What makes a hero? It’s not powers, it’s not a fancy costume and it’s a cool collection of gadgets. While those certainly help with a hero’s quest – whatever it is – they’re not essential. What is, though, is a desire to help others and put one’s one health and well-being on the line in attempt to do just that.
The hero genre is filled with characters who didn’t get bitten by a radioactive spider, get exposed to cosmic rays or have some other incredible event that then gave them great powers that also came with great responsibilities. Examples are prevalent in much of mythology as well as in characters such as The Lone Ranger and others who simply took matters into their own hands without any extraordinary circumstances helping them out. In recent years this idea – of ordinary people taking up masks and acting as vigilantes – has come to be used by those wishing to deconstruct the super hero mythos. But occasionally it still gets played straight.
One such instance is the new feature film version of The Green Hornet. Based on the character that originated in a radio series and later was translated to film serials, comics and TV, this big-screen incarnation stars Seth Rogen as Britt Reid, the son of a crusading newspaper editor who is gunned-down by the criminal empire of Los Angeles. Vowing revenge, Reid enlists the help of his late father’s right-hand man Kato (Jay Chou) in not only helping to bring down those responsible but also in crafting an identity that allows him to do so. Eventually they come to enlist the help of his secretary (Cameron Diaz) as the Green Hornet seeks to restore some justice to the city. The movie is, incredibly enough, directed by Michel Gondry, who’s known more for his mind-bending thought experiments than mainstream action fare.
The movie’s first official poster puts the emphasis on the car, which is the primary object in the teaser image’s design. Kato and the Hornet are walking along each side of the car, but you can’t see their faces as the camera is looking from the top down at the scene. The poster’s most cool component is the way the Green Hornet’s symbol appears in the car’s headlights.
The second poster was pretty standard as far as action movies are concerned. We primarily, again, see the car as the featured element while the actors take a figurative back seat. While the Hornet is seen rushing toward us with its machine guns blazing it’s only because we know Rogen is in the movie that we’re able to identify the figure riding shotgun as him. It’s not that it’s a bad poster – it’s very slick and well designed – it’s just that it hits a number of cliched elements and sells the movie as a straight action flick. That may be because the humor of the trailers was so poorly received that they decided not to even try here but it’s noticeable if you’re at all familiar with the movie’s production.
A third poster put the emphasis more on the actors by bringing them out in front of the car. Both of them are striding toward the camera, with the car’s headlights behind them, looking purposeful and ready for action. There’s not a ton of design here, but it gets a simple point across in a relatively non-offensive manner.
The first trailer does a good job of setting up the movie, especially the title character played by Rogen. The spot opens with him partying it up with booze and women everywhere, a lifestyle which is looked down upon by his father, a newspaper editor dedicated to exposing the corruption in their city. When his father is found dead Reid realizes he’s done nothing with his life and so enlists his father’s confidant Kato in beginning a more direct war he wants to wage on the criminal empire in the city.
While the trailer is filled with plenty of stunts, action sequences and special effects the real strength, believe it or not, is in the form of Rogen. His casting in the movie was seen as odd at the time but seeing the first bit of footage it becomes clear that his slacker attitude and delivery kind of fit perfectly not only the hedonistic playboy he starts out as but then as the determined hero he aspires to be. This isn’t the grim Batman, which requires metric tons of gravitas to portray. It’s someone who is trying to do something worthwhile with his life but who is still kind of a goofball, or at least someone who realizes that outside the costume his reputation is what it is. This is somewhat of a stretch for Rogen but not so much as to make the audience feel unfamiliar with his previously built public persona. Here instead of being the slacking stoner he’s the slacking stoner who tries to atone for his previous actions.
The next trailer starts out once again by showing us the hedonistic lifestyle that Britt Reid is leading prior to his father’s death. But when he meets Kato he becomes convinced they need to work together to fight crime, something the city’s crime lords take issue with. From there snout we get a nice mix of action and humor as the pair navigate their real lives while also fighting crime by night. It doesn’t add much to what the previous trailer showed (other than a funny coda to the scene where Rogen knocks himself out with a gas gun) but is tightly paced and works pretty well.
The splash page of the movie’s official website is filled with prompts to engage on the mobile device of your choosing. You can download the Wheels of Justice game for iPhone, get the Crime Fighter app for Android devices or, after downloading a WiMO app, scan an image to unlock exclusive content on your mobile phone.
Entering the site you get those same options along with a prompt to “Build & Battle,” a game that lets you custom build your own Black Beauty and then battle with your Facebook friends.
Accessing the main navigation menu, the first section there is “About,” which just has fairly decent Synopsis of the movie’s story. After that is “Images” has a dozen stills from the film.
“Cast & Crew” is kind of sad, with just a photo and a “So and so is…this character” for each actor and then just a credit block for the filmmakers. Nothing in the way of longer bio or anything…just a photo, their name and the character’s name.
There are six Buddy Icons and seven Wallpapers in the “Downloads” section.
“Videos” has the Teaser and Theatrical trailers, three TV Spots and video promotions for the two mobile apps that were previously mentioned.
There’s some cool stuff in “Features”: A 3D image of the Black Beauty, a Visual Synopsis that used comic-like images to recreate the lead-in to the story and more.
“Games” just has the Build & Battle link as well as an online version of the Crime Fighter tame. All the mobile things are in the “Mobile” section.
There’s a Tumblr blog that’s been setup up that has kept things up to date regarding publicity appearances and news stories.
Finally there are “3D Cards” that can be viewed with glasses obtained at various appearances on the Black Beauty’s publicity tour (more on that later) and “Comics” has information on buying the new Dynamite Comics series with the character.
The movie’s Facebook page has the same sort of updates as the Tumblr blog as well as photos, videos and more.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Plenty of TV spots were produced and run that laid out the film’s story in a way similar to the trailers did by running through how Britt Reid’s father has been killed and how that spurs him to begin fighting crime, enlisting Kato in that effort and eventually getting all sorts of cool gadgets with which to kick butt. They’re fast paced and funny and do a good job of selling the movie to the audience as a humorous action flick.
One of the first promotional partners announced (MediaPost, 10/8/10) for the movie was Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s, which included everything from co-branded TV spots starring Rogen and Chou to an online sweepstakes that awarded a grand-prize winner a drivable replica of The Black Beauty. There were also the usual in-store promotions such as branded beverage cups and kid’s meal goodies.
There was also an iPhone/iPad “Wheels of Justice” app that allowed players to get behind the wheel of The Black Beauty and cruise the streets of the city dealing with criminals as they came up. Also in the mobile realm was a promotion that let people view 3D content on their mobile devices after they scanned the Green Hornet logo with those devices. That was run in conjunction with a tour of the Black Beauty to theaters across the country.
Players of the Facebook game Mafia Wars were able to collect Green Hornet-related items throughout the game and, after gathering them all, unlocked the Black Beauty to use.
Media and Publicity
Outside of the casting news and rumors that circulated, the first major round of publicity for the film came at the 2009 Comic-Con, where the studio unveiled the ’66 Impala that would serve as the Hornet’s car in the movie. There was also a panel appearance by the primary cast members and director Gondry that went a long way to making clear who everyone was playing and what their roles within the film were going to be.
The selection of Gondry and Rogen, both outsiders to the comic action movie genre, made it easy for people (especially movie blog writers) to believe rumors that Sony executives were profoundly unhappy with what they had seen of the film during production. The rumors were spread so fast and authoritatively that the studio had to step up and deny them. Regardless of the truth of the matter, this was the first time people had been talking about the movie in any manner in quite a few months, making the lack of other buzz actually more worrying than any studio displeasure, which at least has the potential to be read as the movie being so good they don’t get it.
Those rumors probably weren’t helped any by the news shortly thereafter that the movie was being moved to mid-January 2011. While the announcement was played off as being necessary because the movie was being converted into 3D, mid-January is traditionally a dead-zone at the box-office.
Things picked up a bit during the 2010 Licensing Expo, where some of the first promotional art was seen, including an early look at the movie’s teaser poster as well as the action figures that were being produced to tie in to the film. Shortly after that came news that the first trailer would be debuting in coming weeks during an episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
The Black Beauty got a little bit of press (USA Today, 6/24/10) in the wake of the trailer’s debut, only fitting since it gets a good bit of screentime in that trailer.
Part of the movie’s presence at Comic-Con 2010 included Britt Reid’s Garage, an off-site location featuring The Black Beauty and other cars from the movie as well as costumes and other gadgets. There was also a panel presentation (Los Angeles Times, 7/23/10) with the stars of the film that featured an extended bit of footage, a presentation that unfortunately was greeted with less than enthusiastic responses from the crowd, who reportedly still seemed confused as to what kind of movie they were going to be getting.
That Comic-Con appearance also kicked off the next stage of press around the movie, beginning with a story that recounts the many struggles Rogen has come up against (Los Angeles Times, 7/23/10) in his four years of trying to get his vision of the movie made.
The movie’s publicity tour included a stop at the first episode of Conan O’Brien’s new show on TBS, which brought the movie to a new audience. That came shortly before the movie’s first test screening, which reportedly (LAT, 11/10/10) went so well that it marked a shift in the movies’ buzz, though the groups that originally were so eager to jump on the “it’s a disaster” bandwagon weren’t immediately convinced things had turned around.
Rogen made an appearance on the popular show “Mythbusters” on an episode where he helped the debunkers take apart a couple of scenes from the movie and see what would happen without the help of Hollywood.
Part of the car’s publicity tour even took it to CES 2011, where it was part of the general Sony presence, specifically there to showcase the company’s 3D initiatives.
There were also recaps of the history of the character (New York Times, 1/9/11) and how it has evolved in the 70-some years since its creation as well as the lengthy development history of the feature film version.
There are two notable things about the campaign that need to be called out:
First, there’s the heavy emphasis on the car. Almost everything in both the marketing and publicity is in some manner focused on the Black Beauty, from the way it’s the central component on the posters to the way it was taken around on a tour of theaters and other events. The actors were included only when they absolutely needed to be and mostly in support of the car. That’s not to say they were excluded completely – Rogen is still a sizable movie star – but mostly people were being attracted to the movie based on wanting to see a really cool car.
The other is the way there was a palpable shift in the tone of the word-of-mouth that was circling the movie after the debut of the the theatrical trailer. Where before people were at best skeptical and at worst outright cynical about the movie’s prospects – largely because of the rumors about reshoots and other production troubles but also for other reasons – all of a sudden the attitude seemed to shift and people began to take the movie seriously.
Those two points aside there’s some good stuff here – I actually really like the playful attitude it takes toward the “millionaire vigilante and think the trailer and some of the other materials support it quite well – and some bad – the website doesn’t seem to have been given short shrift – but the publicity has been putting on a great charm offensive and covers over quite a few of those holes.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 01/12/11: Christopher Campbell at Spout picks up on the fact that there’s an email address that’s seen throughout the film that hasn’t been used at all as part of the marketing but which could have been part of a fairly cool effort to get people engaging with the film.
- 01/14/11: Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t find the film’s marketing as confusing as some people did, with some articles assuring Rogen that it wasn’t his fault that the studio couldn’t find a consistent tone for the campaign.