Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Curious Case of Buzz

In the middle of the week, the internets was a buzz with the release of the trailers for two films whose reputations heretofore were dramatically opposed: the delayed and troubled remake of The Wolfman, whose original director Mark Romanek walked off before shooting began and was recently pushed from a prestigious Fall release to what appeared to be a February dump (a similar fate recently bestowed to Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, his first narrative film since winning the long coveted Best Director Oscar for The Departed) and the ten year in development, San Diego Comic Con hype machine approved, Avatar, James Cameron's historically expensive follow-up to the, well, historically expensive, yet highest grossing film of all time, Titanic.

Now that the trailers and actual footage for both films have been seen, it appears the tide has shifted and early anecdotal evidence suggests that The Wolfman is garnering positive word of mouth while Avatar is eliciting muted, if not downright hostile, reactions.

Before we precede, I must add an obvious, yet necessary caveat, trailers never tell the whole story. They are first and foremost a function of marketing. They may hint at the visual style, storyline and acting performances, but their primary purpose is to produce a compelling advertisement that will get viewers anticipating the product. I, of course, have an affinity for trailers, either as an artifact that shows the manner in which something we now know as a specific commodity was once promoted or for the rare trailer that transcends cliches and and is in and of itself a piece of art. A recent example of the misleading nature of the game are the trailers for Inglorious Basterds which focus primarily on Brad Pitt and his merry band of Naht-zee bashing men-on-a-mission, which in reality only constitutes a third of a two and a half hour movie. Jeez, I wonder why the marketers didn't tip the audience that over half the dialogue is spoken in languages other than English?

Another great example that displays the full capabilities of using actual footage to misled viewers is the fan created trailer of The Shining that is recut to make it appear to be a touching comedy about the bonding of a man and boy, a cutting satire on how one can recontextualize pretty much any images and provide an entirely different meaning. You can view it here.

With that said, let's look at the trailer for The Wolfman:

Some shoddy CGI and quick cuts* aside, I like what I see. The concentration on atmosphere as well as making it a period piece set in London is more in reverence to the classic Universal monster films than anything we saw in either Stephen Sommer's Van Helsing or the Mummy films. Plus the collection of talent is impressive, Benicio Del Toro is always a welcomed idiosyncratic presence, and even if director Joe Johnson doesn't exactly instill confidence, (he's a director for hire, he won't bring too much to the table, but if the elements are in place, he won't fuck it up either) at least he had the presence of mind to keep makeup artist Rick Baker on board after Romanek exited, Baker of course designed the greatest werewolf transformation ever put on film in An American Werewolf in London. (*Can't take the graphics in CGI too much to task at this point since they may not yet be fully rendered, and the editing of course may not be representative of the approach in the film, but just an easy way to throw out a bunch of enticing images).

Here's the trailer for Avatar:

Let me say that no matter what you think of the footage, this is a well-cut trailer. It displays a distinct sensibility and has a rhythmic energy, the rare time when a trailer lets the images mysteriously communicate the story.

Now as for the images...okay, another diversion, wherein I briefly discuss my opinion of CGI in this day and age: I am pretty much agnostic with a slight lean towards atheism on the subject. That's not to say I can't be blown away by it's usage, examples off the top of my head include Jurassic Park, the Gollum, David Fincher's Zodiac and Benjamin Button, and most recently, District 9 which was made for something like a ninth of the budget of Avatar. But I believe it should be employed only in service of the story and as seamless as possible, I was a bit bummed out when in Drag Me to Hell a scene that recalled many of the gross-out gags of The Evil Dead series used cheap looking CGI when the movies Sam Raimi made for a mere fraction of the budget in the 80's had homemade practical effects that looked better!

James Cameron though is one of the innovators in the field, the T-1000 in Terminator 2 was a revelation in 1991, and Titanic, for whatever you thought of the film, had an attention to detail that only a perfectionist like Cameron could produce. However with that said, the world and creatures he's spent the last ten years of his life developing to the most minute detail quite frankly look like a video game, and not a compelling video game at that. The design of the Na'vi looks like the brainchild of a Broadway producer attempting to combine the drawing power of Cats and the Blue Man Group and the world looks like the cover of a Dungeons and Dragons spin-off novel. Everything else looks superb though, and to damn with faint praise, it looks much more appealing to me than the "photoreal" crap Robert Zemeckis has been making the last five years (of which I haven't seen either).

While everyone should reserve judgment until they see the actual film (I know, get that logic shit out of here) and Cameron deserves the benefit of the doubt, the morale of the story thus far is if you are going to tout your film as a game-changer, make sure you are changing the game to something people are interest in playing. And so far, the jury's still out.

So are you planning on seeing either Avatar or The Wolfman? What did you think of the trailers? Did they persuade you one way or another? Do trailers play a major factor on whether or not you will see a movie? Leave a comment and let me know. I assure you I am not in marketing research.


Mummbles said...

I had seen both trailers before reading this blog and here is what I thought. The Wolfman looks pretty good, it seems to be (like you say)a throwback to the actual old monster movies. I liked the overall look and atmosphere of it. NOt sure much about the story at this point, the actors seems to be all good.

Avatar to me, seemed to be a let down. I cant say I had any idea about what the movie was about..but I didnt think it was about what I saw in the trailer (and if might not even be about what i think its about..damn trailers!!!). I think watching CGI worlds play out doesnt interest me too much BUT its James Cameron and I will see this movie because I trust him.

I guess if i wasnt such an avid movie goer I might pass on one of these films but I will most likely see them both.

Ps- I hear the long waiting in release movie Trick R Treat has a great werewolf transformation in it.

Colonel Mortimer said...

That's interesting what you say about not thinking you'd have any interest in Avatar if you didn't know/like Cameron's filmography, because Amy thought Avatar looked awful based on the trailer.

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