Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jonah Hex gets a new poster. A case for not fixing broken films and shorter marketing campaigns.

After near complete silence and less than two months to go, Warner Bros finally is to start the official marketing campaign for Jonah Hex. Envisioned first as a vehicle for Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank, Crank: Full Voltage, Gamer), the DC Comics adaptation eventually fell into the lap of Jimmy Hayward (the animated Horton Hears A Who). However, reshoots and various sorts of behind-scenes-drama seems to have caused Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) to come aboard as a 'consultant'. Whether or not he completely took over the film is a question I cannot answer, but the result is a much-feared final product that has been curiously absent from the springtime summer movie ad parade. On paper, this project looked pretty smart: a violent, supernatural (?) western based on a cult DC Comics character, with an interesting cast (Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, and Aiden Quinn as President William McKinley) and a $50 million budget that allowed the film to not have to set any records in order to be successful.

But with word of rampant reshoots, behind the scenes drama, and poor test screening results, there are two things of note. First of all, let's hope Warner Bros doesn't or already hasn't done a repeat of Universal's handling of The Wolfman. Displeased with the first cut from two years prior, Universal sunk $60 million into 'fixing' the film and ended up with the same $30 million opening and $61 million domestic gross and $76 million overseas total that they likely would have gotten had they just released whatever Joe Johnston turned in in the first place. But instead of dealing with a $90 million under-performer, they were stuck with a $150 million disaster. Point being, unless the original cut was downright unwatchable, there really couldn't have been a need to sink so much money into theoretically improving a horror movie about the wolf-man. People will come and enjoy (or not) as long as they get the gory goods. Same thing with Clash of the Titans, which underwent a severe re-edit that apparently boosted the budget from $80 million to $125 million, only to end up grossing the same $145 million US and $242 million overseas (so far) that they likely would have earned with the vastly different cut that Louis Leterrier turned in. I don't know what went down with the original version of Jonah Hex, and I don't know how much these reshoots have added to the budget. But considering that we're dealing with a B-movie comic-book western, I really don't see the use of trying to fix something that's broken in one way so that it's just broken in a different fashion. After all, the all-important opening weekend isn't about quality, it's about marketing. And it's perfectly easy to market sand to make it look like glass.

Second of all, much has been said regarding the 'mere' two months of anticipation that will follow the release of the above poster and the debut of the full-length trailer (this Friday, with A Nightmare on Elm Street), but two months is more than enough. Sure we nerds love the early teasers and test screening reviews, and other assorted tidbits, but the normal moviegoer doesn't even notice what movies are coming out until the last couple weeks prior to release. Heck, general audiences still often don't know what they are going to see until they get to the theater at the end of their work week. As long as audiences want to see Jonah Hex when they see the commercials on that week's (insert hit summer TV programming here), Warner will be just fine. Just as American political campaigns would be infinitely improved if they were just a few months prior to the election, studios could save countless marketing dollars by simply waiting until just before the release to unleash their advertising campaigns. Movies will cost less to market, thus more interesting movies can be made and/or get theatrical releases, and audiences will be less likely to feel that they've already seen the whole movie in various trailers and online clips before they even walk into the theater. Everybody wins.

Scott Mendelson

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