So last week I said Project X would run neck-and-neck with The Lorax over the weekend. I figured that the estimates were too low for Project X and too high for The Lorax, and it turned out that Project X's estimates were just a bit low, but The Lorax's were way too low. And The Lorax went out and smashed out $70 million over the weekend to Project X's still-admirable $20 million. This week, we have a giant blockbuster film that I don't think too many people want to see, and I want to delve into the strange case of Disney's John Carter marketing, along with a movie that might surprise this weekend, Silent House, and one you may not have known existed or was being released: the Eddie Murphy movie A Thousand Words.
John Carter: A How-Not-To In Hollywood Marketing
Regardless of whether John Carter does a fair amount of business this weekend or not, it's immaterial to how the movie has been advertised and presented. The movie simply has not been given a campaign that makes everyone who would want to see this movie get excited about it. And there is lots of blame to hand around. I'll start with the teaser trailer, which was Disney's best attempt:
Complete with the Peter Gabriel song, "My Body Is A Cage," this teaser did exactly what it was supposed to do: Make you aware of the movie and want to see more. It's moody, atmospheric presentation was good. And then came this:
So now, you have Star Wars and Avatar running through your head. Or Prince of Persia. Gladiator. Planet of the Apes. You've probably thought of more. The thought that ran through my head was, "This CGI makes me tired. These battle scenes make me tired. I'm thinking the new Star Wars, but I'm also thinking Green Lantern."
This is all curious because master animation director Andrew Stanton is behind it. Stanton directed WALL-E and Finding Nemo, and has been behind many other Pixar hits. Stanton translating his skills to live-action seemed to be a lock after we saw what Brad Bird did with Mission: Impossible. And, I could end up watching John Carter, love it, and see where the marketing failed, but right now, this movie makes me uneasy.
Disney clearly realized the marketing nightmare of this movie, because they hastily put out a third trailer a couple of weeks before its release, emphasizing action:
And while that's a good try, we still have those Gladiator/Star Wars thoughts. The TV ads have been emphasizing that this came "before Star Wars and before Avatar," since it comes from the 1917 book A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It even comes before Burroughs' own Tarzan series. That's all well and good...but who cares?
Originally, I heard this was called John Carter of Mars. But Stanton himself removed the "of Mars" part because he felt that it was an origin story that would appeal to more people without the designation. This is pretty much a mistake, I feel. Whether it's called John Carter or John Carter of Mars, people will know it's science fiction after they see the trailers, and it will be directed at those who love science fiction. When I mentioned "John Carter" to people before the super ad blitz by Disney, no one knew what I was talking about. The title is much too plain. It sounds like the Samuel L. Jackson basketball movie Coach Carter.
Disney recently released a ten-minute scene to give audiences a better idea of what the movie is about:
This is more like it. It has action and humor. I think Hollywood has hammered that comparison between alien races and Native Americans too much, however. Disney is clearly putting all their weight behind this movie, which is great, but it can also reek of desperation. Here's another extended scene:
In the end, Disney may sway some of those who were on the fence. The great thing about John Carter is it's the type of movie that plays well internationally, so if the rumored $250 million budget is true, the movie is going to get its legs overseas. Here, it has been branded with the "it looks too much like [insert hit movie here]" tag. But even the awful Prince of Persia: Sands of Time made $90 million domestic, and $335 million overall. John Carter stands to do better.
But as for the marketing: we don't have a clear representation of the villain, the stakes, or any characters. We know John Carter is the main character, obviously, and we see the pretty warrior princess a lot, but not much else but CGI and battle confusion.
Silent House Looks Like A Whole Lot Of Fun
John Carter's marketing troubles aside, this year has been rather wonderful in marketing for Hollywood, and it's been paying off all year. Entering the fray is Silent House, a new horror movie with an "events occur in real time" gimmick and apparently was done all in one unbroken shot. The trailer has some of the same things that made the trailer for the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so awesome. Trailer editor Bill Neil did that one, but I'm not sure if he did this one:
There isn't much in the way of online videos for this movie. It's a remake of this movie from Uruguay, also called "The Silent House," which also did the continuous, unbroken shot:
I get the sense that the movie has been in a holding pattern, and Open Road finally found a release date for it. Anyway, I love the trailer and it might conjure more business than expected.
A Thousand Words Stars Eddie Murphy, But Did You Know About It?
The new Eddie Murphy comedy has the legendary comic in a situation where he has only 1000 words left to speak, and if uses them all up, he dies. So lots of slapstick Eddie Murphy in this one where he can't use his voice. This preview has been playing on select films, but it's hardly made its presence felt for a movie coming out this Friday:
Here's a clip, explaining the premise of the movie:
The movie is slightly amusing when funny guy Clark Duke is hired to speak for Murphy:
A Thousand Words has followed the pattern of a lot of the Eddie Murphy bombs in the past decade, like Imagine That. And that's sad.
The Take For The Weekend
It might be hard for any of these movies to overtake The Lorax. If The Lorax drops 50-60%, it's still making high $20-low-$30 million. I'm not sure John Carter has that kind of pull. But if I use Prince of Persia as a model, and I do believe this movie looks better than that one, Carter should make more than the $30 million opening weekend Prince of Persia did. Then again, people could be very tired of that kind of movie and it suffers because of it. Because Silent House (despite its awesome trailer) and A Thousand Words were not given much to work with, I can't see them being a part of the picture at all. So it should be a head-to-head race between Carter and The Lorax.