During the tent pole seasons, and no that’s not an Anthony Weiner joke, movies are driven by marketing as much as by stars or storyline. Summer and Christmas releases (again, not a Weiner gag) are lavished with marketing budgets that in some cases dwarf the overall cost of the movie. This weekend, for instance, it’s been reported that Super 8 (which I think is super great) cost $45 million before Paramount’s salesmen and women got a hold of it and spent an additional $50 million to raise awareness.
Movie posters are just one way to grab the public’s attention and this week two very different posters caught my eye. They’re weren’t the fancy-dancy new “motion posters” studios are now using to grab bored commuter’s eyes in the subway, but studies in contrast as to how two different advertising campaigns can be used to grab the same audience.
Super 8, J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg’s homage to 80s action adventure is aimed directly at the 18 to 45 year-old market and is tracking best among audiences over age 30, who have fond memories of E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
For different reasons David Fincher’s upcoming Christmas release , the R-rated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is also looking for a piece of the 18 to 45 year-old pie. Billed by Sony as “The feel bad film of Christmas” the international poster is so provocative the only fond memories it’s likely to invoke are of an S&M dungeon.
Hence the tale of two posters.
Super 8’s artwork is a throwback to the great hand-painted posters Drew Struzan did for the holy box-office trinity of Lucas-Spielberg-Zemeckis movies. Evoking a late 70’s, early 80s vibe it blows apart the contemporary idea of poster design, replacing one central image with a photo-realistic painted collage of faces placed against a backdrop of locations pulled from the film. It’s a warm and fuzzy illustration that by its connection to the posters of E.T. and Indiana Jones subconsciously promises a Spielbergian good time.
In stark contrast the teaser poster for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a bleak black and white image, complete with star Rooney Mara’s pierced nipples and Daniel Craig’s hangdog facial expression. Unless you live in Sweden you’re unlikely to see this Robert-Mapplethorpe-by-way-of-Helmut-Newton placard hanging in your local multiplex, but it’s available online and has already set tongues waggling. Sex sells—one blogger even posted, “You don’t get to 500 million dollars worldwide without showing a few nipples.”—but it remains to be seen if this brand of hypersexualized art will attract or repel audiences.
Either way, both posters do a great job of contextualizing the appeal of the movies they represent.
Super 8 is all innocence, a throwback to a time before sexting when the world had a beautiful blue camera flare every now and again (on film anyway).
The Dragon Tattoo poster is more a character study. Lisbeth Salander, one of the great female characters of recent years, is portrayed as dangerous, defiant with a flash of menace in her eye. It’s a take no prisoners picture that dares you to see the movie.
These two very different marketing visions prove that even in our busy lives, bombarded as we are by images and information, that pictures can still elicit strong, intuitive feelings.
J.J. Abrams directs “Super 8” the way he produced the TV show “Lost.” He draws out the suspense, doling out just enough detail, shocks and surprises to keep the story interesting and moving forward. He knows that the strength of the movie isn’t the special effects or the whatever-it-is that is causing all the trouble, but the relationship between the kids. Call it “Stand By Me” with a giant bug… or a monster… or something. I’m not saying what!
Welcome to the no spoiler zone! Here’s what I can tell you about “Super 8”: The action begins with six Lillian, Ohio kids shooting an amateur zombie movie. As their super 8 films rolls they witness a terrifying real life train derailment. Soon strange things start happening in town as they army tries their best to contain the situation.
“Super 8” is one part “Goonies,” two parts “Fright Night,” a dash of “Cloverfield” topped off with a liberal pinch of Spielberg glow. The story, the set-up and the characters feel like a throwback to the great teen action adventure movies of the mid-eighties, and while many people have tried to recapture that sensitive mix of sentimentality, vulgarity and menace, few have actually hit it on the head. JJ Abrams nails it. Perhaps it because he had some heavy weight help—Steven Spielberg, master of the genre is listed as a producer—but despite the Spielbergian flourishes, this still very much feels like an Abrams creation.
His fingerprints are all over the action sequences—particularly the out-of-control train wreck scene—and even the sweetness we’ve come to associate with Spielberg has been dialed back. It’s still there—very much so in the film’s last ten minutes—but Abrams manages to set the tone as though he is paying homage to the saccharine tendencies of his mentor than actually aping him.
There is a sense of wonder to “Super 8” that permeates almost every scene. Whether audiences raised on a steady diet of Michael Bay will buy into it is yet to be determined, but for me some of that familiar glow is a welcome sight.
Who says kid actors can’t have normal childhoods? During a phone interview with Ryan Lee, the 15-year-old Super 8 star, he briefly interrupts our chat to act like a youngster. “I just saw a stray dog and I’m trying to catch him right now. What was your question again?”
I had just asked the Austin, Texas native about working with director J.J. Abrams, the megamind behind TV and movie hits like Lost and Star Trek.
“He’s just one of those guys who can really make you feel comfortable during a scene,” said Ryan. “He’s really good at what he does. He’s really hands on, down to earth and just an amazing director all round.”
Like all of Abrams’s projects the plot of Super 8 has been kept under wraps. Ryan plays one of six kids who witness a mysterious train wreck. “Then everything starts to go crazy,” he says, picking up the story. “Once we get away things start to go weird in the town, like people going missing, dogs going missing, home appliances going missing. Nothing can really be explained.”
Other than that he’s been sworn to secrecy. “Once I got the call back I had to sign confidentiality papers,” he says. “I had to bring them home to my family and they had to sign them, too. It was really secretive.”
So secretive he didn’t know what he was auditioning for when he first went out for the part.
“My agent sent me on the audition and I had no idea it was for J.J. or for Super 8,” he says. The audition was about a girl and a boy fighting about math homework. It had nothing to do with Super 8. Then at the first audition with him this girl next to me said, ‘J.J.’s waiting.” I said, ‘J.J. who?’ Her mouth dropped. I had no idea he was going to be working on this.”
Working with Abrams he says, was a breeze. “He never yells and with a group of six kids…” Ryan said. “Not yelling? How do you even do that?”
There’s a great buzz around Super 8 right now, even Ryan feels it—“I want to see the movie so bad, just like everybody else,” he says—but right now in the days before the movie opens it’s back to being a kid and catching that dog.