Anticipation... The Year in Film Promotion

Posted by julian On 7:00 AM
Year in Review

NATHANIEL: Hey kids. So some time ago I was introduced to Mark Blankenship who writes The Critical Condition. I've been reading that blog ever since. Mark writes about everything pop culture -- I love his music posts especially -- and he's now officially a "talking head" having done a couple of Joy Behar Show gigs. We decided to have a little year in review convo. Part one is here at The Film Experience and tomorrow Critical Condition will run Part two. Got it?

MARK: Hi Nathaniel!


MARK: With Hurricane Award Season upon us and year-end lists popping up everywhere, I thought it would be fun to look back at the year in movie promotion. In 2010, which trailers, posters, and campaigns were the best? Which ones were the worst?

In the category of Worst Promotion of a Good Movie, I'll nominate Despicable Me. I mean... seriously. I've seen a billion previews for that film, and I still don't know what it's about. Yellow tic-tacs in overalls? Steve Carell learning a life lesson from the Orphaned Triplets of Belleville? Who can say? Apparently, though, Despicable Me is really good. It certainly connected with ticket buyers, and New York's David Edelstein put it in his year-end top ten. Yet because of my weeks-long irritation with the previews, I'm still dubious.

On the other hand, the promotion for Sofia Coppola's Somewhere gets my vote for Worst Promotion of a Good Movie. Because, really... Somewhere is a dense, rewarding experience that's being marketed as a pretentious suck-a-thon about a rich dude's problems. Coppola's previous film, Marie Antoinette, was so boring it actually made me angry, yet it got a sexy, energetic campaign. Why couldn't someone do the same for a movie that actually has some sexiness and energy?

Alright... that's my opening salvo. Which campaigns are you thinking about?

Minions! (a.k.a. "Millions" merchandising)

NATHANIEL: How can I even get to the campaigns that I might be thinking about when you have already given me so much to lob back at you?

I can one up you on Despicable Me; I've SEEN the movie and I still couldn't tell you what it was about. It's fun to watch and it's funny but it evaporates in your head within a week's time. The only thing I do remember now is the ad campaign. I think we have to consider this a strange case where a bewildering ad campaign actually does truth tell. As I recall, the movie is disjointed and slapsticky and it does feature plenty of scenes involving yellow tic-tacs. I suppose the main narrative thrust is Steve Carell learning life lessons. Which lessons those were I can't recall but I remember there was much cuteness. And not just by way of yellow breath fresheners.

As for the Coppola Now: Redux... I shall refrain from answering until you tell me what your position is on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 1. (speaking of suck-a-thons about rich dude's problems)

MARK: It's interesting you should ask about HP7: The Hallownator. I promised my family that I'd wait to see it until I went home for the holidays, so for the time being, my opinion is entirely based on the promotional campaign. And as someone who hasn't really liked any of these movies---I've found them all to be ploddingly literal adaptations of exquisitely imaginative books---I've found a couple of reasons to hope. For one, I was heartened by the story that the movie wouldn't be released in 3-D. To me, it suggested that quality was being chosen over extra revenue. Also, the trailer (and especially the music in the trailer) has a grandness that matches the weight of the story.

That said, the posters I've seen plastered all over New York are just... zzzz. The dimly list cast photos may tell me the movie is coming out, but they don't tell me anything about it. Really, though, I don't guess that matters, because it's not like this movie needs that much help to get butts in the seats.

NATHANIEL:  EVERYONE's opinion of Harry Potter is entirely based on the promotional campaign, not just yours! You've stated the truth of it. In fact, you have already seen the movie if you've read the books or seen the commercials or plan to see the final movie next year. Nothing happens. Or, rather, if something happens it's the same thing that's already happened. It used to be the same film every year with minor changes in window dressing. Now, they're not even bothering to make a film anymore. Warner Bros has made the world's first 145 minute bookmark/commercial and they're making hundreds of millions for their evil con job. They've robbed the public blind and the public loves it.

Marketing is the new Stockholm Syndrome.

I love Sofia Coppola's movies (even and especially Marie Antoinette -- so there!) but they're their own repetitive franchise. Sofia is a better wizard because mise en scene trumps CGI every time.

Sofia Coppola and the Virgin's Suicide
Sofia Coppola and the Suntory Times Adventure
Sofia Coppola and the Cake-Eating Queen
Sofia Coppola and the Deadly Chateau Doldrums Pt. 1

poor little world famous rich boys
Somewhere and Hallows Pt 1 are essentially the same story: Famous Mopey Rich Boy (wizard Harry Potter / movie star Stephen Dorff) has a big problem (Voldemort/Ennui). Watch him wander aimlessly through foreign places not knowing exactly what he's looking for (Godrick's Hollow /Italy) whenever he's not resting aimlessly in his comfortable quarters (Magic Tent / Celebrity Hotel) with his loved one (Hermione / Elle Fanning). All the while he's worrying about that overarching problem that he really doesn't know how to solve. In the end he sort of decides to move forward towards his goal. Maybe. It's vague.

My longwinded point -- I promise to be much briefer moving forward-- is that I'm going to mentally slap the next Harry Potter fan who calls any "arthouse" movie boring because "nothing happens."

MARK: I think you've cracked the Da Vinci Code with your Harry Potter/Somewhere comparison. Some addendums: Famous Mopey Rich Boy relies on souped-up transportation (Firebolt Broomstick/sports car) and has a dopey friend whose relationship with a young woman provides a convenient dramaturgical contrast to his relationship with her (Ron/Chris Pontius.) Also, a set of twins tries to amuse Rich Boy with tricks that only end up distracting him from his quest (those Weasley boys with the magic shop/those strippers with the portable pole.)

Strippers with port-a-poles. Best scene in Somewhere!
Meanwhile, I can tell you that I'm seethingly jealous about your recent interaction with Barbara Hershey. (But also happy for you!) What did you think about the lead up to Black Swan: Revenge of the Back Feather?

NATHANIEL: Ah, Black Swan. The topic of the month. This is a rare case where I'd believe that the marketing campaign was directed by the filmmaker (I'm sure it wasn't) because the commercials are of the same exact tenor of the product: outre, mysterious, sick, sexy, highbrow clothing but lowbrow soul (note how thrilled the trailer is by its big campy gotcha moment (that feather yanked from Natalie's back!). The commercials are so cinematic you can taste popcorn. In short: ticket sold!

Even the posters are using truth in advertising. The first one, with Natalie's Black Swan ballet makeup is full frontal confrontrational as introduction. That art deco/Erte-ish series that followed are true enough about the movie's love of artifice and theatrical design. The ugly one with Natalie's badly photoshopped red arm reveals real commercial instincts - it's not exactly a subtle movie. Finally, the latest one with Natalie's cracked face, is yet again underlining that this girl is beautiful but cracked.

...She bonkers!

Black Swan's Truth in Advertising.

...for more on favorite promotions and movie posters. Read it.

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