The Weekly Moviegoer - Marketing the Theatrical Experience
by Christopher Campbell
August 27, 2009
If you've seen the trailer for the upcoming fourth Final Destination movie, you know it looks pretty terrible. Not quite as bad as the third Final Destination movie, but not nearly as good as the first two. You also know that it looks to be a recycled plot without having even the slightest connection to the rest of the franchise. And last but not least, you're aware that it pretty much already shows us all, or at least the majority, of the Rube Goldberg-type kills featured in the movie. But there's still a chance you're going to see it anyway, because you haven't seen any of it in 3-D, just as the tagline says: "Death saved the best for 3D!"
I know, in this case the 3-D appeal is very much a gimmick, but for a movie like this, that is nevertheless a worthy draw. Not necessarily for the film itself, but for the theatrical experience of the film. If you're not interested in the movie in anyway, so be it. But if you're even slightly interested, you know you can't wait to see it on DVD, and you know you can't just download it illegally. There would be little point. The sole reason this sequel was produced was to exploit the new digital 3-D technology.
Now, if only there was some way to convince people that they have to see other kinds of movies in the theater as opposed to on their TV or laptop. Trailers certainly don't advertise the moviegoing experience. How many times have you seen a trailer and said, “This looks good, but it seems like something I can wait to see when it comes out on DVD?” Too many to count, I'm sure.
So what is it that makes you see the movies in the theater that you see in the theater? Assurance that you won't get the same experience by waiting for it, right? It doesn't even have to be that there's a gimmick or spectacular visuals that require a big screen. It could simply be that you want to be part of the zeitgeist, to be able to talk about a hot topic film. This is the reason Twitter is allegedly helping films like District 9 and Inglourious Basterds. It's not just that Twitter is a good and quick word of mouth tool. We already had texting for that. No, it's likely more to do with the fact we can see what is popularly being talked about.
Here's where I must apologize that this week's column is clearly veering too much into the subject of movie marketing. But I'm almost as interested in that subject as I am in the pastime of moviegoing and of movie theaters, so it was unavoidable that I would eventually need to discuss their relationship to each other. Typically the relationship is not there. Film distributors and marketers rarely seem to care how we see their films, just so long as we're aware of them and want to see them in some way (and don't pirate them).
So why isn't the movie theater business doing more to market themselves? Well, they kind of have been for the past century. We just don't really pay attention to them anymore. Plus, these theater ads have primarily been buried in a section of a newspaper we only go to because we already want to see a film in the theater. They're useful marketing in that they tell us that such and such movie we want to see is playing in their theater and not at the competing cinema down the street. We typically don't bother with the parts of the ad that promote the theater's sound system or air conditioning or whatever other amenities it has.
Well, reportedly those kinds of showtime theater ads, along with print movie listings in general, are becoming extinct. Coincidentally, in the same week, we heard about a new kind of movie marketing strategy to promote the theatrical experience over the home viewing experience: make an underwhelming trailer. Well, that's what Sam Worthington said, anyway, when defending the widely dumped-on trailer for James Cameron's Avatar, in which he stars. Theoretically such a strategy only works if the movie is already anticipated, but the seemingly bonkers idea is that if we don't like what we see on our computer screen, we'll want to see it as it's intended, on the big screen, presented with the next wave of digital 3-D technology.
I've already complained about such a concept back when DreamWorks Animation thought it a good idea to market Monsters vs. Aliens with TV and magazine ads that employed antiquated red-and-blue style 3-D technology. But in this case, though I highly doubt it was Cameron's intent, the idea really might work. As much as I've trashed the Avatar trailer publicly elsewhere, I'm still curious enough to probably see the movie when it comes out. Because it's something that will remain a topic of discussion, and even if I'm only slightly interested in seeing the movie, I know that I'll have to see it in the theater.
Or, maybe I can wait. Another interesting coincidence this week, a more unfortunate one, was the news that Cameron is endorsing Panasonic's new 3-D HDTVs arriving in stores next year. Just in time for Avatar to come out on Blu-Ray, huh?
And I guess maybe The Final Destination will be able to be experienced as it's meant to be with those TVs, as well. That's why I wish I could afford to fly back to Arizona just for this weekend just to experience the movie in both 3-D and motion seats. But the combined gimmicks aren't appealing enough to warrant the cost even if I could afford it, so I'll just stick to seeing it in plain old 3-D and hope there's a kid sitting behind me who will kick the back of my chair, as is often the case when I don't want motion seats.
So what's a good way to market a movie specifically for theatrical viewing? I'm not entirely sure, though I imagine that when we finally see a trailer for Terrence Malick's long-awaited new film Tree of Life, I'm going to see how underwhelming the cinematography is in streaming video and know that I just have to see the film on a big screen. So what else coming out soon is going to require a theatrical viewing and why?