Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Man of Steel considered.

After weeks of half unconsciously treating the opening of the new Superman film, Man of Steel, as a minor second coming, some more sober second thought about it is called for.

For one thing, its relatively low Rotten Tomatoes score (56%)  is disappointing considering what is riding on this film working to create a true DC Comic Cinematic Universe Franchise, even if it can still claim a majority critical approval.  As it is, I think this is a case where too many critics are missing the point of the film as it breaks away from the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve media image. That shadow trapped the last attempt, Superman Returns, to the point of retreading the first film's plot points with Superman being simply too powerful, thus dooming it. Furthermore, the critical situation was reversed with critics liking it, (RT 56%), but the public being far less enthused about it.

In short, Chrisopher Nolan and Zack Snyder had the same challenge Guy Richie had with creating his Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. to escape the shadow of Jeremy Brett's quintessential version.  The problem was that Brett's film version was originally on British and American public, TV and didn't have a predecessor with the grand epic feel of a major film genre redefining Hollywood movie to overshadow it. In that situation, doing a darker and harder edged Superman is about the only option. Not only does avoid the high idealism of Reeve, but gives Cavill's version a vital human grounding before embracing his alien heritage with some welcome realism of how the world would react to such a superhero appearing. In addition, Hans Zimmer's score may not emulate the full majesty of Williams' classic work, but it drives the emotional element home better than you imagine.

Man of Steel's true challenge to face.
In that case, it feels like the right move with drama and blistering action climaxing in a fight in Metropolis that finally topped Superman II's legendary brawl.  The final resolution to it would seem against Clark's character, but he's young, wholly justified under the circumstances and is cleared precedented in the comics. Just his reaction to that move gives just the right tone of a man driven to do the seemingly unthinkable for him for the greater good and paying a high spiritual price for it. In addition, Lois Lane is refreshingly talented as a reporter who figures Clark out right from the beginning and thus begins a fascinating new dynamic with the superhero as a secret keeper from the beginning.

The film is certainly not perfect in some regards.  I don't approve entirely of how Pa Kent is more concerned about keeping Clark's powers secret than helping people and the way he was killed off stretches creditability to be that determined to keep that secret. Also, Cavill's take as Clark Kent the reporter was really disappointing; unlike Reeve, he didn't put any effort in making the persona believable in any sense. For instance, he didn't even change his hairstyle and there is nothing established in the film to allow him to work at a major newspaper.  For that matter, a narration of him writing in a personal journal in his travels could have gone a long way to doing that.

Regardless, the strong Monday box office indicates a decent sustained interest in the film and hopefully we can enjoy more of them.  If it means that Wonder Woman will finally get her film before Justice League, it will be something long overdue. If only Bruce Timm, the guiding producer of the classic DC Animated Universe franchise could be in charge of the writing part of it, then its future would be really assured.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Movie Publicity Stunts: The Right and Wrong Ways to do it.

It's interesting how the internet allows, and in fact practically requires for the big blockbusters, some real creativity and interactivity to their marketing.

It's not a new concept such as Frank Capra promoted his greatest film, It's a Wonderful Life, in 1946-7 by soliciting moviegoers to write letters how they considered their own lives wonderful and Jay Ward, the producer of the Rocky and Bullwinkle TV shows used to tour in a specially marked van to do various publicity stunts across America in the early 1960s.  Eventually in the mid 1960s, outside of costumed character appearances at local community events like fairs and parades, no film company bothered to do anything really fun like those moves that wasn't related to standard TV and radio commercials. Considering that there were only three major American commercials TV networks, and two Canadian national ones for that era, you can see why marketers wouldn't see the point of doing much more than buying commercials for the obvious timeslots.

Now, with the TV audience heavily divided with the plethora of cable channels, providing people are watching them at all, marketers have to take a proactive push to promote films far beyond the usual official websites, although Wreck-it Ralph has some fun webgames equivalents of the games in its film. As it is the film companies have had to return to some interactive promotional stunts to get some attention, but there is a right and wrong way to do it.

From Superman vol. 2 #5 (May 1987)
Currently, Gillette is doing the wrong way in its cross promotion of the upcoming Man of Steel film with its "How Does He Shave?" where celebrities filmmaker Kevin Smith, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mythbusters Jaimie and Adam and actor Mayim Bialik give their "theories" of how Clark Kent does facial grooming.  The problem is that it has been well established for decades in the comic on how Clark does it: by directing his heat vision off a reflective surface on to his own face to burn his whiskers off.  Unlike the ideas of the celebrities, this concept is simple and logical enough to keep it as a background fact without interfering with the stories.

Kevin Smith has tried to defend this silly promotion with condescending rhetoric:  "The campaign is for people who are in the mainstream. It is certainly not for the comic book aficionado. It was more to capture the attention of those who don't make Superman and comic books the focus of their lives."  That doesn't hold water considering that method has been used to the most significant TV adaptations of the modern Superman over the decades before Smallville: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Superman: The Animated Series, although they cheated slightly by using ordinary mirrors instead of the reflective plate from his Kryptonian rocket ship. Considering each was at least a reasonably significant popular success on that mass medium, one hardly needs to be an avid comic book fan to know this little factoid.

Instead, we get a curt dismissal of fans for a cheap promo that treats everyone like ignoramuses about a well established pop culture trivia fact that could be found with a simple online search. As much as I know the promo has been successful in sheer response numbers, but does it have to be at the expense of annoying fans who have stuck with the character

 It would have been more plausible to have done this kind of promo stunt for Superman Returns for how Superman could be surgically treatment for being kryptonite stabbed into his body with fragments breaking off internally.  That was apparently never addressed in the TV shows and you'd have to read Superman vol. 2 #4 to learn that a surgeon had to use a controlled exposure to kryptonite to weaken his skill in order to make incisions. I would have loved to seeing a medical company and/or hospital taking on that promo challenge back in 2006.

By comparison, a promotion where the fans are treated with respect with a brilliant publicity stunt was Coke Zero's Unlock the 007 in You challenge. Here, people in a train station using a particular pop machine were enticed to enter their name and then told they could get free tickets for the Bond film, Skyfall, if they could get another location in the station in 70 seconds. So, willing contestants ran through the station, dodge various obstacles while buskers played the Bond theme while various employees held displays of the remaining time. 

By contrast to the Man of Steel promo, this idea is wonderfully fun with the idea of emulating 007 as you race against the clock to win the challenge.  The only way it could have been enhanced, with some risk, is that if a classic privileged henchman villain from the films like Jaws or Oddjob could try standing in the contestants' way. In other words, this promo was designed with some real thought about the property and how to emulate its spirit in a way that fans will eagerly accept.

In short, I would love to see more publicity stunts that take the time to know the property and treat the fans with some respect.