Okay, change of plan. I WAS going to write about Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, but I didn’t get around to watching that. Instead, I went and saw Dennis Villeneuve’s Sicario. I’ll start out by saying that it was an excellent film and you should go see it while it is still in theaters, but I noticed that there was something very misleading about the film’s marketing in comparison to the finished product.
I don’t want to spoil anything about the film, even though the misleading aspect of the marketing isn’t necessarily a plot spoiler, but I feel that it is great to go into it with as little prior information. That being said, this got me thinking about misleading film marketing, since it is a topic that comes up often that I find to be interesting. Two examples that I noticed this year were The Martian and American Ultra.
The Martian, for the people who haven’t seen it yet, is a science fiction film about an astronaut named Mark Watney who gets stranded on Mars and has to formulate a plan to survive on and escape the inhospitable planet. Sounds like a pretty bleak situation, right? That’s how the film’s teaser trailer portrayed the situation as well, although the actual film approaches the situation very differently. It is essentially a comedy, with nearly every line of dialogue being a joke and the overall tone being almost consistently lighthearted and optimistic. While there are a few lighthearted quips tossed into the trailer, but the overall tone is that of a rather serious sci-fi film. The trailer tends to focus on the one or two parts of the film where complications arise, when Watney is first stranded on Mars and when part of his HAB unit experiences explosive decompression. It even takes two parts of the film that were entirely optimistic, when Watney burns chunks of hydrazine to create water and when he is (happily) crying right before his rescue. While the later trailers reflect the film’s actual tone more clearly, the teaser trailer portrays it as an entirely different, entirely more serious film. I’m not sure why the teaser was like that, whether it was a conscious decision to make the film more marketable as a run of the mill “person stuck in space” science-fiction thriller or what have you. Whatever the reason, the misleading advertisements haven’t seemed to effect the film’s box-office or critical performance. The same can not be said for the next film.
American Ultra is a film written by Max Landis, directed by Nima Nourizadeh of Project X, and starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. It is an… uhm… action spy romantic stoner comedy, I guess? It is hard to articulate exactly what genres the film falls under, which is certainly something that I share with Lionsgate’s marketing division. They chose the easiest route; market the film as a stoner comedy the same way they would market it the same way they would a Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen movie. While it is true that the film is comedic and does involve stoner characters, it is by no means a “stoner comedy”. Aside from isolated jokes about drugs (all of which were used in the trailers), the film’s humor centers very little on pot or toking up on a gnarly roach or whatever the kids say. The problem with marketing a film as a stoner comedy is that people go in expecting a stoner comedy, which is certainly not the best thing when your film isn’t a stoner comedy. While I found that the weird mishmash of genres was an interesting part of the film, that makes marketing it as being only a small part of the whole entirely unrepresentative of the film, although it is understandable that there is some difficulty conveying conveying the film in a 2 and a half minute space. This, on top of even more confusing posters and mediocre critical reception, meant that I was the only person who saw it. Not saying that the film “deserved” better box office performance than it did or that people wouldn’t understand the “complexity” of the film’s premise, it is a perfect show of how (unintentionally) misleading marketing can draw push people away from a film and harm its performance.
Long story short, Sicario is great, The Martian is happy, and it is impossible to know what American Ultra is like without seeing it. Marketing for a film is very rarely representative of the finished problem, except for Mad Max: Fury Road. The trailer was perfect and blah blah blah best movie ever. You know the rest. I swear I’ll watch the movie I’m supposed to watch next time! Seriously!
(Ha, a misleading title about misleading marketing. I am a #genius.)