Marketing Method: Ghostbusters (2016)

So finally, the trailer for the new Ghostbusters is out! Here it is:

So far, the reaction has been… mixed. Some have loved the new trailer and celebrated it as an exciting new entry. Others have had a… different reaction. Well, it’s sparked debate – so that’s something the marketing department did right, I guess?

Let’s get into it.

Speaking from a personal standpoint as someone who has followed the development of this new Ghostbusters, this trailer is confusing. Look at how it starts, “30 years ago, four scientists saved the world…” or something like that. Oh cool, so it’s a sequel right?

Apparently not, no. In a recent interview regarding his new movie, Paul Feig confirmed that his Ghostbusters is a reboot(or remake, whatever the popular term is these days). He even went in-depth to explain his reasoning in avoiding a sequel. Agree or disagree, as director – he gets to make that call. Unfortunately, the people making the trailer must not have seen this interview.

If it's a reboot, then it makes sense to have a "coming together" opening. Here's hoping the film moves a little more quickly than the original.
If it’s a reboot, then it makes sense to have a “coming together” opening. Here’s hoping the film moves a little more quickly than the original.

This did the trailer no favors as audiences received an opening that promised a sequel and went into a lot of shots that frankly looked familiar. Remember this library opening from the original? This one:

Well, here it is again!

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Three scientists coming together to fight ghosts?

Check.
Check.

An additional black Ghostbuster who is not initially part of the team (and probably not a scientist)?

Check.
Check.

Ghostbusters saving the city of New York from an apparent sudden ghost surge?

Well… okay that one isn’t fair. Every Ghostbusters movie should hopefully involve Ghostbusters fighting ghosts in some way. I would hope. Oh, but there’s also Slimer:

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Point being, for a trailer that opens with the implication of sequel, there is a lot of retreading common ground. This likely goes a long way to explain at least some of the negative reaction. Personally, I think this addresses most of the fair criticism. The rest is subjective but probably a little reactionary.

“The jokes don’t work. The ghosts look CG (spoiler: they are). The writing sucks. The movie isn’t funny.”

Calm down – we’ve seen less than two minutes. Now, have I seen better trailers? I have. That being said, and this is again personal opinion, is too much emphasis being placed on the trailer rather than the team behind it?

Let’s look at another movie coming out soon: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. That film has trailers that are kinda all over the place. The first trailer offered an emotionally charged look at why Batman and Superman would fight. It didn’t get into too much plot, but provided a hook. The second trailer… likely told the entirety of the movie. Seriously, I don’t know for sure but I’m going to bet that after I see Batman v. Superman, I’m going to feel the same way.

That, in my opinion, was not a well put together piece of publicity. It suggested the unending need for more to satisfy the audience.

“Bored with Batman – we got Superman! Don’t like Superman – how about Doomsday? We also got Lex Luthor! Oh, here’s Wonder Woman! Justice League!!!!”

"WE ALSO HAVE AQUAMAN! PLEASE BE EXCITED!!"
“WE ALSO HAVE AQUAMAN! PLEASE BE EXCITED!!”

It cried a certain desperation that Batman and Superman are not interesting enough on their own.

But I am getting sidetracked. At the end of the day, Batman v. Superman is a movie made by Zack Snyder, a director with a… less than steady history (to put it objectively). Man of Steel, Sucker Punch, 300, Legend of the Guardians… Snyder does not have a consistent record when it comes to quality cinema.

Let’s look at Paul Feig, creator of Freaks and Geeks, Bridesmaids, the Heat, and Spy. While I have not seen the Heat (which has the lowest critical ranking of his recent films), that is a more impressive list to me. Spy was one of my favorite comedies of last year and has a trailer that looks:

Okay, I got it. Feig needs to hire some new trailer people.

It is strange to note that Snyder’s name is still being used for advertising, while Feig’s name is left off the Ghostbusters trailer.

Is there something more behind the seemingly incredibly malicious response to the trailer? Remember: people seem to love Star Wars: the Force Awakens, a sequel that had quite a few remake-ish similarities with a New Hope. I’m not going to get into it in this article – my short answer is I don’t know, maybe.

“I thought about it for a very long time. Like, many, many months. No, that’s not right. I was seriously thinking about this for years, really … It kept eating at me, and I really respect those girls. And then I started to feel like if I didn’t do this movie, maybe somebody would write a bad review or something, thinking there was some sort of disapproval [on my part].”             - Bill Murray on why he ultimately decided to be in the new Ghostbusters.
“I thought about it for a very long time. Like, many, many months. No, that’s not right. I was seriously thinking about this for years, really … It kept eating at me, and I really respect those girls. And then I started to feel like if I didn’t do this movie, maybe somebody would write a bad review or something, thinking there was some sort of disapproval [on my part].” – Bill Murray on why he ultimately decided to be in the new Ghostbusters.
There are legitimate criticisms to be sure, and the most frightening possibility that the studio might be trying to interfere with the movie in a classic example of “wanting it both ways.” That would not bode well.

So is Ghostbusters a sequel or a reboot? Who knows. Hopefully it’s not both.

Is it going to be a good movie? Too early to tell. At the very least, it appears to be in good hands.

Here is a trailer for the original Ghostbusters for contrast:

So full of jokes!

Hobbit Changes Part Two: Orcs, Eagles, and the Dragon

Part One here.

Okay, so it took about a year but I am finishing this thought. I know, I know – if I waited just another four years before I did anything I would show promise as a Congressman.

So the Hobbit trilogy, the trilogy that is nearly as fashionable to hate as the Star Wars prequels. Some people have even suggested that they are on the same level, as people have argued that both have an over-reliance on CGI and an underdeveloped story. I would counter and ask someone to please find either the Jar Jar or the Midi-chlorian equivalent in the Hobbit trilogy. Please let me know if you find it and feel like you can make a compelling argument.

Is there anything close to this bad in Jackson's Hobbit? I think not.
Is there anything close to this bad in Jackson’s Hobbit? I think not.

The point is: Love or hate director Peter Jackson’s changes, most of them make sense from a storytelling perspective in the context of the Middle Earth universe. There are, however, a few that are truly disappointing. While I largely defend the Hobbit trilogy… Lord of the Rings these ain’t.

The Orc Design/Effects

This first change is not really a storytelling critique, but rather an effects one. When the Lord of the Rings came out, it wowed audiences with its masterful use of effects. Mixing costumes and model work with the latest in computer technology, those films were able to create an incredibly believable look that reflected a restraint rarely seen today in big budget Hollywood. I’m not sure where those guys are getting their data, but audiences today seem sick of an overuse of CGI.

That said…

WHAT IS UP WITH THE ORCS?!

Or goblins, I want to be politically correct. In particular I’m talking about the two lead baddies, Azog the Defiler and Bolg… the other one. While they can be criticized on more than their appearance (both are rather boring villains who are given way too much screen time), the fact that they are computer generated creations is noticeable. Unlike Gollum, who emotes with the lively presence of Andy Serkis, Azog and Bolg appear stiffer and less, well – alive. This again could have to do with their simplistic motivations. Or it could involve another fact:

The original costumes were relegated to smaller parts in the final trilogy.
The original costumes were relegated to smaller parts in the final trilogy.

They were originally people in costumes and NOT motion captured acting like the Gollum performance. That’s right, Peter Jackson originally wanted both of the main villains to at least look a little more real. Yet, at least according to this source – Jackson was happy with CGI redos and wished his other orcs looked that way.

I don't know, the original Bolg looks really cool.
I don’t know, the original Bolg looks really cool.

I’m not sure I buy this.

A lot has come out since the release of the Hobbit trilogy that alleges that Jackson did not have as much control as people would naturally think. I mean, after making Lord of the Rings, how could they not…

Are you kidding?

After Jackson’s trilogy single-handedly saved New Line Cinemas from disappearing into irrelevant oblivion (they tried to withhold money from him on those btw) he and his work was still not respected from a studio standpoint. While the other Hobbit production videos (and commentary tracks) all painted a roses-and-sunshine picture, this feels like the truest look at a production that was in major trouble from day one.

Azog probably still would have been a boring villain, but there is a performance here that has been lost, and that is really sad.
Azog probably still would have been a boring villain, but there is a performance here that has been lost, and that is really sad.

With Jackson never being given the time he asked for, one must wonder: what other decisions were made for him? This would not be the first time that a studio came in, looked at painstakingly crafted practical effects, and said: “kids these days really just want stuff from the computers and the internets.”

Is Peter Jackson the next George Lucas… or is he just one of many directors not fully in charge of their own movies (Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi, Joss Whedon)? We may never know… but damage done in The Hobbit.

The Eagles

Ah the Eagles, the deus ex machina of the Tolkien universe. Need a hand, got to leave a bad situation – the Eagles got you covered. I’m always amazed when fans of the book criticize Jackson’s decision to explain where Gandalf went when he vanished. Without those scenes, Gandalf would just disappear, conveniently only  reappearing to save Bilbo and the dwarves from impending peril. We already got the Eagles guys, we don’t need another one.

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Yet the book did have one very important piece that Jackson’s films omit: An introduction. The Eagles are introduced in the Hobbit and their actions are explained… if only a little bit. How might you ask? Well very naturally, the Eagles can and do talk. They express gratitude to Gandalf as well as state that they have no desire to be a taxi service, especially where “fat dwarves” are concerned.

This is a minor problem, and its omission is far from the greatest flaw in the trilogy. That said, it would have been really nice to give the Eagles their motivation, rather than having them appear yet again to only fulfill plot necessity. Doing so would not only have helped the Hobbit movies, but it would have fixed one of the greatest complaints against the Lord of the Rings, namely explaining why this did not happen:

The Smaug Sequence at the end of Desolation of Smaug

Oh Smaug the terrible, chiefest and greatest calamity of our age!

Wait.

No.

That poor excuse for Rodan can’t even kill a few dwarves running around the Lonely Mountain.

This is the biggest problem with that ending “action sequence” in Desolation of Smaug. Not only does nothing happen to propel the story forward for like.. I don’t know, at least fifteen minutes, the menace of Smaug is greatly reduced. For the past two movies, the horror of this dragon has been built up. When he is revealed, he is depicted as godlike; capable of destroying entire cities without suffering a single injury.

Don't be scared Bilbo! He's definitely farsighted.
Don’t be scared Bilbo! He’s definitely farsighted.

Yet for at least ten minutes, he flails about like a drunk Benedict Cumberbatch, unable to do anything right. Seriously, it goes to the point that Thorin actually taunts him into breathing more fire – that’s how ineffective he is.

A scene equivalent would have been watching Sauron fumble around for the ring for ten minutes at the end of Return of the King before Frodo just kicks it into Mount Doom.

Storytelling tip: if you want a villain to be threatening, they must be effective. What makes it worse, was if the dwarves and Bilbo actually succeeded in doing something (like say knocking off a scale and exposing Smaug’s weakness) the scene would have served at least some point. As it stands, Smaug looks dumb and the good guys do… nothing.

 

All this being said, I still like The Hobbit trilogy. Is it as good as Lord of the Rings, not even close. That said, there is still a love here for a world that is noticeable, and characters who feel real and entertaining (there is also no picnic love scene equivalent to the Star Wars prequels). It is an absolute shame that Peter Jackson was not given the time to do this properly, but never say never.

Remakes are all the rage in Hollywood right now. Who knows what adventure the highly profitable Middle Earth will take next time.

I would love to see someone try to flesh out the plot of this story into something that is actually fun to dive into.
I would love to see someone try to flesh out the plot of this story into something that is actually fun to dive into.

A Rose by any Other Name… Can be Confusing: The Thing (2011)

In 1982, one of the greatest horror movies was released. I say this as a fan of John Carpenter, and as someone who really loves Halloween: John Carpenter’s best film by far is The Thing. The film can be seen as a masterwork, both in terms of paranoia/suspense and in terms of practical effects at work. That said, upon initial release – The Thing did not fare well.  Many critics (Roger Ebert included) were grossed out by the film’s excessive gore, and found the effects to be a little too real. Carpenter’s The Thing went on to be a box-office flop… with fame and deserved acclaim not being bestowed for many years.

Really? People found this too gross? Go figure.
Really? People found this too gross? Go figure.

Sounds like perfect material for Hollywood in 2011, right? So audiences were treated to The Thing again in 2011. Ready for the kicker though? Despite the name, The Thing is not, nor was it ever intended to be (by its director anyway) a remake. This film is a prequel.

A prequel with the same name. Makes… absolutely no sense. So why did it happen? The short answer is: I don’t know. After spending a few hours digging, I have not found an answer beyond this: they did not want the film to have a “:” in the title. Makes sense right? These days there is little that implies Hollywood marketing the way that a colon can. For example, take a look at this unofficial poster art for (one of) the upcoming Jungle Book movie:

jungle_book__origins_logo_by_paulrom-d8k6g3s

That’s right. They’re making two Jungle Book movies at the same time. One is not made by Disney, however, and so it is titled Jungle Book: Origins to differentiate… and to let audiences now that the studio is hopeful for a franchise. Well, I do agree with director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. The Thing: Origins or anything like that would have sounded pretty dumb.

But what about The Thing From Another World?

While 2011’s film was no remake, Carpenter’s sure as heck was. Really, all three films have shared the same basis, and that is the Who Goes There? novella written by John W. Campbell. Say, Who Goes There? would be a great title for a horror movie… oh but it doesn’t have The Thing in it. And everyone knows that, if a movie is to be financially successful, it must name the money-making property behind it.

Or perhaps not.
Or perhaps not.

So, while the director says one thing – I believe another factor strongly went into influencing the title for The Thing: Studio interference. This happens a lot in movies and happened a ton on this one. For example, one of the greatest criticisms leveled against the 2011 film was the effects. Gone were the brilliant practical effects of the 1982 classic, replaced by cheap, fake-looking CGI. What was the director thinking?

The director was all for practical effects. In fact, here is a look at the original effects for the new movie, before they were all replaced in post-production:

Pretty cool looking (although still nowhere near as bloody as 1982). Yet apparently, for whatever reason, the studio did not feel confident in this look. CGI is all the rage after all. ‘Cause this:

the-thing-2011-two-faced

Looks so much better than this:

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Apparently.

Also, The Thing (2011) lost its original ending, as the studio felt it was too confusing. The original ending featured many more alien designs, and has been dubbed “the pilot ending” by the director. In case you were wondering, we got “the Tetris ending” in the theatrical cut.

The point is: this movie had more than one master, and sadly that usually never works out in the film’s favor. I also know for a fact the script went through at least one complete rewrite from a scriptwriter whose other work has been.. less than stellar.

From the research I have done it appears that two goals were in mind. The first (from the director and crew) was to create a prequel that paid tribute to everything that makes the Carpenter film fantastic. The second was a bid to update The Thing for modern audiences in the 21st century, without risking grossing audiences out this time.

Nothing risky about this. Audiences love computers!
Nothing risky about this. Audiences love computers!

How did it turn out? The Thing bombed at the box office… again. History repeated itself, at least in that respect. Sadly, I don’t believe the 2011 prequel is destined for the same late recognition as the 1982 original, in part for the abysmal effects. The film is simply nowhere near the level of its predecessor, and I don’t believe it would be even if the effects were left alone. The paranoia isn’t there, the performances aren’t there. It is simply… lesser.

This was a film that started out pure but was then corrupted and taken over by an outside force, and in that respect – the title actually makes sense.