Industry News: 5/15/09

agency-chair-bigSony has made a number of movies in its marketing department, upping Staci Griesbach to exec director for new release, TV and direct-to-video titles and shifting Jason Allen to fill her now-vacated director position. Erin O’Brien has also been named manager of worldwide publicity, responsible for both corporate and domestic campaigns.

MGM meanwhile has hired Christina Batista to act as senior VP of theatrical marketing and national partnerships. Batista takes on the role after leaving Dreamworks, where she worked for 10 years in the marketing department.

DVD Review: Star Trek – The Motion Picture Trilogy

Star Trek 11 TieIns - Trilogy DVDIn my column about the new Star Trek film’s marketing campaign I referred to the second, third and fourth movies in the original series as making up one of the greatest one-two-three punches in cinematic history. I’m sure there are some who disagree with me, but I’m sticking with my notion that creating three distinct stories that form one single narrative, especially when those three movies aren’t the first three films in a series a la Star Wars.

As part of the build up to the release to that new feature film, these three movies have been re-packaged and re-released on DVD in what’s labeled Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy. Containing The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home it’s made up of the three movies often pegged by people as among the best of the bunch. And I can tell you after watching them all back-to-back that reputation has been well-earned.

I won’t rehash the plots of each individual film but here’s the broad arc: We begin with James T. Kirk having been promoted to the rank of Admiral, which is great but which comes with him being pulled from a starship. As he feels he’s getting old before his time he finds himself pitted against an old foe in a battle that eventually takes the life of his old friend Spock. But the Genesis Device, which is what Khan was after, winds up bringing Spock back from the dead. Along the way he reconnects with an old lover and encounters the son produced from their liaison all those years ago, a son who gives his life in order to keep Genesis away from the Klingons. Kirk and his loyal crew steal the Enterprise to go find out if Spock is truly alive but they have to destroy the Enterprise to defeat the Klingons. As the crew returns to Earth they find the planet being devastated by a mysterious probe and so have to travel in time back to 1984 to bring back a pair of humpback whales to communicate with the probe and end the onslaught. That heroism means Kirk and his crew have their previous treasonous actions dismissed, with the only punishment being that Kirk is busted back down to Captain and once again given command of the Enterprise.

Phew.

These three movies really do represent the best of the Star Trek series on a number of levels. They’re action packed, they tell an interesting story and the cast is obviously still having fun in their roles.

Each movie in the new set comes with a handful of new bonus features, ranging from commentaries with the directors or producers to featurettes that delve more deeply into some of the elements of each movie. They’re entertaining and alright but you might start to feel like you know too much and might be starting to become a Trekker or Trekkie or whatever they’re calling themselves. Even if you never watch them, the movies are more than enough to justify this set.

Creating a package of just these three titles is a great move for people who haven’t picked them up individually already or who might want a nice collection but don’t need either all six movies with the original cast or all 10, including the Next Generation cast. It’s highly recommended, especially for casual fans who remember these films from their childhood or who are newbies to the Trek world who are looking for a quick primer on the characters either before going into or after just coming out of the new movie.

DVD Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button DVDNo movie should have as its aspirational goal “Be as much like Forrest Gump as possible” but unfortunately that seems to be exactly what The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has set for itself.

The movie, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, chronicles the story of a man who was born backwards. As an infant he had the body of a 90 year old man, with severe arthritis and other infirmities, as well as a wrinkled and ugly exterior. That led his father to take the baby and, after initially flirting with throwing him in the river, leaves him on the stairs of an old-folks home in New Orleans. The woman who takes care of the home’s residents takes the baby as her own and cares for the child as he grows, slowly becoming more youthful looking the older he gets. Benjamin has all sorts of dramatic experiences through his life as well as a long-lasting love, one that only culminates when he’s in his 40’s, finally looking about the age he actually is.

The problem is that the movie never looses a sense of being extraordinarily heavy-handed. Every single line, every camera angle, every motion of the actors (primarily Brad Pitt as the title character and Cate Blanchett as the love of his life) all arrive at the eyes and ears of the viewer with a massive, overly earnest THUD. Everything seems so calculated that there’s never any sense of movement, a problem when the movie is dependent on “movement” being an over-arching theme, whether it’s of time or of the body.

Also afflicting Benjamin Button is the same sort of thing that afflicts many movies that span decades. The story skips over years and years in just a couple minutes while spending half an hour on a particular moment or series of moments. But the characters only seem to undergo any sort of change or evolution when the film slows down. We watch Pitt and Blanchett have a 20 minute meeting in real time and then it’s six years before they see each other again. But the characters haven’t changed at all – at least not emotionally – in that six years. Their character arcs are only defined by the moments we view in detail. Like I said that’s not a problem that’s unique to Button but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

There’s a case to be made for seeing Benjamin Button, to be sure. There’s been so much hype and press about the film and its sizable technical achievements that I’d encourage people to check it out and judge for themselves. For me though it just didn’t work through a combination of being overly long, overly earnest and not nearly entertaining or interesting enough to sustain my attention throughout or actually make me care about the people I’m watching.

Finding an Audience: Distribution Notes for 5/15/09

movie-ticket-and-popcornHome Video

Since Blu-ray is the dominant next-generation home video format (for the moment) it’s good that a new study shows it not only is seeing a 72 percent rise in sales of players over last year but also has a 90 percent consumer awareness level.

Also counting as good news would be the report that says consumers still prefer physical discs over downloads, with more money going to DVD purchases and rentals. I’m sure this will only last for so long, but it’s something for the industry to cling to while it can.

Warner Bros. is partnering with Facebook on a program that will connect viewers of the Watchmen Director’s Cut on Blu-ray that use BD Live social functionality with a network of such viewers on Facebook.

While theaters saw an audience increase Blockbuster saw a 39 percent profit decline in the first quarter as a combination of strong theatrical releases and weak home video offerings battered the chain. Blockbuster is hoping the introduction of rental kiosks in stores and some low-price, short-term rental options will help it bounce back in future quarters.

Online

AOL is the latest facilitator of “social viewing,” enabling people to share what they’re viewing on Warner Bros. online properties via SocialThing and seeing what their friends are viewing in return.

On-Demand

On-demand distribution is taking a bigger and bigger role in the deals secured by films at festivals and it isn’t looking like Cannes is going to be an exception. John Horn at the LAT writes that VOD might be the best, only option for some films there.

Theatrical

HMV will put a 200-seat theater above one of its music and entertainment retail outlets in an effort to diversity its revenue streams and try to draw people into the stories. The theaters will feature luxury accomodations and the trial could be expanded to other chains if it proves effective.

The question of who will pay the significant costs for the purchase of 3D glasses, whether reusable or disposable, is still a hurdle exhibitors and distributors have yet to hash out and still presents a sizable problem for the further rolling out of 3D exhibition.

Picking Up the Spare: Star Trek, Quantum of Solace, Angels & Demons

bowling-pinsStar Trek

Patrick Goldstein tackles something I didn’t touch on in my column about the marketing of Star Trek, which is that part of the marketing team’s job on the film was to play down expectations and hype so that if the movie didn’t open big it wasn’t seen as any more of a failure than it needed to. If they can do so successfully than anything above that official line is seen as a sign of the film’s success.

Bill Green does not appear to be a fan of the Esurance co-branded commercials for Star Trek, particularly the company’s instance on using their animated Erin character in the spots.

Quantum of Solace

The “hypertrailer” for Quantum of Solace that appeared on National CineMedia’s NCM.com was singled out as a finalist for a DOOHA Award for its ability to

Angels & Demons

Sony Pictures setup a Twitter account at AndDMovies that asked people questions about some of the clues that have been scattered throughout the campaign’s sites and and trailers and gave them some sort of reward for their correct responses. The account will go inactive on 5/19, the classic example of a short-term campaign, but it seems to have a decent following. Too bad there’s no long-term equity to be gained. You can read the press release here.

Quick Takes: 5/15/09

filmstripJessica Barnes at Cinematical asks whether people care about the rise of movie marketing efforts on Twitter. Advertising rushes into any space available so it’s of course not surprising, and I think there are every bit as many good efforts on Twitter as there are bad, so it’s all a matter of perspective. If you’ve been exposed to some pretty bad ones you’re going to be irritated by this but if you’ve come across some good ones it’s not going to be that big a deal.

Matt Kapko at iMediaConnection talks about how a lot of movie websites fail to contain any element of audience engagement.

Former Weinstein marketing exec Gary Faber and ex-NRG VP Joseph Craig have come together and launched Entertainment Research and Marketing, a new market research firm that will also offer creative and planning services.

Apparently Hollywood’s two major trade publications have seen advertising revenue related to Cannes drop dramatically this year as those dollars are sent elsewhere, mainly to online publications. These pubs are also cutting their festival staffing and making other cuts to their coverage as part of that shift.

Looks like a mall-based advertisement for Paul Blart: Mall Cop has won a DOOHA award not only for its creativity – it had star Kevin James starring in a series of original sequences for the digital signage and prompted audience interactivity – but also because the placement of an ad for a movie about mall cop in malls is what passes for clever.

Patrick Goldstein passes on the final scores his teen Summer Movie Posse gave to the trailers for the summer’s most-anticipated movies.

The Gambling Times is suing the producers of Deal, a movie set in the world of competitive poker playing, over a product placement deal they say was not fulfilled when a scene featuring the magazine was edited out of the finished film.

The tone of the story is a little alarmist, but it’s still interesting to read that with spending cuts being sought everywhere studios are cutting back on the number of trailers they commission. The practice has long been, at least for big-budget flicks, to have multiple trailer houses create trailers and do revisions, with the best being selected or with various versions being cobbled together into a finished product. And the production houses would get paid for each creation and each revision. But now studios aren’t doing as much farming out of work and aren’t asking for as many revisions, cutting significantly into the house’s revenue streams.