Here’s Looking at Film, Kid

Searching for the truth behind 1-18-08 by Matt
November 14, 2007, 11:31 pm
Filed under: Entertainment Commentary

As the credits rolled for Michael Bay’s Transformers this past July, I left the theater pondering gigantic robots beating the ever-loving slag out of other gigantic robots. But in the darkest recesses of my mind lurked something else, something a bit more … monstrous. You see, one of the trailers screened prior to Transformers caught my immediate attention and I couldn’t seem to get it out of my mind.

The teaser trailer was ambiguous and maddeningly unclear. A surprise party for some guy called Rob is crashed—literally—by a gargantuan creature. A deafening roar echoes in the distance. An explosion blossoms against the New York skyline, sending hunks of flaming debris whistling through the air. The party-goers make for the street just as Lady Liberty’s disembodied head is hurled down Broadway. The screen goes black.

No title. Just a release date, Jan. 18, 2008, and a name, J.J. Abrams.

This is viral marketing the likes of which we have not seen since Hitchcock and his infamous “no admittance after the house lights go down” policy with Psycho. Abrams is pushing the envelope here in terms of hype—and it’s working like a charm. Film fans the world over are scrambling, bickering, frantically searching for something, anything, that will shed some light on this mysterious monster movie known as 1-18-08.

Is it Gozilla? Lovecraft’s Cthulhu? Something else entirely? A spin-off of Lost, a sequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, the long rumored Voltron adaptation? Nobody knows. No leaks, no leads—nothing. Even Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News is at a loss. And Abrams, I think, fully intends on keeping it that way. As the weeks progress, so does the hype for this flick.

Several Web sites have been launched in preparation for the film’s release. A mysterious flash site with moveable photos appeared on the web a few months ago, followed by the corporate Web site for a Japanese drink called Slusho (speculators believe an ingredient in the fictional beverage will lead to the monster’s creation). Soon after, MySpace pages for the characters featured in the trailer popped up. It’s like a fanboy feeding frenzy and Abrams is tossing chum over the side of the boat by the bucketfuls.

But Abrams isn’t the only filmmaker utilizing the Internet as a marketing tool. We’ve got Christopher Nolan pulling the same stunt with the eagerly anticipated Batman Begins sequel, The Dark Knight. Aside from the film’s official site, there are several viral sites dotting cyberspace as well.

So what is viral marketing? Well, trusty Wikipedia defines it as “marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness. It can be word-of-mouth delivered or enhanced by the network effects of the Internet. Viral marketing is a marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message voluntarily.”

But does this online viral marketing really work? Is the Internet a proper venue for advertisement? Think back to the summer of 1999 when The Blair Witch Project, an independent horror flick shot for peanuts, went on to dominate the box office with a whopping $140 million domestic gross. Now let’s jump forward to the summer of 2006, when the ultra-hyped Snakes on a Plane flopped with a measly $34 million.

I don’t think that 1-18-08 is doomed to cult-status with Snakes on a Plane. But I do think that the production is walking a very fine line—one that, if crossed, can lead to overexposure and disinterest. But I’m enjoying the mystery and intrigue surrounding 1-18-08. I like getting excited when a new snippet of info is released or when a new rumor arises. It harkens back to the days when filmmakers felt they had to entice their audience. At the very least, I’m enjoying it more than the “show a television spot every two minutes” mentality that seems to be plaguing the marketing of Hitman. Seriously, if I see one more ad for that stupid thing


Pencils down: writers’ strike a grim reality by Matt
November 6, 2007, 7:03 pm
Filed under: Entertainment Commentary, Entertainment News

Everyone better hunker down for some reruns, because the looming Hollywood writers’ strike—the first of its kind in over 20 years—is officially underway. Last-ditch negotiations between Hollywood’s 12,000-strong writers union and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) proved unsuccessful and picketing commenced Nov. 5.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has been threatening to strike for months now, citing new methods of distribution as their primary concern for the livelihoods of Hollywood’s writers. Recently, television episodes and even movies have become available online for use with portable media devices. Writers don’t see a cent of this money and, frankly, they’re pissed.

But this animosity isn’t recent. In fact, the trouble dates back to a dark, primitive time before iPods or Lost. As DVD became America’s format of choice for movies, writers were stiffed with a measly $0.04 a pop for sales. Frankly, this strike has been a long time coming.

So what does this mean for us? Well, try watching Leno, Letterman or, hell, even Colbert sometime this week. The affects of the strike should be fairly evident. Film productions have come to screeching halts. In the coming weeks, television programming will opt for reruns. The industry will literally lose millions.

And this isn’t going to blow over in a few days. The 1988 writers’ strike dragged on an unbearable 22 weeks, with a reported $500 million in losses. Nick Counter, chief negotiator for the AMPTP, says he expects a long standoff. “We’re hunkered down for a long one,” he said. “From our standpoint, we made every good faith effort to negotiate a deal and they went on strike. At some point, conversations will take place. But not now.”

Entertainment critics are weighing in on all sides. Some are accusing the WGA of taking advantage of new technology for higher wages. Others are staunchly supporting them in their efforts to “fight the Man.” Most people are just pissed off about missing Heroes.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not a matter of supporting the underdog or rooting for the little guy. It’s the principle of the thing. If you’re a writer, you should get paid for your work, no matter how it’s distributed.

Digital media is fresh, yeah. But the AMPTP claims that streaming and downloadable video is “still too new to structure a model for compensation.” Distribution of art and entertainment, no matter how new the method, should warrant compensation for the artist responsible.

All we can do now is sit, wait and enjoy our Letterman reruns.

If the audience doesn’t care, neither should the filmmakers: do we really need more Saw? by Matt
October 29, 2007, 6:01 pm
Filed under: Entertainment Commentary

As much as I hate to admit it, we live in an age of lackadaisical filmmaking. Remakes, rewrites, adaptations, sequels, franchises run into the ground—originality is a commodity we experience all too rarely in modern multiplexes. For God’s sake, we can’t even go two weeks without greenlighting another Jane Austen adaptation. But for all of our money-grubbing and corner-cutting, nothing could prepare me for what took place last Friday.

People paid to watch another “Saw.”

They spent money—money, I’m assuming, they earned through hard, honest work—to see the same terrible movie they watched last year and two times prior. The damn thing managed to rake in $32.1 million at the box office. That’s $10,088 per theater. That’s roughly 1,028 people per theater. In one weekend. Paying to watch another “Saw” movie.

Sit back and think about that, really ponder it. Now say it aloud: “More than 1,000 people flocked to my local theater to see ‘Saw IV’ last weekend.” Now get pissed.

To add insult to injury, Lionsgate confirmed the upcoming productions of both “Saw V” and “Saw VI,” which will be filmed back-to-back to maximize their ineptitude. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that Tobin Bell’s character, Jigsaw, the villain of the franchise, died, like, two movies ago. If someone could please explain to me how this guy maintains the “Annual Torture Porn Games” from beyond the grave, it would be much appreciated.

The appeal of these movies eludes me. “Saw” is sadist, misogynistic trash, a graying, immoral remnant of mankind’s desire to inflict, and subsequently revel in, the pain of the innocent. It’s a guy with a bear trap clamped to his head, a girl in a chamber of dirty hypodermic needles, people being buried, boiled and broiled alive, an all-too revealing reflection of humanity’s innate need to hurt things. It’s a dirty, dingy, ugly mockery of cinema.

But here’s the hard truth: We have nobody to blame but ourselves. It’s not Hollywood’s fault. It’s not Lionsgate’s fault. It’s not the fault of James Wan, Darren Lynn Bousman or any of the screenwriters responsible for the horrid dialogue and moronic plotlines. It’s our fault. We’re the producers. That $32.1 million we forked over last weekend? Bousman thanks you profusely. It’ll come in handy when he shoots “Saw VII” and “VIII.”

Granted, “Saw IV” made less in its weekend run than “Saw III” (the highest grossing of the series with $33.6 million in its opening weekend), which indicates a waning interest for casual fans of the franchise. But that paltry $2 million in diminished ticket sales is relative pocket change in Hollywood. “Saw” is still a moneymaking machine and will continue to be until the audience realizes they’re essentially paying $9.25 every Halloween weekend to see the same damn movie.

No other film series compares to the utter and complete triteness of “Saw.” It is a gluttonous, soul-sucking franchise unlike any other. It is a breeding ground for the lazy, uninspired, commercialization of art for the sake of money. It’s cinematic fast food. And we’re buying into it by the millions.

Want to defend the Saw franchise? Weigh in! Leave a comment and ignite some discussion.