Clumsy Integration: Why Audiences Don’t Care About Brands, Only About Characters

 

Lego

 

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

Why Batman Versus Superman is the Best Thing to Happen to Warner Bros. Since the Looney Tunes

 

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San Diego Comic-Con is the masterful geek event of the year that reminds millions of guys out there that having a girlfriend is highly overrated. Wondrous things were cooking again last week-end at Hall H when the two master of ceremonies – Marvel’s Joss Whedon and DC’s Zack Snyder – made some major announcements that were simply too big to ignore. The one from Whedon was a movie title and a villain reveal – one that would have meant more had Whedon also hinted at a specific comic book storyline being adapted. He is very much going in his own direction with the character, however, and only the foolish would seriously complain about ‘Whedon doing his thing’.

On the other side of the spectrum, the next step in the DC Universe has been announced: The Man of Steel sequel WILL BE featuring a new Batman. It isn’t the Justice League movie that so many fanboys have been hoping for, but it is a step in the right direction, and quite frankly, a very necessary one. Snyder has already confirmed that he will offer his own fresh interpretation on Batman, meaning Christopher Nolan’s Bat-Universe would probably have little, if any, ties to this new DC Universe. Almost certainly, this new Batman will comfortably spin into his own franchise and Christian Bale is not going to be in the same room or non-past tense sentence as Batman ever again. Since the SDCC announcement, bookmakers have already favored Joseph Gordon-Levitt to star as the new Dark Knight. As much as we would LOVE to see a baby-faced actor play one of the darkest super heroes ever created, casting JGL as Batman essentially means Dick Grayson takes over the mantle of Batman and Bruce Wayne will cease to exist in the new franchise. While that might have been my suggestion regarding the demise of Hal Jordan and the introduction of John Stewart to properly reboot The Green Lantern, Bruce Wayne is and will always remain the only true caped crusader.

Having a World’s Finest movie is definitely a bold move because Warner Bros. needs the spotlight back on them and start taking risks if they want to build the foundation of a franchise that could yield billions of dollars for them. In my last piece, I discussed the prospect of individual movies like the Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern to establish the franchise, but that became insignificant when Christian Bale essentially rejected the notion of playing Batman again. Superman and Batman are the two most marketable characters in the DC Universe and you need the two anchors to be fully established in a shared DC Universe to make the other complementary characters work. Just imagine if Robert Downey Jr. had rejected the contract to play Iron Man in the next Avengers movies. He’s the glue that holds the team together! Batman is that character to the Justice League.

Many feel that Man of Steel was “too big” of a movie – meaning the fight scenes through buildings, Krypton, and the world engine were an absolute overkill of eye candy (and actual killing if we want to take that one literally). While it’s hard to supersede that much action in a sequel, this Batman vs Superman flick will surely deal with the emotion and weakness of Superman in order to properly adapt and scale it back down. Unlike Zod and the gang, Batman can be murdered by Superman with the flick of his pinky, and thus we can all agree that the action should be on a much smaller scale in this sequel. This is a good thing though, as the audience will get to connect with Kal El on a more personal basis, making him even more marketable.

But what about Batman? Will Warner Bros surely risk the foundation of a billion dollar franchise on a lesser-known celebrity? My gut tells me that Armie Hammer was virtually trying out for this role with Lone Ranger, to see if he could carry a movie with Johnny Depp as his sidekick. Boxofficemojo.com has been quantitatively reporting to us that he can’t. It is so important for WB to have a big-time celebrity play the new Dark Knight because Marvel’s Avengers has Robert Downey Jr. as the main guy – an actor we fell in love with all over again but already had admiration for a long time ago. The new Bruce Wayne will have to put a Justice League movie on his back and guide a new Batman franchise to stardom, just as RDJ did as Iron Man. Who can go head-to-head with RDJ as Iron Man? Maybe George Clooney, but sadly Joel Shumacher ruined his shot at it. I would personally go with Michael Fassbender. Recently rose to fame, already respected in the comic book genre, incredibly talented and undeniably dark in his demeanor.

Zack Snyder has already stated that he will not adapt the Dark Knight Returns storyline by Frank Miller in the sequel, but hinted that he will use it as potential inspiration. What does this mean? Probably the type of Batman we will see, as well as the rivalry between the two superheroes. How this rivalry will spawn the Justice League, however, will be very intriguing and interesting to predict. We probably won’t see the Flash, Wonder Woman or Green Lantern in this flick, as its main purpose is to reintroduce a new Batman to the world and make Superman more personable and even perhaps relatable.

Fanboys and general audiences alike loved the bonus credit scenes that Marvel incorporated into their movies. If DC does anything like that, they will be labelled copycats and that’s not very nice now, is it? Nevertheless, we did enjoy the little easter eggs in Man of Steel, such as Christopher Reeve’s face against the World Engine, the LexCorp logos on the truck and building, and the Wayne Enterprises satellite. Keep this up, DC! Maybe have Superman walk around STAR Labs and pass by a green Martian. Or have a bolt of lightning strike in the background as Superman flies through Keystone City. These will help connect little dots between the movies and make your core fanbase crave for more.

The bar is set so high to replace Christian Bale as Batman. We will all be excited to see a new Batman and can expect to see one even grittier than Nolan’s considering Snyder’s affinity for violence and antihero types.  Have no fear, I am fairly confident we won’t be seeing a Clooney Batman pulling his “Bat-Credit Card” in front of his nemesis and utter such unfortunate words as “Never leave the cave without it.” Curse you Akiva Goldsman! We’re still mad at you for that line!

– The Silent Shark

“We Get the Summer Movies We Deserve” or “Who’s Excited for Grown Ups 3?”

 

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The weekend of July 12-14, 2013 saw the release of two major Hollywood summertime releases: Grown Ups 2 and Pacific Rim. Grown Ups 2 is the sequel to the most successful live-action film of Adam Sandler’s career; it’s also one of the worst-reviewed movies of the year, standing at a putrid 6% on Rotten Tomatoes. Pacific Rim is clearly the more critically recommended of the two films, with a solid 71% Rotten Tomatoes score. It’s an original science-fiction concept co-written and directed by an Academy Award nominated filmmaker. So how did things shake down at the weekend box office? Grown Ups 2 made $41.5 million, and Pacific Rim made $37.2 million. Neither film made as much as Despicable Me 2, which took first place with $43.8 million. Although not the disaster that some analysts were predicting a few weeks ago, the only-middling success of Pacific Rim is the latest example of why Hollywood studios won’t take risks, and aren’t likely to start until audiences show them the money.

It’s the ultimate Hollywood chicken-or-egg question: is the modern box-office landscape dominated by sequels and remakes because these films are successful, or are these films successful because they dominate the landscape?

Summer of 2013 hasn’t had much to offer thus far in terms of originality. The most successful film, by an overwhelming margin, has been Iron Man 3. At the time of this writing, Iron Man 3 has taken in approximately $407 million domestically, with a worldwide total of about $1.2 billion (good for #5 on the list of all-time worldwide grosses without adjusting for inflation). The top 5 domestic releases of 2013 to date are rounded out by Man of Steel, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, and Oz the Great and Powerful. All of these films are either sequels, or brazen attempts to start a franchise based on familiar source material. The most successful film of the summer to be based on an original idea has been The Heat, which has made about $114 million domestically – not bad for a film that cost $43 million to make, but ultimately less than 30% of Iron Man 3’s domestic gross.

On one hand, Hollywood represents democratic capitalism at its most essential level – show us the money, and we’ll show you more. We get Iron Man 3 because of nothing other than a perception of demand, and the film’s stratospheric box-office is essentially validation of that perception. By contrast, when audiences don’t show studios the money, studios tend to cut their losses and move on. A box of Van Helsing action figures is languishing in an attic somewhere, and Ryan Reynolds has enough hardly-worn superhero costumes at this point to make some serious cash at a Comic-Con garage sale. It’s difficult to argue that Hollywood gives us what we don’t ask for.

But what if what we ask for is constrained by our perception of our choices? If the question posed to audiences is “do you want more Iron Man, or more Green Lantern?”, the answer may be clear, but it may not be reflective of what audiences genuinely want.

Certain films are destined to make money not because of what they are, but because of when they happen to be released. A recent study has shown that almost half of moviegoers decide what film to see on the day that they purchase their ticket. In other words, a huge number of moviegoers decide to go to the movies first, and then they decide what to see based on the options that are available. Even if everything in the marketplace has been poorly reviewed, the “least bad” option is likely to rise to the top. So a movie like Iron Man 3 ends up becoming a massive hit not necessarily because it’s great, but because it’s Saturday night, it’s time to go to movies, and the only other thing that’s playing is an R-rated bodybuilder heist movie that’s two weeks old. If it’s a well-reviewed movie, and Iron Man 3 certainly is, that’s all the better. But even a lousy movie can overperform with an assist from a great release date.

Studios are acutely aware of the importance of release date real estate, which is why they go through the trouble of claiming release dates upwards of four years in advance. Better clear your schedule for June 10, 2016 if you want to be first in line for The Amazing Spider-Man 3…assuming that you enjoy The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which won’t be out until next May.

The pressure to fill a limited number of available summer weekends with successful content is enormous. We’re now witnessing what amounts to a special effects arms race between studios, as they each try to outdo each other with an ever more impressive level of spectacle. As this arms race has escalated, the budgets of studio tentpoles have gotten absolutely out of control. In 2003, there were 10 wide releases that came in with reported budgets of $100 million or higher. By 2012, there were 23 films with reported budgets at that level. Seven of these films had budgets of $200 million or higher. The most expensive film of 2002 was Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines with a reported budget of $170 million. That a $170 million budget should seem quaint in retrospect is the ultimate indictment of a broken business model.

The current environment, in which inevitable release dates are given to films of escalating cost, can be distilled to a simple proposition that helps explain the dearth of originality in the marketplace: major Hollywood studios are no longer in the business of trying to create hits; they are in the business of trying to avoid bombs. The risk mitigation inherent in sequels, remakes and would-be franchises is a defensive reaction to a financial mess of Hollywood’s own making.

If spending over $200 million on a known quantity like Superman is considered “risky”, then spending $200 million on a concept is that is unknown and untested is a whole other category of risk. But every so often, a filmmaker with enough clout is able to convince a studio to take a chance on an original idea. In 2010, Christopher Nolan’s Inception made over $290 million domestically and went on to be nominated for Best Picture. Pacific Rim represents the latest attempt at auteur blockbuster filmmaking, but based on the film’s opening weekend gross, it’s going to have a difficult time reaching the heights of Inception. As anyone who has seen Pacific Rim is likely to tell you, that’s a shame: while by no means a perfect film, by applying cutting-edge special effects to a Japanese B-movie aesthetic, Guillermo del Toro has created something unique and visionary. It’s the kind of larger-than-life cinematic experience that inspires kids to become filmmakers.

If audiences are unwilling to support original concepts, then these cinematic experiences may become all too rare. Original concepts may become relegated to the world of low-to-mid budgeted films like The Purge, The Heat, and Now You See Me, while studios save their big guns for stories and characters that come with a built-in audience. Why shouldn’t they? Why take a chance on another Pacific Rim when you can make Fast & Furious 6 and watch the dollars roll in?

There’s nothing really wrong with Fast & Furious 6, or Iron Man 3. Both films are well-crafted and entertaining. They accomplish what they set out to accomplish. The problem is that, well-crafted though they may be, these films are ultimately inconsequential. No one will be talking about Fast & Furious 6 a year from now, let alone ten years from now. Sequels and remakes may make financial sense, but they diminish our collective imagination. In an era in which fewer and fewer people seem to revere the experience of going to the movies, when the latest release can be downloaded instantly and watched on an iPad, the spectre of a creatively impoverished movie culture is of genuine concern.

As the saying goes, decisions are made by those who show up. Show up for Pacific Rim this weekend. Show up for Elysium on August 9th. Send a signal that great stories are great business. Otherwise, don’t complain in two years when it’s Saturday night, it’s time to go to the movies, and the only thing playing is Grown Ups 3. The high stakes game of blockbuster filmmaking comes down to dollars – make yours count.

– The Sarcastic Squirrel

Unrestricted Content: A Nostalgic Look at Censorship

 

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Is there such thing as a restricted movie anymore? I know that there is still an MPAA that rates movies as G, PG, PG-13, R (or the seldom used NC-17) and that it has done so since 1968 when the new system abolished the dated Hays code. But what I’m less clear about is whether or not the restricted rating has any remaining clout whatsoever as far as kids under 18 are concerned. In an age when any upcoming release, deemed PG or Restricted, will become equally available to any party with remote interest just weeks after a movie’s release date, are rating systems even relevant anymore? The fact is, to which almost any movie fan born before the ‘90s can attest, the MPAA branding of a new dark (thus cool) movie used to matter. It used to matter a great deal. Today it seems like the restricted rating and all its formerly oppressive connotations, as I knew it as a 14-year-old, has vanished.

While it may seem odd that I’m so concerned with what a 14-year-old should be allowed to see – I am no parent after all – it is only because in a strange way I feel sorry for a generation that can access whatever adult intended content they want whenever they want. But why feel sorry for a generation that essentially is living my 14-year-old dream? I should really be happy for kids today who are now able to see almost any film, no matter how vile the subject matter with minimal hassle. The only problem is, how can I be happy for a generation of kids who don’t know how to be happy for themselves? It’s interesting to consider, if as a kid I was able to see whatever lurid movie I so desperately desired, what would have become of my desire?

Growing up in Canada during the ‘90s, my personal MPAA equivalent, The Ontario Review Board, was even stricter than in the States. If a movie was given an “R” rating it meant that there were to be no kids in that theater without exception. To my extreme envy, the American government did offer such an exception, rightfully championing the role of the parent as the one who should be responsible for choosing what their kids could or could not see without the oppressive hand of the government censoring content. In other words, if your parents or older siblings were cool enough, with adult supervision (someone who could presumably put all the things you’ve seen into context), you could basically see all the pivotal restricted movies. Being Canadian, you’d be lucky to have a parent willing to take you to the new darker-than-usual John Woo film while on an American vacation. In America it seemed all good, at least as long as nudity wasn’t involved. North America has always been especially squeamish with things having to do with sex and nudity, and nowhere was this more prevalent than in the confusing priorities of the MPAA. I’ll always consider Jessie Spano’s Showgirls as the quintessential NC-17-rated film. Longstanding complaints often directed at the MPAA concern its views that brutal violence is more appropriate than the female body.

Interestingly, when the Hays code was replaced in the ‘70s, the modern perspective on the subject seemed to be that the world was essentially divided into two groups: those who were over the age of 18 and those who were younger. What was appropriate for an 18 year old was far less so for someone of 17. And what was okay viewing for a 17 year old was just as well for a 10 year. If, like me, you ever found yourself wondering why kids movies of the ‘80s were so much darker and more haunting than those of today, my personal feeling is that it somehow boils down to studio attempts to appeal to such a wide age demographic simultaneously. A person undergoes more drastic changes in this 8-year time span than they usually ever will again in their lives. How do you appeal to both ends of the formative years?

For over 15 years, this over/under-18 distinction dictated what kids were exposed to but in 1984 that all came to a crashing halt with Spielberg’s first Indiana Jones sequel, The Temple of Doom. Given that Raiders of the Lost Ark was such a colossal success, Temple of Doom was one of the most anticipated movies of the sequel-heavy decade. And like the extremely frightening Raiders, it was rated PG. What nobody expected was for Spielberg to follow his widely beloved adventure with a significantly darker chapter in the archaeological saga. Everyone took their age 7+ kids to the voodoo-laden tale of ancient evil that saw Indy temporarily turn evil and hit a small boy named Short Round. A generation of kids was utterly traumatized by the horrifying images contained within. Parents felt betrayed by the seemingly friendly blockbuster that left their kids awake at night. So angry was the response that the government was forced to step in and create the PG-13 rating. I was one of those kids and yet growing up, Indy 2 was always my favorite of the trilogy. Even though the film caused so much pain and upset, I suppose I was learning that there’s an exciting quality about that which you’re most afraid. And so, like every other pre-teen around me, I grew to love subjects in movies I’d probably be better off avoiding.

Once you grow into your teenage years, with experience comes an evolving taste for content that over time, gradually surpasses the material provided by movies rated PG-13; or Ontario’s Adult Accompaniment (AA), which was essentially the same thing except Ontario drew the line at 14 years old, allowing in slightly edgier movies as a small condolence for not allowing parents the right to accompany kinds into R rated theaters. As far as kids seeing Restricted movies went, legally, a kid would have to wait until they were 18 with zero exception, despite the fact that most R rated movies released, such as the entire horror genre, are prominently geared towards 15 to 17 year-old boys. And since being a teenager is very much about discovering how truly bizarre the world is, to be disallowed to taste that forbidden fruit was unacceptable.

Given that the ratings board had so much power over my entertainment, the release of the Thursday paper could be a pretty suspenseful event. For it would not be till the day before a film’s release, and sometimes not till the release date itself, that you would find out whether it was given an AA rating , which would allow you to see the highly coveted film without stress, or an R rating which would pose an often insurmountable conflict. Whenever a trailer would come out offering an upcoming look at a movie of seemingly endless awesomeness, the looming devastation of the R was always hovering amidst the release.

Then Friday would come and sometimes – enough times to warrant this as a topic of teenage consternation – it would happen; a movie like American Psycho or Fight Club, movies with trailers suggesting mind-blowing awesomeness with suggestive hints at depravity, would get branded with the dreaded Ontario R rating. And with the R came a set of hoops that you and your accomplices would have to jump through to make the experience happen for you. Overcoming these required obstacles in order to earn that exciting light at the end of the tunnel provided kids with a sense of adventurous purpose – a deeply important mission. Because if you failed to see movies like Scream, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Boogie Nights in theaters, given the state of home-video in the mid-‘90s, it would be a dreadfully long turnaround before you’d be able to watch the modified full screen version on your tiny television cube. So if you really cared about movies, given that home video was light years away from today’s home theatre viewing experience, the stakes involved in attempting to catch good movies on proper big screens were astronomically high.

As a result, successfully sneaking into an R rated film – seldom an easy feat – and earning the wonderfully twisted cinematic experiences waiting at the other end of the tunnel, provided some of the most rewarding experiences of my youth. We became experts on the subject of approach. A successful sneak-in was like a true work of art and similarly to the greatest of heist movies, the more challenging the job, the better the narrative. Drive-in movie theaters were still in abundance and should you be traveling with an elder, drive-ins were the easiest gig out there. Your run-of-the-mill mall theater posed more complicated challenges like getting past the squeaky-voiced teen guarding the auditorium entrance door. Being able to outsmart the geek would require stealth, calculated timing, and actual blueprints.

Eventually the time did come when I turned 18 and suddenly overnight, an entire world of adult-intended material was immediately accessible. Not much longer after my 18th birthday, the Ontario Ratings Board would re-evaluate its rating system to address all the issues which made my teenage years a constant battle. Much like the invention of the PG-13 bridged a gap between two very distinct demographics, Ontario’s new 18a rating provided the bridge between AA and truly restricted material. And yet while I really could’ve used that bridge growing up, the excitement of my countless sneaks, for better or worse, provided some of my most action packed days.

I think most people born before the ‘90s had similar experiences with forbidden films growing up and it is my suggestion that these experiences served to put the restricted movie on a much-needed pedestal. Going beyond the sneak-in fun factor, when I think about the state of censorship today, I find myself nostalgic for a time when a new horror movie was something to look forward to, or at least consider special. So many movies are released today via so many means it’s a wonder any one title feels special anymore. I can’t speak for the youth of today – though feel free to consider this a non-pedophilic call to 14-year old boys to come forward with their feelings on the matter, if there is even a matter for them to speak of – but it’s my suspicion that an enthusiastic appetite for adult-geared material once existed that has dissolved in the modern age of fully accessible entertainment. I’m not saying that kids don’t like watching crazy shit anymore – there will always be a teenage market for crazy shit – it’s just that if there is still such thing as “Restricted” what the hell does that even mean or do?

With modern channels like HBO or Netflix providing commonplace content as gory as anything I was forbidden to see for years, has the practice of hiding things from our youth died completely? Is it even possible to conceal dark entertainment anymore? Or to put it another way, has society lightened up or given up? And what of the generation raised on exposure to any random movie at any age? Is it healthy to take violence for granted the way kids watching Game of Thrones surely must or does all this over-exposure help in the fight to differentiate fiction from reality? I couldn’t begin to speak to these questions. Perhaps I could if I were a teacher, parent or pedophile, but I am simply a preservationist fan of curiously morbid movies and the tradition of looking forward to them. I mourn for the R-rated cachet. – The Silly Serpent

I Hate Your Car Already: Why Companies Are Hurting Themselves By Advertising Before Movies

 

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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