Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anticipation... The Year in Film Promotion

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.


Anderson said...

Nat, I love your blog but I think your overgeneralizing here. Sure, your comparisons (along with Mark's) between HP and Somewhere are very amusing (the "twins" bit is really good) but I tend to disagree with you in some points.

Sure marketing is ubuquitous these days and is one of the major reasons people choose some movies. I also hated when WB divided the last HP into two movies (I remember the post that you said that the first movie was going to be only about Harry & friends running in the forest - I thought the same).

But to my surprise, the movie was very good, the forest scenes even seemed a little arthouse (meaning "slow and contemplative") and the action moments flowed perfectly. I don't think people who read the books already watched the movie as you seem to claim - if it were like this, nobody would watch a movie with an adapted screenplay. Of course, there are those HP fans who want to see THE WHOLE BOOK onscreen, but then they had their orgasm with The Director Who Must Not Be Name who helmed the first 2 movies of the franchise (hate that word).

Now, about Somewhere, which you say is also like a franchise in the sense of "Sofia Coppola and...", I don't think we can blame her just because she has a very defined style. We love our Kubricks and Ang Lees and Aronofskys who jump from genre to genre making wonderful movies, but should we crucify our Hitchcocks and Scorseses just because they make movies revolving around similar themes?

Sofia Coppola is far from those two masters, of course, but she is a (using a term you used in one of my favorite series of posts at your blog) "modern maestro" nonetheless. Her ingredients are solitude, misunderstanding, the pressure of fame and pretty girls looking out at windows - those are her signatures, not her crutches.

Anyway, sorry for writing too much. I'm writing from Rio de Janeiro and I have some friends here in Brazil that read your blog on a daily basis.


P.S.: I also love Marie Antoinette. Like Jonathan Glazer's Birth, I think it's a underrated masterpiece.

Robert Hamer said...

I'm amazed at how many uneventful big budget blockbusters there are, and how many people aren't bored by them. I mean, really, did Eclipse or Alice in Wonderland or Grown-Ups have anything interesting going on?

James T said...

Damn you know how to pick them. Good match that Mark!

I would have preferred to read about other movies (these ones are the ones that interest me the least save Black Swan) but it was a great conversation.

I actually think you disagree with Mark on Despicable Me since you are practically saying that the previews are as confusing as the movie itself so it's doing it justice. I would have imagined you would pick Tangled as the worst promoted good film.

Very enjoyable Harry Potter and S. Coppola comments.

I think I've become too harsh on trailers so I can't remember many that I liked. I'm afraid my favorite was by far a trailer for a TV mini-series. You guessed it. Mildred Pierce.

I liked the Social Network trailer and kinda liked the Black Swan one. Hmm, the Tree of Life was intriguing too. Oh, I also kinda liked (though i don't expect to actually enjoy or even watch the movie) the Red Riding trailer. And Never Let Me Go. OK i think i got them all.

James T said...

Robert? You watched Eclipse??


Anderson -- i'm not using the "franchise" thing as a pejorative. I love sofia coppola (one of the few directors where I've at least liked every film she's made) but they are very very similarly themed/played. so you know what you're getting. (just like you do with harry potter movies and other franchises)

Robert -- i know. this confuses me. Because also on the occasions when i see them with crowds i see people being totally bored with them, checking their messages and whatnot. I don't get it. I'm assuming it's just a cultural thing that people do and they don't really think about why they do it. (obviously there are exceptions: harry potter fans are devout. but many of these franchises seem to be on autopilot as to who really cares and yet people go. i mean SHREK?)

James -- i wish we'd talked about other movies too. we shoulda talked longer (there's more tomorrow at his blog though.)

Bryan said...

Black Swan boasts posters that I could actually envision myself buying and putting on my wall. They work so well as art. What a movie!

It's up there with my favorite trailer of the year as well, with The Social Network and Inception.

I can't remember if you have a Best Trailer Film Bitch Award or not; you should, if you don't!

Ryan T. said...

Definitely my favorite trailers this year include Social Network, Black Swan, Inception, and [NOT A SHOCKER] Scott Pilgrim. All of their trailers pretty much made me go "WTF? WHY ISN'T THIS OUT YET?!?!?!"

Honorable mention goes to Easy A. While it wasn't the best trailer out there, it did its best to highlight all of the great actors in the film. Didn't even need to know what the film was about. The cast got me (see Inception as well).

Glenn said...

I kinda don't tend to find many trailers that truly blow me away. I don't think 2010 had anything quite like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Little Children, The Devil Wears Prada, Marie Antoinette...

Actually, thinking about it now maybe I Am Love or Rabbit Hole. I also liked the work done for Black Swan. The Social Network I didn't like mostly because of that awful choir version of "Creep".

AnthonyDC said...

The new "Black Swan" commercials seem to scream, "Here, Middle America... that campy, fucked up ballet movie your friends in select cities have been talking about!"

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aclp said...

Hermione is not Harry's loved one. Ginny is.

Harry loves Ginny.

Ron and Hermione are madly, widly, head over heels and hopelessly in love with each other and have been from day 1.

Can't stand Sofia Coppola. Yes, she's repetitive, her work is self congratulatory, and all her movies are about herself and herself only. Very self centered artistic who doesn't really have a lot to say.

aclp said...

The best trailer I can think of in the last few years was "No country for old man". Brilliant.

This year, Black Swan. Better than the movie.

aclp said...

Oh no. I remebered just now. Blue Valentine's trailer is just beautiful, touching and leaves you curious and interesting without spoiling much.

Mark Blankenship said...

Hello all. Thanks so much for the conversation. I had a great time doing this.

Amanda, I wanted to second your support of the "Blue Valentine" trailer. There's something breathtaking about *hearing* the moment a relationship begins and *seeing* all the moments that spring out of that beginning.

Kurtis O said...

"Nothing happens...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."



amanda -- "loved one" meaning any beloved one. Harry loves Hermione like a sister obviously.

oh and YES to the blue valentine trailer. i shoulda thought to mention that.

Anonymous said...

As much as I'm a fan of HP books and don't care for the HP movies, your comparisons of it to Somewhere is just disconcerting. Last thing I would say about HP is that Harry is a mopey rich boy, his broomstick is like Dorff's sports car, or that the twins are distractions from the quest. That's just bizarre. I don't think even people who haven't read the book would come to those conclusions. Even as a shitty adaptation from the book the HP still has more say, more viewpoint, more depth and yes, I would say it's just a better movie and art than Somewhere. Somewhere is just an aimless pretentious waste of money and time presented as "art". There are better movie makers out there who represent themes Coppola claims to present in her movies. Her movies make me more angry than some studio movies tbh.

And I get that she really really really likes rich white americans but her treatment of foreign countries in her movies is borderline racist.

aclp said...


Ron and Hermione devoted and protective fan from book 1 all the way to book 7. ;-)

(whispered secret: My most anticipated movie of next year is deathly hallows part 2 so I'll finally finally see them kiss and be together for good)

Yes, Sofia Coppola is borderline racist. Her portrayal of japanese is embarassing and insulting to say the least!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the (unconscious?) racism in Lost in Translation really makes me question that movie's "classic" status. Seriously, did NO ONE let Sofia know how bad that looked? I don't mean to come off as PC but there really was no excuse for some of the stuff in there. It's probably the one thing that's kept me from building up enough interest to watch her other work even though I liked the rest of LiT.

Glenn Dunks said...

"And I get that she really really really likes rich white americans"

Because the Harry Potter franchise is all about the non-white British cast, yeah? They had an Asian girl a few movies back... where'd she go to, exactly?

Anonymous said...

Since we're on the topic of film promotion -- Best IMDb comment I've read all year (note: this was prior to Black Swan's expansion):

"I had the craziest dream last night... about a movie in limited release. But the movie stayed there and never went wide and... I killed myself."

It's even funnier when read as Nina Sayers. So dramatic, that girl.


badmofo -- that is funny. thanks for sharing.

Bryan said...

Lol, Badmofo, that's the story of my life. Where are you, Rabbit Hole? WHERE ARE YOU?

aclp said...


Harry Potter is not about rich people. The Weasleys are poor, everyone knows they are poor, they have a very tight budget,everything Ron has and wears is second hand, and he is usuallu humiliated by Draco because of his family's economic condition.

Harry inherited some money from his parents and from his godfather Sirius who also left him a house, but he was far from being a multimillionaire.

Hermione was muggle middle class.

The only really really wealthy family is the Malfoys. The other characters have diferent and diverse economic backgrounds.

There are non whites and non westerns as well. The indian twins (forgot their names, Parvati and Padma?), Dean Thomas, Angelina Johnson,Fudge, Blaise Zabini, the non western eastern europeans Krum and Karkaroff....The Weasleys, a pure blood family, have two inter-racial relationships: Ginny-Dean, before she started dating Harry, and the surviving twin married Angelina Johnson.

And Harry Potter is one single story about a given group of characters.

Sofia's subtle racism is a given in all her films.

I also wondered how nobody noticed how ethnocentric and racist she was in "LIT". I was baffled by the fact people thought it was ok- and all those lame, silly, old jokes about asians being short, and how they pronounce english......awful.

aclp said...

,Glenn, the asian girl you're thinking about is Cho Chang, Harry's first girlfriend over who he obsessed for two books.


amanda -- hmmm. then my memory is faulty because i specifically remember Harry Potter having a huge vault of money. I think he's a rich orphan unless i have early onset alzheimers.

anyone else?

aclp said...

Nate, he is rich, confortable, but he is not Malfoy uber wealthy. And he did not grow up rich with a muggle rich family- on the contrary, his muggle family was ordinary middle class and he slept in a bed under the stairs.