Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A diamond amongst diamonds: How JJ Abrams's Super 8 got screwed by an uncommonly strong summer movie season.

It's not the 'secretive' marketing campaign that Paramount is waging for J.J. Abrams's Super 8 (which I will see in Friday, having had to decline the available IMAX press screenings) that is affecting the want-to-see factor leading into its opening weekend this Friday.  Paramount has been keeping a pretty tight leash on plot details for the various trailers, posters, and TV spots, and for that they should be commended.  But instead, they are being criticized in certain circles because the film's tracking data is pointing towards an opening weekend in the $25-30 million range, which is a bit below the standard blockbuster opening weekend in this day and age.  For the record, if the film indeed only cost $50 million as Paramount is claiming, then the 70s/80s Spielberg homage will be sitting more than pretty with a $25 million opening.  A $25 million opening would, barring complete collapse, give the film $70 million in domestic grosses and it could be expected to do at least that much overseas. So with those figures, you've got a $140 million worldwide take on a $50 million budget, which is a pretty big win even before the DVD/Blu Ray figures pour in.  So before I go any further, let us acknowledge that Super 8 does not have a blockbuster-level budget attached to it, so it does not necessarily have to open to blockbuster levels.

So what is the issue at hand then?  Well, Super 8 has been sold and/or teased as 'the one you've been waiting for'.  In a sea of sequels, reboots, and cartoons, Super 8 was supposed to stand tall as an original property telling a character-driven story that happened to take place in the world of pulp fiction.  The film wasn't just selling nostalgia for the 1970s/1980s Steve Spielberg adventure pictures of our youth, it was selling nostalgia of a time when big-studio pictures were theoretically rooted in character, narrative, and technical competence.  In other words, like Inception and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl before it, Super 8 was supposed to save us from crappy summer films and deliver the goods in a way we have been craving.  There's just one problem.  This isn't summer 2010, a season littered with such an initial flurry of crap that The Karate Kid felt like an Oscar-bait prestige picture.  This isn't summer 2003, where a strong May start (The Matrix Reloaded, X2: X-Men United, Finding Nemo) led to a terrible June filled with high-profile artistic whiffs such as 2 Fast 2 FuriousHulk and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.  Those pictures (and to a lesser extent, Batman Begins and Transformers) came along at just the right time to answer our proverbial prayers and deliver the cinematic goods.

But the problem is, quite simply, this summer has been off to a terrific star thus far.  Sure, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was a audience-insulting bore, and The Hangover II was an audience-insulting retread, but audiences didn't seem to mind all that much.  Plus the first weeks of summer have produced a healthy mix of terrific popcorn fare (Fast Five, Bridesmaids, Kung Fu Panda 2, X-Men: First Class) and interesting art-house choices (Tree of Life, Midnight In Paris, Beginners).  As for the rest, Thor was surprisingly solid and Jumping the Broom got decent reviews, while critical wrecks like Something Borrowed and Priest will be quickly forgotten.  Truth be told, this is easily the best summer start since 2002, which opened with Spider-Man, Unfaithful, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and Insomnia.  I'd argue that summer 2002 was the best summer movie slate in modern history, but that's for another day.

Had Paramount waited until mid July, they might have had a better shot.  If Green Lantern, Cars 2, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon underwhelmed, than Super 8 could swoop in as the savior of mid-summer like Chris Nolan and Jack Sparrow in summers prior.  But Paramount was so intent on selling the Spielberg link that they had to pick June 10th, which is the same weekend that Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park all opened.  There is also the issue of the marketing campaign that arguably peaked in March with the release of the first trailer and the main poster.  I've long argued that much of the saturation marketing spent by studios is a waste of time and money, as most general audiences don't really pay attention until the week or two before release.

But point being, Paramount got everyone excited about Super 8, the one summer film that would surely be a winner.  They got the hardcore movie nerds hyperventilating three months before the release date and presumed that moviegoers would be starved for quality when June 10th rolled around.  Paramount bet that the initial offerings of summer 2011 would disappoint, but they lost that wager.  Now Super 8 sits not as a diamond in the rough, but merely another good film in a sea of quality summer spectacle.  It doesn't mean the film will flop or that Paramount should have spilled the goods in the marketing materials.  But it does show the danger of betting on the failure of others.  Come what may, we should merely be thankful for yet another (allegedly) solid summer movie as the winning streak continues.

Scott Mendelson

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails