Trailer Tracking, Super Bowl Edition: ‘John Carter,’ ‘The Avengers,’ ‘Battleship,’ ‘GI Joe 2: Retaliation’
CHICAGO – Aside from the whole football thing, Superbowl Sunday has always been known as the launch-pad for some of the best commercials in the world and Hollywood has traditionally used the event as the launch-pad for the annual marketing blitzes for their best, brightest, and most expensive films of the year. (Although, in years’ past, Hollywood has debated just how cost-effective these high-priced Superbowl ads really are.)
So, how did the 2012 Superbowl movie ads stack up? There were definitely some hits and misses. “The Lorax” and “The Dictator” teasers were entertaining, but there was nothing substantially new in either commercial – it was just recycled footage from earlier trailers. (“The Lorax” seemingly wants to get as much mileage as possible from its “THAT’s a woman?” joke, “The Dictator” just lobbed in an easy “I bought NBC” gag.) That, more or less, only left four films that debuted any significant footage - “John Carter,” “The Avengers,” “Battleship,” and “GI Joe 2: Retaliation. ”
How did the new trailers stack up? We’ll give you the play-by-play and… insert clichéd football metaphor here. Basically, we’ll tell you what we liked and what we didn’t, what worked and what flopped. Enjoy.
Movie: “John Carter”
Best Part of the Trailer: There are some fantastic visual landscapes on display.
Worst Part of the Trailer: While fantastic, those landscapes just aren’t that interesting.
OUR TAKE: I’ve been holding off on this, but here goes - I have finally reached the moment where I’m comfortable admitting that I am very, very nervous about “John Carter”.
But how did we get here? “John Carter” should be a slam-dunk. It’s, essentially, the first live-action Pixar film (yes, I know it’s “technically” under the Disney banner, but c’mon); it’s an epic space adventure based on a classic work of pulp fiction; and it’s directed by Andrew Stanton, the card-carrying genius behind “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E.” Andrew Stanton directing a “John Carter” movie should be as much of a no-brainer as Brad Bird directing a “Mission: Impossible” movie. It should be as close to a sure thing as Hollywood can get.
So, with all that in mind, why does it feel like the world just doesn’t really give a damn about “John Carter”? Who is to blame for this growing sense of apathy about what, in theory, should be a very cool movie?
At the moment, it’s easiest to blame whoever has been handling the marketing for “John Carter” so far, particularly whoever was responsible for the first trailers. The initial trailers and even this new “extended Superbowl teaser” are just ridiculously inert. They’re just not exciting at all. And, granted, lots of exciting things are apparently happening in these trailers – battles and gladiatorial contests and a whole lot of jumping, jumping, jumping – and yet, when you watch them, it’s like drinking a glass of warm milk. My pace barely quickens and I quickly realize that not even the most rock-opera-ed version of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” around is enough to get me into a movie theatre these days.
So what’s wrong with these “John Carter” trailers? First off, they all seem to place this huge value on the import and power of the name “John Carter”, which… is a huge mistake. 90% of the viewing public has no awareness of literary pulp heroes of the 1910s, so announcing that “hey, everyone, they finally made a John Carter movie!” means almost nothing to a large bulk of the world. The Superbowl trailer spends half its running time pulling back into this huge mosaic of images spelling out “John Carter”, as if they’re revealing a secret or announcing something shocking, and it’s just not the case. When the title is revealed, I think most people are just sitting back and giving the most natural response imaginable – “Well, who’s John Carter?” And what REALLY annoys me about the Disney marketing team is that they’re COMPLETELY FAILING to address that question.
WHO IS John Carter? THAT is what the trailers should be telling us at this point. The “JC” trailers have been extremely focused on showing us scenes of rich visual lushness and… I hate to say it, but they’re not landing. People aren’t that impressed. They look GREAT, but they’re nothing groundbreaking and more than one person has commented to me about how much the gladiator scenes remind them of the Geonosis gladiator scenes in “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones”. (This Superbowl teaser also includes a moment of Carter hijacking a huge gun to shoot down a spaceship with huge sails that looks remarkably like Luke Skywalker blowing up Jabba’s sail barge in “Return of the Jedi”.) I hate admitting this, but the imagery in “John Carter”, so far, is not convincing audiences that this is an event movie worth seeing. So, why – why, why, why – has Disney not changed tactics and begun promoting the STORY of “John Carter”? Why are they not answering that question – “Who is John Carter?”
Because I think they could get some traction there. Taking a quick poll of my non-fanboy-ish friends and family, I’ve found that a big portion of them are just stymied about what the heck the movie is about. All they’ve seen are a big helping of very expensive, very disparate images and a gladiator fight right out of “Attack of the Clones”. The word “confusing” came up more than once. Heck, maybe if you actually explained why Carter can jump around like a Mario Brother – I’ve heard it’s a reaction to Mars’ lighter gravitational forces… not that they’ve said anything about it in the trailers – you might draw some more people in or convince them that, in theory, this movie is a much, much grander and more thoughtful production than something like “The Chronicles of Riddick”. Or maybe, since the movie is named after its lead character, if you ever gave Taylor Kitsch more than two lines of dialogue per trailer, you might even get some people interested in why this John guy was considered charismatic enough to warrant his own movie in the first place.
Put the albino ape away, Disney. If you don’t start forcibly TELLING people why they should give a damn about who John Carter is and why his story is worth seeing, I have a bad feeling that “John Carter” is going to be Disney’s biggest sci-fi misfire since “The Black Hole”.
TRAILER OUTLOOK: Not great. Lots of expensive toys on display, but I don’t really want to play with any of them.