before Dean Martin takes the stage.
In actuality I like this campaign a lot. There’s a good spirit (sorry) to it that, if you allow yourself to get caught up in it as I have creates a strong desire to check out the movie. The trailers are, at the very least intriguing and interesting. It’s certainly riding a wave created by the strong comic book adaptations that came out earlier this year.
What’s ultimately going to make or break the movie, I think, is the publicity angle. Those people who are tuned into the buzz surrounding the movie’s early promotional events and screenings may be turned off by the hate coming out from those. Those not so atuned may still be interested in checking out the flick when it opens this week. There are those who are going to see the TV spots and be turned off by the overly-stylized look but I think they’ll be few and far between – and likely not in the potential target audience for the movie to begin with.
But as for the campaign itself I think it’s a good effort. A nice (if slightly uneven) collection of posters, a good set of trailers (with a notable exception) and a decent online presence all add up to a good marketing push.