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Super Spots or Big Blunders

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Tuesday, Feb 8, 2011
A lot of production, distribution, and marketing companies spent a lot of time and a lot of money to air ads for movies that are six months away. Which ones will make them a lot of money instead of costing exactly that?

By now I’m sure everyone has analyzed and re-analyzed every Super Bowl commercial a few dozen times with friends, family, and that crazy internet blogger who somehow didn’t like the Darth Vader Volkswagon ad. Soon, the ads that aren’t re-aired a hundred thousand times during normal programming will drift out of your memory and into YouTube infamy. Some ads, though, need to be remembered. Some marketers count on it, and may not know if their $3 million clip was worth it til May, June, or July.


Movie previews are those of a different breed. They pop up on Super Bowl Sunday to alert you of their existence and provide enough brief, flashy images to stick in your brain for months and months. Some do it better than others. Some don’t have to try. Some are a giant waste of cash. Most are for people who won’t think too hard about them, but you are clearly not one of those people. Neither am I, so let’s dig in and debate which spots proved worthy of their hefty price tags and which won’t ever see that money again.


Key:
1 – This movie will gross less than it cost to air the ad, and it’s because of this horrid spot.
5 – Meh. It won’t help, but it probably didn’t hurt it either.
10 – I didn’t want to see it before, but I darn sure do now! Wow!
  
Fast Five


Kicking off the evening with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is fine by me, but throwing in Vin “These are the Only Movies I Can Make” Johnson and Paul “Stiff as a 2x4” Walker ruins any positive possibilities for the fifth installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise.


The 30-second spot did nothing to alter my convictions. It’s cut together too quickly to get a good read on any of the scenes, and leaves viewers with nothing memorable until the last few seconds when Vin and Paul jump out of a car as it flies off the edge of a cliff. Cool, but not enticing enough.


Super Bowl movie trailers serve one of two basic purposes – getting the word out the film exists, and making sure the audience is excited for it. Simple cuts like this one serve only the latter because they do not have a scene for viewers to latch onto. There’s nothing to make you say “Wow” or discuss with your friends as soon as the game starts up again. I imagine most partygoers were more shocked by the film’s mere existence.


Rating: 4


 

Cowboys and Aliens


This may actually have served both aforementioned rules. For everyone who missed the full trailer before Harry Potter 7, director Jon Favreau (identified only as “the director of Iron Man in the spot) introduced his vision of cowboys fighting aliens to more than 100 million viewers with the same panache and tongue-in-cheek bravado as its predecessor (and in only 1/5 the time!).


Boasting the names of its A-list pedigree out front to establish credibility, the 30-second spot then preceded to flash a multitude of wild images supporting its out of this world premise. It also offered us some much-appreciated skin when Olivia Wilde showed up naked in front of a bonfire. Combine this with the basic premise of freaking cowboys fighting aliens and you can guaran-damn-tee everyone will be talking about this one for the months to come.


Rating: 8


 


 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon


Wow. Yes, wow. I actually uttered the magic word every producer wants to hear you say following the new preview for T3. No, not Terminator 3. The third Transformers movie. The third in a horrid series of fast cuts, ridiculous dialogue, and big f’n robots.


What made this spot so much better was actually the ineptitude of the film’s first teaser released just a few months earlier. In that boring clip we were only given the goofy premise that Transformers have been around since we landed on the moon. Does Paramount still not know by now that the plot only gets in the way of the good stuff? Michael Bay, the master of blowing stuff up, could not commandeer a plot-based story if he was paid to and he’s tried – see The Island. The second Transformers was so bogged down by inane exposition it became difficult to remember why the Autobots and Decepticons were fighting in the first place.


This 30-second spot shows us exactly what we want to see. Explosions. Slow motion car chases. And yes, even the transformers themselves in sparklingly clear 1080p HD. There were new, weird-looking suckers (and I don’t just mean the replacement for Megan Fox) as well as a brilliant closing shot of Optimus Prime going to town on some Decepticons. The editors even resisted the urge to cut a billion images right next to each other and instead gave us takes at least 10 times longer than anything Michael Bay has ever done (so, maybe 5 seconds in length). TF3 earns the award for Best Spot for a Film Already Guaranteed to Make a Gajillion Dollars (sorry Pirates 4).


Rating: 9


 


 

Thor


This was a dud that couldn’t afford to be one. Marvel Studios and Paramount need Thor and Captain America to catch on if they want these characters to have their own franchises, but neither film’s Super Bowl spot did them any favors. Choosing to showcase the unknown Australian actor Chris Hemsworth was an odd choice for a film whose quality seems reliant on it supporting stars. Yes, you might get a few women into the theater by flashing his pecs, but I doubt those few horny stragglers will push Thor to $300 million.


After an onslaught of superhero movies, audiences need a reason to see this one over the others. What makes it different? Anthony Hopkins, who plays Papa Thor, would be a step in the right direction, but he was only heard in the opening voice over. Natalie Portman was seen, but had nothing good to say or revealing to wear. Her one line was an incredibly poor try for humor when she said she hoped Thor wasn’t crazy. Ok…


Though there were a few quick clips of Asgard, the world above us inhabited by gods, the preview failed to capitalize on Thor’s Norse-inspired background. Show us his battles with the gods or his incomparable power. Draw in the kids with spectacle, men and boys with action, and women with quality (they’re smarter than us when it comes to movies, you know). The makers of this clip settled for one quadrant when they need all four.


Rating: 3


 


 

Super 8


The most disappointing spot of the night employed two clever marketing strategies that did nothing to boost excitement for those already aware of J.J. Abrams’ next venture. The first was to show lots and lots of kids. Kids running. Kids hugging. Kids being kids. It’s a sound financial strategy to try to attract the family crowd, but it makes those of us hoping for some Cloverfield-like action want to puke. It also immediately calls to mind War of the Worlds when paired with Spielberg’s name drop in the spot’s opening moments, and I doubt too many people want to see a sequel to that.


The second strategy was to give up zero plot details while bombarding us with lots of quick clips and fast cuts. This gives the internet fanboys a reason to rewatch the clip about 20 times to try to find out something from a brief spot telling us next to nothing. Internet gossip has not transferred into box office dollars, so the first strategy should work better than the second. That doesn’t mean I like either one, though.


Perhaps I’m being too hard on it because my expectations were as high as my desire to see Coach Eric Taylor, er, Kyle Chandler kick some alien ass, but J.J. better have more to show me before June 10 rolls around or I’ll be spending my birthday elsewhere (yes, it comes out on my birthday).


Rating: 6


 


 

Captain America


Marvel and Paramount seem to think pecs alone will sell a movie. Though this segment did show a bit more of Captain America’s unique qualities (mainly the film’s WWII setting), it failed to give us the iconic hero shot needed to spark that patriotic flame. It did give us a slow, panning close-up of our hero’s rippling torso, though. Perhaps the Cap’n and Thor can compete for Mr. Universe instead of fighting baddies.


Seriously, though, this was a step up from Thor. The humor was actually funny (not hysterical, but broadly appealing) and the stars were all there. I didn’t even know Tommy Lee Jones was in Captain America: The First Avenger until I saw his worried gaze sizing up Chris Evans’ new bod. The brief flashes of Evans in full red, white, and blue regalia should help build curiosity as well. I still say they needed a hero shot, though. Perhaps they didn’t want to hide his glistening chest behind a suit for too long.


Rating: 5


 


 

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides


Oh boy. Another Pirates. More than one of my friends uttered this sarcastic response to Disney’s Super Bowl spot, and I can’t blame them. Clamoring for more Johnny Depp and wanting more swash-buckling adventures are two very different things. Nevertheless, the marketing department at Mickey’s palace is working overtime to stir up interest in the fourth go-around for Captain Jack.


First, there’s Penelope Cruz. There wasn’t enough Cruz, but producers might be wary of showcasing her in case fans realize she’s a replacement for Keira Knightley. What else is new? How about mermaids? Ok, that works. Mermaids and pirates can go together according to the laws of The Little Mermaid. What else? Zombies? Wait, really? Not sure how those fit in, but I guess the Pirates franchise has always leaned a little heavy on the fantasy side of things what with Davy Jones and the dozen Captain Jacks.


Overall, I think the spot for Pirates hit every mark it necessary. It gave us lots of Depp, plenty of action, and introduced a few new twists to a familiar tale. I doubt it alienated any fans of the franchise, and it even may have won a few over by eliminating that damn Orlando Bloom and adding Penelope Cruz.


Rating: 7


 


 

Rango


The ad campaign for Johnny Depp’s animated collaboration with former Pirates helmer Gore Verbinski is fascinating to me. Here’s a movie with a glut of stars lead by the most bankable actor working in Hollywood today, but each ad comes off quirkier than the last. OK, maybe none are as abstract as the wind-up goldfish crossing the road in the first trailer released last summer, but the more recent clips seem to be geared in that same direction.


Sunday saw Rango debating appearances with a possum in a cowboy hat, kissing another reptile, and listening to three owls predict his imminent demise. It featured flashing words forming the sentence, “Experience action, romance, explosions, more explosions, [and] other stuff.” Personally, I think it all works. Whether or not it has a broad enough sense of humor to appeal to the large audience it addressed is a little more questionable. Here’s hoping it pays off, though.


Rating: 7


 


 

Rio and Limitless


The final two ads of the night were a little less exciting and boiled down to one question each. For Rio, it’s “will families pay to see anything done by the makers of Ice Age, or will they simply wait until summer and see the newest installment of that bloated franchise?” I doubt Jesse Eisenberg’s voice will drive anyone to theaters, even with his recent Oscar nomination, and we know by now Anne Hathaway won’t either. So Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox pushed the Ice Age angle hard because, really, it’s all they’ve got.


The spot for Limitless was more of an introduction, but it looks like the film’s appeal will boil down to whether or not Bradley Cooper can carry a movie by himself. Yes, Robert DeNiro showed up for a few moments, but he can’t carry a movie anymore either (unless the word “Fockers” is attached). Cooper has yet to truly prove himself at the box office. The Hangover was a hit but not because of him, and The A-Team didn’t exactly take off. The best aspect of the spot marketing-wise has to be the clever inclusion of Kanye West’s uber-popular single “Power”, but it’s likely fans will remember the song longer than the ad.


Rating: 4


 


 


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