Posts Tagged ‘movies’

What is Knight and Day About?: Different Marketing Campaigns For One Movie

June 3, 2010

Knight and Day, the new Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz vehicle, is coming out on June 25 and one thing’s for sure, the studio has no idea how to market it.

So far, there’s been three different television ad campaigns (not including the official trailer), each presenting an entirely different movie.

Commercial 1

The first set of commercials came out in early April. Two months before the movie was set for release, ads for Knight and Day were constantly on television. These spots cast something of a wide net for an audience and were kind of successful at it.

This ad give the audience a pretty decent idea of what the movie is about and the over-the-top fun tone the movie is trying to achieve.

Cameron Diaz has a meet-cute with Tom Cruise on a plane but Tom Cruise is some sort of secret agent/spy. Cruise finds Diaz and they go on zany misadventures together. Diaz starts off as a fish out of water (like any average person suddenly finding themselves in firefights at exotic locales) and then, after some personal and emotional growth, is shooting at villains from a motorcycle.

While it might be unfair to say that both stars have been in a career slump over the past few years, clearly they aren’t at their previous heights. But the original set of ads made Cruise and Diaz look back in the elements where they were most successful. Tom Cruise is a charming, fun, wild card, action hero flashing his world-renowned smile. Cameron Diaz is a daffy dame in over her head and gets to indulge the nervous-goofy side that made her an A-lister.

It’s romance-comedy-action-fun. It’s the type of movie you can imagine suburban people going to on date night.

After playing for nearly a month, out of nowhere, the ads completely disappear. Then the ads comes back where Katherine Heigl has a meet-cute with Ashton Kutcher (or maybe they’re married) but Kutcher is some sort of secret agent/spy. Kutcher takes Heigl on zany misadventures together. Heigl starts as a fish out of water (like any normal person suddenly finding themselves in firefights at exotic locales) and then, after some personal and emotional growth, is shooting at villains from a car.

Wait, that’s Killers (coming out this Friday), which is seemingly essentially the same movie as Knight and Day which is essentially the same movie as True Lies.


Sure Looks Wacky

The next question that emerges is whether Knight and Day pulled its advertisements as not to compete with Killers? If so, why?

Tom Cruise, for all his faux pas and flops, is (best I can figure) a much bigger star than Ashton Kutcher- unless digital camera commercials and Twitter followers are the true measure of a celebrity. (NOTE: Kutcher’s last major starring role was actually with Diaz in 2008’s What Happens in Vegas. To find the last movie that he actually carried, you’d probably have to go back to 2005’s A Lot Like Love (depending how high a regard you place on Amanda Peet) or 2004’s The Butterfly Effect; neither of which would be considered major hits.)

Cameron Diaz v. Katherine Heigl is a harder decision. My personal belief is that Cameron Diaz is a bigger star. I’m relatively sure Diaz is more well known. She’s been in bigger movies (There’s Something About Mary) and better movies (Being John Malkovich) than Heigl. But Heigl has maneuvered her way to become the latest romantic comedy queen. Knocked Up made $150 million (all box office totals are domestic), though much of that probably came from the Rogen/Apatow contingent. 27 Dresses made $80 million and The Ugly Truth made close to $90 million. While those figures might not seem that impressive in these days of $100 million opening weekends, it’s very impressive for the chick-led romantic comedy. (Comparatively, Jennifer Lopez’ The Back-Up Plan has made $40 million and the Amy Adams-led Leap Year only made $26 million.) (Even more comparatively, Diaz’ The Box made $15 million and My Sister’s Keeper made $49 million. Diaz/Kutcher’s What Happens In Vegas surprisingly made $80 million.)

If Heigl keeps this up, in ten years she can win an Oscar (provided she gets a hackneyed script where she puts on a Southern accent and takes up a cause like a slow, underprivileged minority sports player, a poor town’s class action suit, or a drug addict country singer). But Jennifer Aniston will probably get there next.

How To Win an Oscar

Commercial 2

The second commercial (which I cannot find on YouTube) came at the start or middle of May. They start with Diaz standing on a hotel balcony overlooking some foreign-looking city while Cruise flirts with her from an adjoining balcony. The ads, at this point, focus exclusively on Diaz- except now she’s an action-hero/spy with powers and abilities equal to Cruise. No longer is she the wacky broad but, like the armor plated Warrior Princess Maid Maiden in the Robin Hood commercials, someone who can fight and kick ass like the boys. The comedy angle is completely removed. The romantic aspect went from cute to sexual, think more like Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Commercial 3

That leads us to commercial three (which I also cannot find on YouTube) that have started playing over the past couple of days.

This one begins with Tom Cruise narrating about how he’s been framed for a crime (or something) he didn’t commit and is now caught in an elaborate government conspiracy. This is follow with scenes of him acting like Jason Bourne rather than the borderline-superhero in the original set of advertisements.

Cameron Diaz is no longer the girl who freaks out during the “1-2-3” countdown. She, apparently, is the key to all the answers behind Cruise’s situation. Diaz and Cruise are even seen together discussing something in front of a giant white board covered with equations. Like Commercial 2, she is equally as capable a fighter as Cruise. However, this time both the romantic and comedy angles are eliminated.

Why The Change?

I don’t know. To avoid comparison to Killers is the answer that might make the most sense but even that lacks logic, as explained above. If it’s to appeal to even more people (i.e. Commercial 2 for the ladies; Commercial 3 for the guys), Commercial 1 did the job better while offering both genders what the marketers think (probably rightfully so) that they are looking for in a film. I don’t know if the new ads are shorter than the first one (i.e. less time per ad= less to pay for an ad= different ads to appeal to different demographics) but it might be a possibility. The biggest question now is what will Commercial 4 be?


When A Trilogy Isn’t Enough- Why Won’t Some Franchises Just Die?

May 10, 2010

Last week Tom Cruise announced his return to the Impossible Missions Force with Mission Impossible IV in 2011. It’s to be directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles and The Iron Giant), scripted by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec (the people behind the canceled US Life on Mars, the canceled October Road, and the soon-to-be-canceled Twin Peaks-lite Happy Town) and based on a story by J.J. Abrams and Tom Cruise (both of whom I assume you know).

The Mission: Impossible film series has been around since 1996. Fifteen years. The first two did very good business but the third could barely be considered a modest hit. (From The first one in 1996 made $180 million US/$457 worldwide and was the third highest grossing movie both domestically and worldwide for that year. The second one from 2000 made $215 million domestic/$546 million worldwide and was the third highest grossing movie domestically but number one worldwide. The last installment (#3) in 2006 made $134 million domestic and $397 million worldwide making it the fourteenth highest grossing movie of that year domestically and the eighth highest grossing movie worldwide.) But, to get to my point, is anyone really clamoring for a return of this series?

Put another way, has the series itself really taken a foothold on pop culture that warrants a fourth film? Are the first three really that memorable? Have you ever heard anybody talk about the Mission: Impossible films long (say, a month) after their release? Are they quotable? Do they have any classic scenes? (Okay, I’ll give them the hanging from wires hacking into a computer scene but that was fifteen years ago.) Have you ever heard anybody say “you know what I would love to see? Another Mission: Impossible flick!”? Probably not.

Part of the reason why the Mission: Impossible movies never really took off in our pop culture consciousness is that they never accomplished making the franchise more than the lead actor (Tom Cruise). While a recurring, and occasionally major, actor is often an important part of a successful franchise, the franchise itself should be bigger than (or at least equal to) that one guy. For example, James Bond the character is bigger than any of the actors playing him. Same with Batman. Same with Jason Vorhees.

There are also close calls as to whom is the most important part of the series: the actor or the character/franchise. Who’s bigger: Indiana Jones or Harrison Ford? John McClane or Bruce Willis? It’s difficult to answer and the best response might be that there exists a symbiotic relationship between the two. Bruce Willis has done plenty of action movies but none have had the lasting impact of Die Hard, yet at the same time it’s doubtful that a new Die Hard would be as successful without Bruce Willis.

But what makes those films different from the Mission: Impossible series can be boiled down to a single question: What was Tom Cruise’s name in the series? How long did it take you to come up with Ethan Hunt? Or, put another way, when someone says “Indiana Jones” or “John McClane” you can probably conjure up an image immediately. Whether it’s the hat and the whip or a man in a dirty white t-shirt crouching in Nakatomi Plaza or a guy jumping off a roof tied to a fire hose, something comes to mind. Now when you hear the name “Ethan Hunt” what do you think of? At best, it’s Tom Cruise being … Tom Cruise. He doesn’t even have a catchphrase.

Ethan Hunt not being memorable wouldn’t even be that big of a deal if the other characters had anything to offer. After all, the original Mission: Impossible television series was about a team. Except the films aren’t about a team- they’re about Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise while Tom Cruise runs away from buildings exploding behind Tom Cruise (standing in front of a green screen). The only thing I recall about the team was that Emilio Estevez was in the first one, Ving Rhames was in the others and Peter Graves was evil.

For an action film franchise to succeed, especially with bland characters, it needs something to make it stand out but the Mission: Impossible films lack any sort of quirks or nuances, ongoing storylines, ongoing character drama, original action or original plots to rise above the typical action-adventure movie. If the films were written smarter and more realistic that could work, or if the films decided to delve deeply into the realm of not-too-distant-future hard sci-fi that could be very cool, or if the team aspect came to the forefront and the films were more an ensemble that actually would be a angle not often used in modern action films (well, at least not until this year with The Losers, The A-Team and The Expendables). Instead we get … Tom Cruise and there’s no I in team, though there is TOM in Teamwork.

What makes this news even more disappointing is that M:IIV is going to be Brad Bird’s live action directorial debut. Brad Bird is an animation genius responsible for a lot of work on the early seasons of The Simpsons, The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. To see that his first live action film will probably amount to a traditional action movie/Tom Cruise vehicle is disheartening. I’m not saying it’ll be terrible but it could be in danger of lacking the spirit and creativity that one wants and expects in a Brad Bird film. It’s not like the Mission Impossible directors have fared well. When was the last time anyone heard of the first Mission: Impossible’s Brian De Palma? MII2 basically caused John Woo’s exile back to China. And Mission: Impossible 3’s J.J. Abrams, well, he’s still going strong.

Yet it’s not that the franchise concept is dead other than in the superhero realm, modern action franchises can work.

The Fast and the Furious is going to get a fifth film. Whether you love it or hate it, that’s a legitimate franchise and it’s probably because it has a unique hook- shiny cars that go vroom. The cars are bigger than the dual acting powerhouses of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker combined. And like many successful franchises, it’s set up to survive no matter who from the first movie stays involved as long as people in fast automobiles engage in probably civilian killing Death Race 2000-style (not Death Race) contests.

On the other side of the equation are the Bourne movies, which are probably closer in spirit to the Mission: Impossible films because it’s centered around a single guy (Jason Bourne) and a single actor (Matt Damon). Those movies found their niche by being a kind of realistic take on the action genre while having an interesting lead character and maintaining its own internal universe. The Bourne series definitely had an impact on the action genre as evidenced by the Bond series revival in 2006’s Casino Royale. (Sidenote: CR was the ninth highest grossing US movie of that year and the fourth highest grossing worldwide movie. See above for stats on 2006’s Mission: Impossible III.)

Meanwhile, what does Mission: Impossible have to offer? DVDs that explode at the end of a message? The theme song? Is the Mission: Impossible name really that much of a draw, or is it more about action hero Tom Cruise, no matter what the movie’s title is? If it’s the latter, as I assume it is, why not just try and start fresh?

Before I wrap up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Scream 4- another film franchise that probably should be left for dead also returning to theaters in 2011. While the original film was definitely influential film on the modern meta-horror genre, the second one tried unsuccessfully to duplicate the ‘we know we’re in a horror movie’ gimmick and the third one (not even written by series creator Kevin Williamson) was pretty much ignored.

Wes Craven has said in interviews that part of the reason the series is coming back (in a possible new trilogy form) is for the audience to see what’s happened to the characters since we last encountered them ten years ago. And that’s part of the problem. Very few horror series can coast solely on the strength of human protagonists. There’s The Evil Dead trilogy with Ash (Bruce Campbell) and…The Evil Dead trilogy with Ash (Bruce Campbell). (Also, possibly Alien depending on what genre you place those films in.) But is Scream one of them? Have Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Dorothy Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox-Arquette) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) risen to the level of classic horror movie characters like Ash or Halloween’s Laurie Strode?

Another problem with the series is the lack of a definable bad guy. What makes many horror franchises work is often a singular, nigh-unkillable monster. While the Scream mask made a good image, Ghostface could never really rise to the level of a Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers or Freddy Kruger because the person/people behind the Scream mask were humans as forgettable parts of a convoluted mystery killing people for increasingly stupid reasons.

The film is hinging itself (and a potential new trilogy) on the spurious concept that we care about the survivors a decade later. While taking a serious look at the long term psychological impact of surviving a massacre (let alone three) could be a very interesting concept, it immediately loses its power by becoming yet another slasher flick. Also, in this hyper post-modern, overly self aware world, what will the new Scream films’ novelty be?

But at least we’re not getting Charlie’s Angels 3.

What to Expect In Independence Day Sequels

March 31, 2010

Will Smith announced plans or pre-plans for two sequels supposedly filmed back-to-back to the 1996 mega-hit Independence Day. What follows is a list of what one should expect to see/not see in these two films. Snarky commentary begins now:

Home World

Maybe the aliens’ home planet. With the advanced technology we got from the ship, maybe space travel has grown exponentially in the fifteen or so years since the original invasion. Maybe we’ve started to colonize other worlds and we finally make it to the aliens’ place of origin. But think more Aliens than Avatar. Or, with the sequels being filmed back to back, don’t just think Avatar but think of Clint Eastwood’s 2006 World War 2 films, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima showing the Battle of Iwo Jima from the American POV and the Japanese POV, respectively. Create an entire rich mythology of the alien race and run with it as far as the budget will take you; no one’s saying you need to humanize the aliens.

Aliens Doing Stuff

How about having the aliens do stuff this time around? The spaceships blew stuff up but they mostly just sat around in the darkness of their ships or flailed their arms and killed Crazy Eccentric Scientist Data (he had long hair!!! Wild!!!!). Maybe this time we can see them in action. Even the aliens in Mars Attacks (arguably Tim Burton’s last halfway decent movie) got to run around and have personalities.

Evil Politician Guy

One thing the original Independence Day was lacking (or maybe it wasn’t, I haven’t seen the movie in close to fourteen years) was a truly evil (read: ultra-conservative) politician guy. A true Mr. Vice President (see: South Park‘s “Lice Capades.”) Roland Emmerich (director of the original ID4) tried to remedy this in The Day After Tomorrow with, well, an evil Vice President/Dick Cheney clone but really came to the table in last year’s crapfest/poor man’s rip-off of When Worlds Collide, 2012 featuring Oliver Platt as a man so evil, he realized that not everybody could be saved and that only certain people, important people, people who helped pay for the arks should help rebuild society. It doesn’t matter that his logic made sense, the nicer, more handsome guy made a heart-tugging speech about how everyone deserves to live. And if there’s one thing that’s helpful in a major crisis, it’s playing on everyone’s emotions. The biggest problem with Oliver Platt was that his logic did make some sort of sense (though if you agreed, I’m sure you were meant to feel like inhuman slime). Evil Politician Guy having a stance that someone can get behind needs to be remedied for ID4-2+3‘s Evil Politician Guy. He needs to be a true bastard.

More Trite Speeches

(Sorry for the bad quality)

Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

So douchey. So, so douchey. But it could be douchier. It could be longer. And there can be more speeches just as bad, if not worse, as that one.

More Hackneyed and Ham-fisted Messages

Roland Emmerich movies have a tendency to make condescendingly ham-fisted points. The points are bleeding heart, idealistic, and dumbed down so much for the masses that the fact that the audience doesn’t revolt shows how dumb they actually are.

In Independence Day we had societal togetherness (in a prayer circle, someone says to prayer circle leader Julius “I’m not Jewish” to which Julius replies with characteristic aplomb “Well, nobody’s perfect.”). In The Day After Tomorrow we had global warming and anti-conservatives and the supposed-to-make-you-think final line “Have you ever seen the air so clear?” from an astronaut who will probably be killed immediately upon re-entry because of how the Earth shifted. In 2012, we had global warming and money is bad (which is why we wanted to see those rich Russian kids die). In the Independence Day sequels, we’ll probably get global warming, pro-Obama, anti-money, and anti-conservatives. But how can we make those gun-toting kill-’em-all Republicans look bad while maintaining the savage monster quality of the aliens? Figuring that out is beyond me but I’m sure we’ll get something about racial harmony.

President Will Smith Says Hack Lines

Now that’s what I’m talking about! It’s practically a given that Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) will be elected President of the United States. (Compared to the ineffectual leadership of Danny Glover in 2012, the fast talking spaceship pilot would seem like a Godsend.) And with that, we’ll probably get more of those (non-)smart-alecky comments that Will Smith probably should be away from at this point in his career.

For those who need a refresher for some of his trying-too-hard-to-be-memorable lines from the original: “Elvis has left the building!,” “I ain’t heard no fat lady,” “I have got to get me one of these,” and “Now that’s what I call a close encounter!” Terrific.

More Animals Outrunning Massive Fireballs

Everyone loves the scene in the first ID4 of the dog outrunning a fireball and surviving. Oh how the audience cheered. Fuck the hundreds of thousands of people roasted alive, the dog survived. (A similar moment happened in 2012 where the dog’s life took precedence over two children ready to face certain doom.) The sequels need more animals doing the same thing. Several dogs, kitties, horses, hamsters, cows, turtles, all just managing to survive the scorching heat of a traveling explosion.

More Drunken Hicks

We all remember the martyrdom of alcoholic hillbilly Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) by attaching a nuclear bomb to his crop duster and flying it into the mothership at the end of the first movie. I am almost certain that people not just cried from that moment but still do every time they re-watch it. And they probably re-watch it a lot.

What I’m envisioning is an entire militia of off-the-grid drunken hicks who worship their patron saint/own personal Jesus, Russell Casse. Casse shouldn’t be back as some sort of zombies, since zombies are kind of getting overplayed right now. But as a ghost, Jedi-style? Could work.

Other Countries

We didn’t really get to see what happened to other countries in the original Independence Day, if I remember correctly. I think all we saw was flaming alien wreckage by landmarks at the end of the film while half-naked Africans threw spears. The worldwide aspect has always been missing from the Emmerich collection of disaster films. Futurama did a better job at conveying global destruction in their episode “When Aliens Attack.” While 2012 showed more non-American landmarks being destroyed than we’ve previously seen in his films, for the most part the international angle was taken care of by a Russian guy and his kids who lived in America and a Chinese guy who can speak perfect English willing to sacrifice himself for the noble Americans. Day After Tomorrow might have worked better had it focused on four unrelated stories from four different countries but then we would have missed out on Susan Ward saving some cancer kid and learning that it’s okay to burn Nietzsche.

More Jewishness

Everyone’s favorite character in the first Independence Day was Judd “My Son David!” Hirsch’s role as Julius Levinson, Jeff Goldblum’s (David Levinson) father. Julius was the equivalent of a Jewish step-and-fetch-it. The epitome of what Borat fears. But could he be more Jewish? Sure, why not. I didn’t see any dreidels or potato latkes in the first movie. He didn’t compare the aliens to Pharaoh or Hamen. The good news is that the former star of Taxi is still alive. Let’s hope the screenwriters are doing what they can to see just how far they can push Anti-Defamation League. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a “Today we celebrate our Passover!” speech. Or not.

True Loss of Life

While it’s difficult to show loss of life on a grand scale in a PG-13 summer explosion spectacular, some sense of loss would be appreciated. In 2012, especially, most of the cities already seemed abandoned when the world comes tumbling down. All that was lost were a couple of buildings and a super limo.

Ships Overturning

I don’t know what it is about Emmerich but he loves giant CGI boats, especially when they capsize with a SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH sound so we’ll probably get that in these movies too.

No Adam Baldwin

Nothing against Adam Baldwin. Actually quite the opposite. He’s too good for these stupid movies.