Well folks, Halloween is here. And since we’re among the sites who believe that topical content resorts to better traffic, we’re joining in the fun and offering you a fresk take on the 1981 John Landis classic An American Werewolf In London. I have seen the film more than once before but had not revisited it in a while. Then, I remembered how Edgar Wright considered it to be a major inspiration for his Simon Pegg/Nick Frost Cornetto trilogy and I wanted to see how it relates. From the opening scene involving unfriendly townfolks to the gratuitous amounts of desensitized violence, I could not only see the correlation but also how the film created a genre of its own in the 80’s: the light-hearted horror flick.
John Landis penned the first draft of the script at the tender age of 19, and from the very first scene, you can sense the energy and the excitement of a young up-and-comer trying to prove himself. The characters are hopping around on the roads of the Yorkshire moors of Northern England and they have conversations about a childhood female friend who has grown up into an attractive woman. They walk into a pub named The Slaughtered Lamb, where the patrons are about as unwelcoming as they can be. From that very scene, you get a sense that every part of the movie has been carefully planned to be entertaining and special. The characters are colorful and the setup is wonderfully crafted.
And then a copious amount of gore gloriously shows its muzzle. The lead character David manages to barely escape a viscious werewolf attack at the detriment of his best travelling pal Jack who gets mangled like a mix of berries in a blender. It’s the kind of buckets of red paint that will make you believe the human body might be 99% filled with blood. The skin is cut loose and pieces of it remain half attached. Though practical effects do look dated from the perspective of younger generations, everything you see in An American Werewolf in London is the finest display of make-up and prosthetics you’ll witness from that era of filmmaking.
Following the Spielberg rule established in Jaws, Landis understands the importance of not showing the werewolf too clearly on the screen in order to retain a sense of threat and only revealing its clearest angles towards the end of the movie. And then something wonderful happens – a mesh of genres within the horror realm. The victims of the werewolf – mainly one of the two lead characters Jack – reappear at random moments and provide key pieces of information regarding the transformation that the lead character is about to experience.
We jump from one scene to the next and the tone refuses to stay the same. One dream sequence involving Nazi monsters with machine guns is incredibly immature and unexpectedly silly. Another scene where a late night commuter starts to hear suspicious noises in the London underground is effectively suspenseful and brilliantly paced. While one would expect that such inconsistencies might disengage the audience, the complete opposite seems to happen. There is so much originality and cleverness presented on screen that the movie almost plays out like a series of vignettes on the recurrent theme of werewolves. Considering that more than one movie based on short stories appear on Landis’ filmography, perhaps we can assume he has a taste for that style of production.
I find it most fascinating that when movies are praised upon release for featuring groundbreaking special effects and cinematography, all the attention get focused on that and the general consensus is that the movie was mediocre but benefited from groundbreaking technical achievements. However, time goes by and allows us to look back and realize that in almost every case, these movies had much more to offer than that starting with an inspired script, tight character development and the resolve of an uber-confident director. Jurassic Park would be the quentessential example, but I also feel that An American Werewolf in London strongly qualifies in this case.
The editing is a bit choppy at times and you get a sense that it was put together in a hurry. Irrelevant, however, are the fine details of filmmaking polish when you enjoy such a juvenile piece of pop culture entertainment. Rick Baker’s makeup is so well-conceived and scary looking that its award wins lifted the movie from the obscure B-shelves and onto the Oscar spotlight. Regardless of its production values (positive or negative), An American Werewolf in London excels in keeping audiences engaged, surprised and astonished at every turn.
Fun movies all share one thing in common: they fail to have a single moment that doesn’t trigger some sort of emotional reaction. An American Werewolf in London is the textbook definition of a fun movie. There is no filler, no superflous character development, and no stretched out plot points. It’s a concentrated can of pure fun, and a prime example of how to create effective mainstream cinema.
– The Sleepy Skunk
The best film of all-time! A marvel above all cinematic achievements! The Eight Wonder of the World! Behold my young-lings as I take advantage of a bad case of early flu season and an overdose of Neo-Citran to revisit a classic that has been mentioned a thousand times more than it has been seen:
I will admit that I never actually sat through this film in its entirety before. Countless clips have been featured over the years which makes me familiar about its look, but I never really took the time to get into it until now. More interestingly, however, is the fact that I never researched it nor did I indulge in all the praise that other reviews have thrown at it. This review does take into account that the film was made in 1941 and that Welles was only 26 years old at the time but aside from that, no external sources have affected my opinion. This is my honest assessment, fair and square.
Citizen Kane follows the life of a very interesting man who has the brains, the riches, the charm, and the assertiveness to lead a meaningful and consequential existence. He chooses to stand by his morals and becomes the editor of a small New York newspaper in order to cave into his sense of idealism. The only difference with him, however, is that he has so much money to his name that he holds the means to make his larger-than-life desires come to fruition in an instant. When he comes across a competing newspaper who gathers more credibility and success than his because they have all the best journalists, he instantly manages to buy them all off.
To anyone whose interests are not being served by Charles Foster Kane – namely those who prefer for the poor and the underprivileged to remain exactly where they are – the man represents an undeniable threat. Kane’s marriage grows cold and distant as he focuses his effort and attention on his striving New York paper. Him and his wife eventually lose their spark and he starts chasing after his youth by having an affair with a young singer. This new, secret relationship gives him renewed optimism and the required energy he needs to fight for his ideals. He throws himself into a race to become Governor and pulls all the stops which makes him climb in the polls.
Kane became the one politician who couldn’t be bought by special interests. The great man who actually had the talent and work ethic to inspire the masses and the zeal to make things right for the working man. More than just a political facade, the man was independent of all the things that makes politics such a corrupted place. He didn’t only spread his ideals but he also believed them and embodied them. How I wish we could have a politician like Kane out there in the real world – a man of integrity and principle who won’t let power change his views on what society truly needs.
But then, everything falls apart. On the eve of his sure-fire election victory, his opponent presents undeniable evidence of Kane’s infidelity and contacts his wife in order to plot a classic case of blackmailing: You either withdraw yourself from the race or tomorrow’s headline will paint you as a cheater and a liar. Driven by ego and emotions, Kane decides to take the wrong path (in a pivotal scene I re-watched twice to fully grasp). He proceeds with the election as his wife leaves him, gets defeated and goes on to marry his young singer who gave him a second lease on life and a tarnished reputation.
The difference in age, values, and interests becomes evident over time and his constant obsession with providing her with everything she wants cannot hide the undeniable fact that they share nothing in common. What he believed was a more meaningful connection for him turned out to be a selfish need that she could only satisfy for a defined period of time. They grow old and unhappy and she decides to leave him without looking back. His life is over, his ideals are burnt and shredded into pieces. He is now a mere shadow of the man he was supposed to become.
Citizen Kane carves the portrayal of a life betrayed by bad choices but still worthy of being examined because of good-hearted intentions and incredible potential. The performances and the exchanges are great in every scene and the pace is quite frenetic considering that this is a 1940’s motion picture. Every scene leads to the next with great logic and nothing ever drags on as we get to admire a man from his rise to his fall. And then, we also get to ponder about the mysterious meaning behind his last word:
In a press statement issued by Orson Welles on January 15, 1941 regarding his forthcoming motion picture entitled Citizen Kane, the man himself wrote: “Rosebud” is the trade name of a cheap little sled on which Kane was playing on the day he was taken away from his home and his mother. In his subconscious it represented the simplicity, the comfort, above all the lack of responsibility in his home, and also it stood for his mother’s love which Kane never lost.” Simply a case of nostalgia for Kane, who was longing for the days in his life where he was truly loved, not the ones where all the people who no longer needed anything from him decided to leave him behind.
There are some ambitious and fascinating shots that clearly must have inspired so many filmmakers in the decades that followed. One scene in the Thatcher Memorial Library showcases three enormous beams of light that create an astonishing reflection on the protagonists. Another has the camera panning around in the middle of a thunderstorm, making it go through a deceivingly larger-than-life El Rancho neon sign and then blurring right through a window. This is the type of footage that only a perfectionist can capture. This is what happens when directors no longer vow to achieve perfection in order to simply ‘wow’ audiences. They’re doing it to challenge themselves and are obsessed with making the contents of their reel feel exactly the same as what their imaginations cooked up in their mind.
The transitions of atmospheric sounds, fades and music are also top-notch and keep audiences so involved that even today, it can hold up with our ADD-driven level of retention. The characters are complicated and the dialogue is so rich and witty. The movie is about an inspiring man involving himself into a series of interesting opportunities and pursuing his ideals until his bitter end. There’s a Charles Foster Kane that everyone of us wish we could be – someone who has it all, chooses to do what he pleases, and puts all ambition and resources at the service of the greater good.
And for every aspiring filmmaker out there, there’s also an Orson Welles that everyone of them wish they could be. An artist at the height of his inspiration and in full creative control at such a young age that everything remains ahead of him as he joyfully savors every minute of his success.
– The Sleepy Skunk
The 38th annual Toronto International Film Festival is currently entering its final homestretch and I’ve had the privilege to catch no less than fifteen movies in the short span of a single week. They are: The Fifth Estate, 12 Years a Slave, Prisoners, Labor Day, The Green Inferno, Dallas Buyers Club, Horns, Gravity, August: Osage County, Under The Skin, Afflicted, Don Jon, Man of Tai Chi, The Wind Rises, and Rigor Mortis. The number of movies I see are always the same and the days/times never differ from one year to another. Opening night movie on Thursday, two on Friday, three on Saturday, three on Sunday, three on Monday, two on Tuesday, and the final two on Wednesday. Every screening happens in a different theatre downtown, some of which might require a quick cab ride or a 15 minute sprint run and some deodorant body spray. The experience is special because it’s a Mandarin buffet of silver screen staring and I am allowed to binge on as many movies as I can possibly gobble up.
The binge eating behavior of catching so many films in so little time is only half the experience. Turns out that I am mostly shoving masterpieces down my throat as well – or rather movies that need a positive reaction out of the screening I am attending in order to launch an awards campaign. It’s like a hot wings eating contest but I have to devour 15 pieces of filet mignon and the chefs are standing right there in front of me. “Everyone has had filet mignon before so it’s not that special, just fancier”, you might say. Well, that’s the funny thing about TIFF: all these movies have been largely unseen and film fans from around the globe wish they could get a taste.
So let’s recap the metaphor here. Fifteen pieces of filet mignon, cooked by the greatest chefs in the world, barely anyone but you will have the privilege to taste these, and you need to shove them all in your mouth at a record speed. How absurd is the whole concept overall when you put it in perspective? Extremely.
What would you do if you were in that situation? Where you tweet about the movie you just watched and everyone gets their hopes up or down because they don’t have the chance you have to see it. Even the companies and the people who made the film are looking forward to retweet what you say as long as it’s positive so they can (God forbid!) find a distributor or at least get some positive word-of-mouth out there. And worst of all, there are plenty of other festival attendees who wanted precious tickets to that screening you just attended but they were OFF SALE even before single tickets day. Their idea of attending the festival was to enjoy this film before everyone else and they were denied that privilege that you are enjoying. Feeling the pressure yet?
The introductions for each film – mostly conducted by TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey who clearly found a way to clone himself because everyone bumps into him a dozen times – often emphasize that privilege as he often recalls the hundreds of film enthusiasts who had to be turned down at the Rush Line and goes on to bring legendary Hollywood actors and directors to introduce their own work. The same talent comes back after the film and performs a Q&A session where members of the audience stop hindering their inhibitions and start complimenting them on their careers, their dresses, and anything on display! “Oh, Mister A. You were so fantastic in that role, I am sure you will win all the awards this year!” or “Oh, Miss B. This is the most brilliant film you’ve ever directed, I will never wash that hand again if you shake it!”
This entire spectacle… fifteen times in a row… in a single week. How could I possibly not feel grateful when everyone around me either A) are also at the screening and clearly extremely grateful to be there, or B) wish they were at the screening and will keep me in check if I am not grateful. I am overwhelmed with honor! I am humbled beyond belief! Is that Benedict Cumberbatch over there? Let’s ask him about Sherlock Season 3! Are these hors d’oeuvres made with alsatian choucroute? They are delightful! Joseph Gordon-Levitt never directed a movie before? What a genius he must be! The whole thing is a blast, and with so many movies to see, there is absolutely no time to make one’s opinion about a film because you’re too preoccupied with getting in line for the next one across town. By the time your seventh screening is about to begin, your brain only has memories of what the second screening was about. If you’re not lucky enough to grab a large coffee before your third screening of the day, chances are you will nap your way through it and will feel too embarrassed to admit it.
How does that leave room for disliking a film? Let me rephrase that actually: Are you so unappreciative that you would go through that amazing experience, standing right next to Hollywood’s A-List, and start spreading that you didn’t like the movie? Are you going to pick on the works of a respected director? Right in front of him too? And school us on why it sucks and we shouldn’t waste our time with it?
WHO THE *EXPLETIVE THAT STARTS WITH THE LETTER F* DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
Let’s be upfront and honest. Perhaps the impressions you get out of a movie you see at a Film Festival lack the necessary perspective you normally get by attending your regular trip to the multiplex on a Friday night. Not only are the circumstances of privilege surrounding each screening making it difficult not to raise your thumbs up even if you admittedly felt half-engaged or even flat out indifferent in some parts. Most importantly, you are watching over a dozen movies in a very insignificant amount of time and it’s practically impossible to fully reflect on each of them when your energy and attention is constantly redirected towards the next picture in line.
Film festivals are an incredible privilege, and a whole lot of fun, but too many factors make it difficult for people to properly sustain an opinion that they won’t later feel compelled to revise. Think of movies you saw at festivals and caught again a year later. You might be surprised about how underwhelming or refreshing your second take will feel now that you’re watching it on Netflix like everyone else.
My mom’s advice at the dinner table was always to avoid eating too quickly because “I wouldn’t get to enjoy the taste and my stomach would hurt.” She was obviously right. Don’t believe a word I said about the movies I saw at TIFF. Just wait until they come out and properly offer them the attention they deserve while no attention being directed to you. Digest them slowly, and enjoy every single bite.
– The Sleepy Skunk
Make no mistake folks: The Twilight Saga is and will always remain every studio exec’s ultimate wet dream. Shot in Vancouver “on the cheap” and starring a surprisingly small number of actors just lucky to be there when they signed on the dotted line, it managed to carve its place into global pop culture history and make millions of girls swoon about the relationships they felt they deserve, not the ones they’re likely dealing with. The original chapter cost the studio $37 million to make and raked in over $392 million worldwide. When it was all said and done, the shirtless set of films earned Summit Entertainment a whopping $3.34 billion dollars, which is more than Disney would have made had they been able to release The Avengers twice.
The arousing part is not the billion dollar figure but the low-cost, no hassle production it took to earn it. Not only did Twilight bring in the kind of numbers only reserved to the exclusive gentlemen’s club of Marvel Heroes, Harry Potter and Star Wars, but it surprisingly did so without having to shell out a 150 to 250 million dollar budget before seeing a red cent. If the movie business is about big gambles, Summit’s hedge bet on the Twilight Saga is the most low-risk, high-return franchise since the original Star Wars hit the silver screen in 1977. And if you think the budgets started to skyrocket as soon as the CGI wolves joined the party and competent directors signed on so they could renovate their kitchen cabinets, think again. The Twilight Saga: New Moon cost a slim-fitting 50 million dollars and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse wrapped up with a svelte 68 million dollars. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn was the only chapter in the series whose needs for a large scale final sequence tipped the invoices over the 100M mark.
When George Lucas made Star Wars, no one believed it would eventually provoke such a seismic wave of cultural relevance and profitability. After it did, however, other studio execs called emergency meetings and started plotting their bandwagon ticket to the big pot of Tatooine gold. Disney gave audiences The Black Hole which starred what could only be described as a genetic cross between R2-D2 and a Sesame Street garbage can. The quest to confuse less knowledgeable moviegoers was also in full swing with such releases as Star Odyssey, Starcrash, Starchaser and Battle Beyond The Stars hitting theaters in a hurry. While we can look back and laugh at these failed attempts, the intent of the studio at the time was to own THE new space opera franchise in town.
Fast forward to present day where every studio has been trying to jump onto the Twilight Express. In 2013, we had four wide releases so far who were clearly green-lit with the intent of reproducing the same kind of success: The Host, Beautiful Creatures, Warm Bodies, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Plenty more are still on their way including The Vampire Academy, The Dark Divine and Evermore. Thirty years from now, we will be inflicted with a brand new remake of The Twilight Saga and all these other titles will have been buried and forgotten. What are studios missing here?
I always assume an executive boardroom at a major studio only has two agenda items: 1) What are kids buying these days? and 2) Where’s my version of that? While this is certainly how the product industry (such as food or toy companies) need to behave in order to remain competitive, the rules of success become significantly more blurry when you’re dealing with a successful movie adaptation. You can use the superhero genre as proof that once it took off, everyone who jumped on the bandwagon got a big slice of pie in the past decade but it only remains relevant to characters that people have genuinely loved on a massive scale for decades. Studios have been wise to understand that and steered clear from giving lesser known superheroes their own movie. What they did instead was to make them supporting cast in a few movies and group them together within one universe.
Book adaptations are a little bit tricky because there’s no way you can merge their worlds together without angering the fans. You have to put your product out there standing on its own, and your strategy to jump on the bandwagon means that you’re hoping to draw comparisons with the one that started it all. Consumers will seek the real thing, and therefore your end goal can only be to confuse them. When there was a greek yogurt marketing craze last year, every yogurt company started pushing out their version and suddenly the labels all looked the same. The average consumer will make their purchase based on the fact that all six yogurts will likely taste the same and might walk out of the supermarket with another brand than the one they had intended to buy. With movies, however, fans are so emotionally invested that they will not only manage to see the difference between the real thing and the knock-offs, but retaliate against those trying to cash in. The reaction across the aboard seems to have always been “we’re not stupid, this isn’t Star Wars or Twilight.” followed by a courteous “nice try” or the more commonly uttered “fuck off.”
Jeff Bock, who works as a box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said it best when Beautiful Creatures bombed back in February: “When you’re pushing your film as a Twilight knockoff, which WB’s press machine so blatantly did over the last couple weeks, it can actually enrage the Twi-hards, who vehemently defend their cherished cinematic turf,” Bock says. The key difference between greek yogurt and movie franchises is the emotional investment that your core base of fans feel towards your product. I am sure the people who introduced greek yogurt on the market and saw lazy competitors knock-off their concept must have been emotionally invested in the situation, but as far as consumer products go, that negative sentiment doesn’t reach anywhere beyond. With something like Twilight, it’s a sense of resentment that can reach a very large scale and ruin a movie before it opens.
But what about The Hunger Games? Well, there’s an interesting variation on how Lionsgate managed to build themselves the next big Hollywood golden goose. Suzanne Collins had already sold a few million copies of her trilogy when they acquired the rights and the media immediately pointed out how it could potentially become the next Twilight. After all, we have a female heroine fighting her way through extraordinary threats while falling for two completely different male counterparts. It’s as if Lionsgate had understood the principle of greek yogurt not translating to the movie business, because they released a marketing campaign that had much more in common with George Orwell than Stephenie Meyer. They went all-out on the science-fiction elements, emphasized the commentary on social classes and pushed the movie towards a male audience. The result is that it became a new phenomenon of its own, not a derivative of what had already been making a profit.
At the time of publishing this piece, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is currently on track for a tepid 13.9 million dollar five-day opening. Put me in the camp of those who wish that money could have gone towards something new and original instead, something we haven’t seen yet. It’s incredibly lame to copy greek yogurt when you’re only one or two years away from another flavor taking off and your company could be making it before everyone else.
As Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky used to say: “I score because I don’t go where the puck is. I go where the puck is going to be.”
– The Sleepy Skunk
Even though I have no expertise to speak of, I get asked questions by movie fans from time to time. One came through last week from Quentin M. through my Sleepy Skunk facebook page. He stated that once the superhero movie craze feels oversaturated and on the decline in Hollywood, video game movies will be the next untapped market that studios will keep gushing about. He also raised the very good point that while it’s undeniable that movies based on famous video games have seen a fair share of unfortunate attempts, it did take several bad movies for the comic book genre to get the treatment audiences loved. His question was simply whether I agreed, and it got me thinking about why video game movies haven’t been able to pull it off so far.
Is the problem that video games are not taken seriously or that too few consumers care about them? I don’t see how that could be argued considering the incredible growth it has experienced and the fact that the main demographic with the largest residual income (30-45) has grown up with them at this point. Last year, Forbes Magazine was reporting that the global video game industry will reach estimated revenues of 82 billion dollars by 2017. The bottom line is that we love video games, and would love to see great video game movies being released on a yearly basis.
What I perceive instead is a much bigger problem that was omnipresent back in the 1980’s when Eric Roberts starred as The Coca-Cola Kid or Ronald McDonald was making an unintentionally creepy announcement in the middle of Saturday morning cartoons about how he was getting into the movie business. The problem is that no matter how much we love a famous brand, we won’t want to see a movie version of it unless there are characters associated to it that we care about.
For all intents and purposes, let’s say that the CEO of SC Johnson wants to invest 80 million dollars to make a movie about his most prominent brand: Windex. Your first reaction as studio executive should be to laugh out loud and say “Come on, now. Have some self-respect, Sir!” but you are too busy focusing on the fact that SC Johnson is basically eliminating your fixed cost liability by paying for the movie’s production entirely. All you’d have to do is delegate it to capable talent and sell it with a big marketing push and the money will just print itself. Windex is a brand we all know and love, right? The famous hard-surface cleaner has been around since 1933 and its popularity has even led to a “Windex shot” being mixed by bartenders around the globe (vodka, triple sec, and Blue Curaçao for those who had a rough week).
Once you’ve accepted that it’s an absurd proposal that is just too good to ignore, there are basically two ways to tackle this: either you make a movie that puts Windex as a central plot device or you go ahead and make a good movie that could be called something else but somehow includes Windex. If you go with the former, you will end up with something similar to 1993’s dismal adaptation of Super Mario Bros. Audiences will be glad to see a movie that focuses on everything they love about your product. However, your movie will ultimately feel confusing in its intent because of a forced, uninspired plot based on material that wasn’t meant to be on the big screen.
I very much prefer the second approach which would give you a movie like last Summer’s Battleship. You hire talented individuals and make a rehash of Independence Day that gives people what they want. Similar to Battle: Los Angeles but with good looking actors wearing California-bound outfits and more humor to keep it light. Then, once everything is in the can, you slap the product name on the final reel like a red-hot branding iron on a cow’s thigh and you sell it. You package it and you sell it. Audiences who choose to see the movie will come out thinking it was good, which makes it better than the first approach at least. Unfortunately for you, few audience members will choose to see it because they will find the integration of your brand too awkward which will dismiss your effort entirely.
The conclusion is that a Windex movie cannot be made and should not be made no matter how sweet the financial optics might look like. Windex is a window-cleaning product, which does not inspire emotions from people. Batman inspires emotions from audiences because he’s an orphan who lost his parents at a young age and used his intellect and resources to inflict vengeance on criminals. It’s not Batman™ as a brand that keeps us coming back to theaters. It’s his origin story, his internal demons and his ability to overcome fear. That’s what audiences are promised whenever a new Batman movie is announced. Go back to the box-office archive and see for yourself. Brand name movies that succeeded were always blessed with an already established emotional connection to the masses. The ones that failed more than often did not.
On February 7th 2014, Warner Bros. will attempt to cheat that golden rule by releasing The Lego Movie in theaters nationwide. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller – the duo responsible for the surprisingly entertaining Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs – this project aims to promote a brand (LEGO™) to younger audiences who appear to have left their tangible toys and games behind in favor of digital entertainment at an increasingly young age. The attempt is somewhat honorable: By animating the brand and presenting a compelling adventure to your audience, you inspire your target market to renew their excitement for your product. If anything I said above is remotely true, this will suffer the same fate as Battleship and sink faster than you can say ‘E-2’.
Here’s the twist, however: Warner Bros. understood that, and went shopping into their DC catalog to make the movie feature characters we already know and love. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern will finally get to team-up on the big screen – but only as small, yellow parodies of their own legendary selves. Will that brand new formula break the curse and make a branded movie with no characters originally attached a box-office success? If the successful LEGO video game series featuring such character-centric properties as Star Wars and Indiana Jones are any indication, I believe the answer will be a resounding yes.
Next time a corporate marketing team is ready to make a movie in order to revive their brands, all movie studios have to do is to ask themselves two questions: 1) Are there characters attached to this brand that audiences CARE ABOUT? YES / NO and 2) If you answered NO, can you find a way to include characters that audiences CARE ABOUT into the movie in any possible way? YES / NO.
If the answer is NO to both questions, I hope they save themselves the embarrassment and turn down that suitcase of Windex money. Either that or they decide to go for it and provide skunks like me with months of free material to make fun of them. To answer Quentin’s original question, I believe that video game movies will become prominent in Hollywood once the characters that inhabit them have been so well-developed that we genuinely care about them. Perhaps a recent release like the very character-focused The Last of Us could make a great movie. Perhaps it will in a few years. In the meantime, let’s all allow ourselves to dream up fake posters for Windex: The Motion Picture.
“This Summer, The Battle for Survival Will Shine On Almost Any Surface!”
Good job studios. Good job…
– The Sleepy Skunk
Have you ever been in a situation in the past, however young you might be, where you were running late to the movie theater and knew you were going to miss some of the trailers? You would be estimating the amount of minutes these previews normally played and would reassure everyone that by the time you got through the torrential rain, bought your tickets and got to your seats, you wouldn’t have missed the beginning of your movie. But deep down inside – and especially if the internet had yet to see the light of day which means you could only see trailers in a movie theater – you would feel deeply disappointed about missing the trailers.
Movie trailers are an embodiment of storytelling in its simplest, shortest and yet often most compelling form. We never get tired of them and when a really great one hits the silver screen, we can recite it in our minds a million times over. What a marketing textbook will define as an abbreviated sales pitch for coming attractions fails to capture the most important element of trailers which is the sense of mystery and wonder it instills when it comes to features we barely even heard of. We call them teaser trailers because we take great pleasure in having our imaginations teased, and most moviegoers will agree that these trailers are as complimentary to their moviegoing experience as ketchup would be to fries.
Back then, the length of time reserved to movie trailers would rarely exceed the ten minute mark. We would get two, maybe three previews to chew on and the feature presentation would roll in right away. As you might have experienced if you’ve been to a multiplex in recent years, such good old days are long gone and show no signs of ever coming back. According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter last month, theater owners are apparently being inundated with complaints from the public that twenty minutes of previews is overbearing and completely unacceptable. Thus, they felt they had no other choice but to ask studios to reduce the length of their trailers down to two minutes in order to accommodate the moviegoing public’s dismay.
Well, pardon my French if you would be so kind but that is a prodigious stack of ‘caca de boeuf’ if I ever smelled one.
We’ve been subjected to movie trailers before movies for decades so how could the complaints about their length be possibly rolling in now? Maybe I’d better hit you with that one again because it is delightfully absurd: The National Association of Theater Owners is attempting to single out a practice they’ve encompassed in their process for as long as they’ve been in business as an alarming issue that calls for studios to step back. Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and if it is broke, that means something must have changed. Oh, I know! I know! It’s the twelve to fifteen minutes of car and shampoo commercials that you’re shoving down our throats before the trailers even if we paid our hard-earned money to rent ourselves a seat in your theater.
Theoretically, the concept is tremendously flawed to begin with. Just imagine you’re at a music concert for an artist you’ve been waiting to see for months. Suddenly the lights go down and you can hear a sense of euphoria in the crowd. Smoke comes out from each side of the stage and a giant screen scrolls down. Perhaps an introductory video about the artist’s career? No, it’s a car commercial from Mazda. Zoom Zoom or whatever. Now let’s be rational for a second – these concerts are tremendously expensive to put together and the artist probably retains a large percentage of the ticket sales so they probably had Mazda pay the big bucks as a major sponsor. Okay, another commercial. That one’s for Lexus. The pursuit of whatever. And another commercial. And another one. And one more, probably the last one? Nope, another one. Considering you’ve paid good money to be at that concert and that you’re being advertised at the moment you were excited for the concert to begin, how would that make you feel?
Twenty minutes of previews before a movie starts is indeed ridiculous and by requesting for trailers to be cut down by 30 seconds, theater owners might be simply plotting to throw more car commercials at us. Making recommendations and trying find a way to cut back on that time is commendable, but pointing fingers at movie trailers and criticizing their very nature after all these years is a preposterous approach to the situation. If AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Cineplex were so kind to accommodate our frustration, I invite them to pass out a survey to their patrons and see whether they would prefer to A) cut back on movie trailers or B) cut back on advertisements. If they could also proceed to provide us with the names of the one of two individuals who decided to go with A), we’ll be more than happy to conveniently meet them behind the theater after the movie and put some sense into them.
Let’s face it: Commercials before movie trailers will carry on. People will keep sitting through them and suffer in silence. For me personally, being passively exposed to an endless stream of adverts while sipping on my flavored fountain coke and browsing my smart phone reminds me of my own death. I look around the theater at times and I have that Orwellian sense that others also secretly share my sense of resentment. From the advertising company’s standpoint, seducing us in that setting is already a lost battle. Give us something funny and we won’t laugh. Give us something flashy and we won’t stare. Give us something hypocritical and we’ll even make snarks. It’s bad enough that one time a cat fight between two girl friends was erupting in the back row and listening to them bickering about respect and “stabbing your best girl in the back” lightened me up during those ads. It wasn’t something I had asked to be exposed to either, but at least it was unexpected and it felt real.
Now more than ever, the recurrent and ever-increasing conundrum about old-school “presentation-style” advertising is that we are no longer interested in seeing it and, most importantly, we no longer feel that we should be subjected to it. We don’t want products shown to us anymore because we consider that companies should interact with us individually if they truly want our business. Perhaps times are changing or perhaps the new generation is just that special. The fact still remains that when we go to the movies, we sit down and silently tolerate the numerous commercials that defile before our eyes.
What the advertisers currently purchasing these expensive spots need to ask themselves at this point is: Do they want us to consider purchasing their brands, or do they want us to tolerate them until they go away? – The Sleepy Skunk