It was awful. The game, up until the fourth quarter, was a dog ugly low scoring defensive battle, as patience trying as the big show ever gets. Both teams looked skittish and out of their element, with New York finally finding the fire late enough to pull out a victory. Even Fox’s announcing team (Joe Buck and Troy Aikman) seemed unable to work up the energy to actually care. Their last minute accolades sounded hollow and rote. But maybe the worst element of the 42nd Super Bowl telecast this year was the horrendous commercials. There was nothing memorable or remotely clever. Controversy gave over to safe as milk shilling, and the closest thing to innovation came from Coke, who had a pair of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons (Stewie Griffin and Underdog) fighting over an inflated bottle of the famed soda.
So Hollywood can’t be happy. Last year, in a bid to ignore the demographic potential of the NFL’s premiere event, the studios only bought four major ads - and the films they represented (Wild Hogs, Meet the Robinsons, Hannibal Rising, and Pride) were hardly the cream of the crop. This year, that number more than doubled. If you count the two brief trailers that played prior to kick-off and the one obvious tie-in with Bud Lite, there were 11 sneak peeks (the four hours of pre-game hype were not taken into consideration). By contrast, Fox advertised its own network fare 43 times, pimping everything from the FX cable channel to The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Still, Tinsel Town tried to put on its game face during this writer’s strike hobbled awards season, and for the most part, it looked like they we playing their practice squad. In fact, aside from one outright surprise, the movies featured were obvious and the previews themselves uninspired.
First up was the underperforming one two punch of Vantage Point and Drillbit Taylor. The former is a supposed thriller where eight people witness the assassination of the President. We then get a hyper-Rashomon rehash of what supposedly happened. Of course, the trailer gives away one of the movie’s main secrets (apparently, the Commander in Chief did not die) and what initially looked like an actioner comes back feeling like a crackpot conspiracy theory retread. Still, it has more potential than the freaks and geeks groaner Taylor. Owen Wilson, looking incredibly tired, plays bodyguard to a bunch of socially awkward dorks. The humor is forced and totally focused on putting nerds in uncomfortable athletic positions and watching them fail. Hardee-har-har-har.
Once the game began, the First Quarter found limited offense and even less film news. Not a single ad for a Hollywood production aired during the initial hour-plus of the Super Bowl. When a trailer finally did arrive it was for something called Wanted. Directed by Russian genre guide Timur Bekmanbetov (of Night/Day/Twilight Watch fame) it looks like a combination of The Matrix and Shoot ‘Em Up. While the 30 second spot offers very little of the plot - lots of big bang money shots, but little else - we do get to see Angelina Jolie doing her best non-VR Trinity, and Morgan Freeman packing heat. The curving bullet bit may be the visual selling point at this juncture, but there needs to be more information on the skilled assassin storyline before a verdict can truly be rendered.
A film we’ve heard a great deal about already, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, finally got a full blown F/X ad, and the results were…mixed. The shots of our hero in flight were fleeting, and Robert Downey Jr. did very little except look concerned and spout blockbuster buzzspeak. The closing moments when our metal marvel takes a pot shot at a tank stands as a memorable image. Still, with nearly three more months left before the film finally bows, the marketers are going to have to do more than offer up small snippets of CGI if anyone besides comic fans are going to get excited. And leave it to the NFL to leech all the potential fun out of George Clooney’s period football comedy Leathernecks by trying to find an appropriate league link to the clearly fictional flick. The historical approach was hackneyed and somewhat crude.
Disney dropped the last trailer before halftime, and oddly enough, it was the edited version of the longer in theaters The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian ad. If you needed further proof that the House of Mouse and Walden Entertainment are positioning this faux franchise to be a less D&D oriented version of The Lord of the Rings, the bombastic, attempted epic scope of the 30 second piece is all the evidence you need. Between huge water beings, ethereal witches, roaring lions, and lots of stand-offish swordplay, we have the kind of tamed down Tolkien that everyone can enjoy. With the success of the first film, the sequel was inevitable. How successful the latest installment is will be based solely on how well Uncle Walt can sell the spectacle. So far, they’re succeeding.
Once Tom Petty finished running through songs that he popularized over a decade (or more) ago during a decent if neo-nostalgic halftime show, the game returned - and so did the trailers. Semi-Pro, the latest Will Ferrell hard-R comedy delivered a 15 second clip that highlighted the more physical side of the film’s humor. Dressed in his ill-fitting basketball uniform and massive red afro, we got a surreal stunt sequence. It was the kind of physical comedy bit that continues to give post-modern slapstick a bad name. Better was the Fourth Quarter hook up with beer maker Budweiser. Still decked out in his iconic gear, Ferrell ran through a series of smutty entendres that were far funnier than anything offered the first time around.
Pixar picked up the pace, if only a little, by dragging out Toy Story stars Woody and Buzz for a commentary like commercial for the predestined Summer smash, WALL-E. As the recognizable voice of Tom Hanks explained a bit about the premise, our cute little robot does battle with a vacuum cleaner. Nothing new or novel here, especially not the title character’s occasional mechanical Macaulay Culkin mugging for the camera. It’s not that WALL-E is unappealing. It’s just that, so far, Pixar seems to be selling the film based on its name and reputation alone, and little else. At this point in their production history, they may have earned that right. But for anyone curious as to what the film is actually about, these initial trailers are incredibly tight-lipped.
A movie that should keep its big, loud, obnoxious mouth shut is Jumper. Hayden Christiansen, hoping to prove there is career legitimacy after ruining the Star Wars saga, plays a variation of his personality-less drone as a guy with a talent for teleportation. Samuel L. Jackson is the bleached blond badass who’s out to kill him. Here’s praying he succeeds. While the preview gives far more play to director Doug Liman (of The Bourne Identity) than anything else, another background name should make film fans wary. David S. Goyer wrote the script with help from Simon Kinberg (xXx: State of the Union) and Jim Uhls (Fight Club). While his collaborators have some intriguing credits, our main screenwriter has proven to be a very uneven scribe.
That just leaves the last trailer, a real shocker for something called You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. It’s Adam Sandler’s latest, and about as far from the appalling I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry as a standard Stud Boy comedy can get. It’s back to the old familiar formula that made the ex-SNLer a superstar - freaky foreign accent, weird premise (Israeli Secret Serviceman fakes his death only to reemerge as a NYC hairdresser) and lots of certifiably stupid sight gags. It may be the fact that few outside the industry knew this was in the pipes, or Sandler’s surreal appearance and voice, but this spot seemed very bizarre - and very funny. Of course, the film could be a real loser, but at this point, the preview is suggesting otherwise.
And then, that was it. The Giants hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, Eli got some MVP swag to place on the mantle next to Peyton’s, the Patriots took to the tunnel, dejected and somewhere, the still smug old men who once called themselves the ‘72 Miami Dolphins uncorked the champagne and celebrated another undefeated team’s competitive comeuppance. From a pure sports history perspective, this Super Bowl will probably go down as one of the lamest excuses for athletic prowess that ended up producing the biggest single story (18-0 team finally loses) of the new millennium. Sadly, the Madison Avenue minds responsible for the commercials came up incredibly short. Even Hollywood failed to hold up its end.