Movie Marketing Madness: Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows

2009’s reimagination of Sherlock Holmes via a big-screen adaptation starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role was something of a mixed bag for me. While I enjoyed the performance and the chemistry and banter between him and Jude Law as Dr. Watson this was certainly something far different than the Basil Rathbone classics I’d grown up with. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself but I think it took a little while for me to acclimate to this far different portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective and accept it for what it was: Something that required little of the audience but sought to entertain by any means necessary for two hours or so.

Now Downey Jr. and Law – as well as director Guy Ritchie – are back in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Picking up shortly after the first movie left off this entry pits Holmes against his most formidable adversary, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). Holmes is on Moriarty’s trail, believing him to be at the center of a vast web of conspiracy and criminal activity but to find him he enlists the aid of a young woman (Noomi Rapace) who has secrets of her own.

The PostersThe first bit of official marketing for the movie came in the form of two teaser posters, one with an up-close picture of Downey Jr. with Harris as Moriarty in the background and the other with Law being the focus and Rapace off to the side. They effectively showed that there would be a consistency in the look and feel of both movies as well as in the marketing efforts.

The next two posters had Downey Jr. on one and Law on the other, both of them clutching weapons and in profile to the camera with France and London, respectively, in the backgrounds. They continued the brand consistent blueish gray look from all the rest of the marketing and certainly showed some expanded settings but that’s about it.

Then a series of six action-shot type of character posters were released, with one each for Downey and Law and two each for Rapace and Harris, with everyone brandishing a gun or other weapon or in some other kind of action shot.
The final theatrical poster has Holmes and Watson in a dark Paris alley, fog behind them and the imposing shadow of what we can presume to be Moriarty against the wall to the side. It continues to sell the atmosphere of the movie and what’s hoped to be the wide appeal of the two lead actors.

The Trailers

The first trailer promises those who enjoyed the first movie more of the same here. We open with Holmes getting a tarot card reading, which of course becomes more complicated. From there we see what appears to be Holmes and Watson reuniting after some time apart, with Holmes intoning that he’s on the most important case of his career as he investigates Moriarty. From there on out we’ve done away with most exposition or plot setup as we move to straight action. There are train shoot-outs, huge cannons firing and chases through the woods. We get glimpses of the same slow-motion special effects that were used in the first movie as well as lots of inventions and tools that give the movies a distinct steampunk vibe.

The second was more of the same, though with a good amount of different footage. There’s lots of explosions and gun play and lots of time devoted to the run through the forest the main characters engage in that has lots of exploding trees and bullets whizzing by. Not much more than the barest of plot outlines is given here, though, other than some menacing glances and a bit of exposition about Moriarty being Holmes’ biggest case and the most dangerous criminal mind of their time. It’s all about selling some gothic action here and not about anything resembling a plot.

The next trailer starts off with two people playing chess, which serves as a metaphor for the struggle between Holmes and Moriarty. We see a bit of the same footage we’ve seen in other trailers but with occasional short interview snippets with Ritchie, Law and Downey talking about the conflict of the characters and the story and why people will be interested in seeing it.

Online

The official website opens by playing a nearly full-screen version of the second trailer.

Once that’s done playing the first section of content is “About” which has a short but mostly decent Synopsis, Cast and Filmmaker bios and Production Notes to download.

The “Photos” section has over three dozen (at which point it became difficult to count” stills from the movie. “Videos” has both Trailers, a couple of TV spots and two behind the scenes looks at the recording of the film’s soundtrack score.

“Downloads” has Wallpapers, IM Icons, Posters and specialized wallpapers for iPhones and iPads. You can listen to samples from the score in the “Soundtrack section.

The companies that helped to promote the film are listed under “Partners” while “Sweepstakes” has information on a contest run by the Carl’s Jr. fast-food chain.

“Special Features” has a couple games for you to play as well as a Facebook app that lets you find out who from among your friends there is a your nemesis.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A number of TV spots were run that continued to sell the movie to the general public as a known quantity, with lots of action and humor. It’s clear this is in the same style and tone as the first movie, which was popular so the hope is this one will be likewise. Interestingly some of these spots are where we get our first look that Rachel McAdams is back but to what extent isn’t as clear.

Plenty of online and outdoor advertising was also done, mostly using the film’s key poster art and images of Downey and Law and usually also involving a picture of the train that figures into one of the movie’s key action set pieces.

Among the film’s promotional partner companies were French Connection (which displayed fashion “inspired by” the movie in store windows), Shuttle Computers, English Tea Store, Delta Airlines (which offered a contest to win tickets to the movie’s premiere), Hershey’s (which promoted theater snacks as being perfect while enjoying the film) and Hardee’s, whose Carl’s Jr. franchises have already been mentioned.

Media and Publicity

The one constant theme of the early press about the movie was “confusion.” While casting details were leaked out and reported no one involved in the production was spilling any information about the film’s story or plot (Los Angeles Times, 1/13/11), which apparently was part of the plan to keep people guessing and ramp up expectations in the audience that way. One detail that later got released was the movie’s subtitle.

Outside of that there wasn’t a whole lot that happened in the press as release day grew closer. The cast, Downey in particular, made the talk-show rounds and gave plenty of other interviews so it’s not as if there wasn’t a lot of activity happening. But there weren’t many, if any, sort of big industry stories that pegged it as an “important” picture in any regard. Or if there were they never got on my radar, which is also completely plausible.

Overall

This is one of the most clear cut cases of “If you liked the first one here’s more of the same” sequel marketing that I’ve seen. It might even beat efforts for the second Transformers movie and a couple other blatant offenders. Everything here (except the odd way Rachel McAdams barely makes an appearance…does something untoward happen to her character in this one?) is designed to make sure that the audience is completely sold on the notion that very little original will happen here. Instead it’s made clear that this is, while not recycled, certainly very familiar material that covers well-worn ground.

So if you liked the first one – and I did overall while at the same time recongnizing it was completely disposable entertainment that I barely remembered a half-hour after watching it – you should be sold on this one and will make your way to the theater. Which is fine.

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