I have been freaking out over the epicness of Super 8 ever since I saw it last week. I have been gushing to everyone, my mother, my coworkers, strangers on the street, but I have been getting a lukewarm response. People keep saying to me “yeah, I hear it’s GREAT, and it got amazing reviews, but I just don’t know”. What could their possibly be left to know? What's the problem? If everyone is telling you that the acting is great, the story is great and it brings you a warm feeling for a nostalgic past that we are sorely lacking in these modern times, what the hell else are you waiting for? Is it because unlike other summer movies, Super 8 didn’t pander to its audience with a marketing campaign that cums in your face with visual effects, sound bites, and the entire plot wrapped up in a 2 min package? Or because it wasn’t flashing on your phone, and your TV,and on the twitter and the facebook, and didn’t have a viral marketing campaign to sell you a set of eight plastic collectors cups (coincidentally poisoned with lead) that you forgot there were movie theaters playing movies in your town this weekend?
Hollywood seems to think so. There have been loads of stories over the last week speculating about the “success” of Super 8. Insiders have been worried that due to “soft tracking” the film would not have a big release. Fortunately the film had a better than expected release with a $38 million opening, but that didn’t stop the Hollywood doomsayers. The industry has been critical of the films approach to marketing. Particularly around keeping the main plot points and special effects tightly under wraps(something that is extremely difficult to do in the age of internet leaking, Abrams and Spielberg deserve an award on this front alone). The industry seems to think that if an audience isn’t already built in around a franchise, or isn’t given all the goodies in the trailer, they simply will not materialize at the theatre. I find this to be a lazy load of marketing BS.
Trailers these days are so shittly crafted, like eating all the chocolate chips out of a cookie, they will be delicious when you eat them, but when it comes time to eat the real cookie all the good stuff is gone. Take a look at the green lantern trailer, I don’t even have to see that movie to know what happens, its all special effects and dramatic music. And before you say “it’s a comic book movie, what do you expect” I’ll remind you that comic books have been around for 60+ years for combining art with GREAT STORYTELLING. To cast off the green lantern/Hal Jordan (yes I am a comic book nerd) as a one note character is to totally misinterpret the genre. Now contrast that with the Super 8 trailer. It from beginning to end it was structured in a way that drew you into the characters and the story, without giving too much away, the music was good, the cuts were good, just a glimpse of the film. I was drawn to it because of the care I saw in constructing the preview. I was interested not because I thought I was going to get some big CGI monster payoff (they always look fake to me anyway) but because there was this sense of the right kind of mystery. I knew enough about the film to know that I would be something I found enjoyable without spoiling the enjoyment of discovering the movie the first time I saw it.
Another interesting comparison is the trailer from ET and the one from Super 8, and my detractors will say that times and audiences have changed since then, but I still think that surprise is one of the best aspects of storytelling.
Audiences want to see a good story. They want to escape their gradually depressing lives, and forget for a few hours they live in a society that charges $15 to see a movie and another $25 for cardboard popcorn. The interesting thing to me in all of this is the success being wholly determinate on the box office weekend numbers. Summer movies are expected to have earth shattering record debuts, and those who don’t are seen as unsuccessful(?), shouldn’t the marker of success be that a) it got amazing reviews, b) for not a lot of money, c) the people who saw it generally liked it, and resonated with the film. These would be my guidelines for success, and while I acknowledge that money plays a factor, my point is that it shouldn’t be the ONLY factor. If marketers and Hollywood stopped “tracking” films for big box office blowouts and spent more times creating original ideas, tapping innovative filmmakers and treating its audiences like adults then we would have more movies that resonate with us and stand the test of time, instead of Michael Bay eye orgy pieces of crap.
So while you enjoy your summer of sequels, prequels and franchises, think about the movies that have really stuck with you. Explosions and effects are cool the first time you see them but fade as technology advances, but compelling personal stories grounded in empathy and solid acting performances, those are the ones that you go back to again and again.
PS go see Super 8 RIGHT NOW!
Watch the Trailer