On this week’s episode of The Un-Titled Movie Podcast With Ron & Craig, we continue ScOctober: The Reckoning with Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. We watch one of the most WTF flicks we’ve ever done on the show and lose our minds with anger as we try to understand what the hell we’re watching! It’s a very “You got your jelly in my peanut butter! You got your peanut butter in my jelly!” situation…except instead of delicious sandwich spreads, we’re watching someone try to combine a zany Tim Burton flick with an epic Robert Zemeckis movie, with mass killings and post-mortem sexual assault! It’s a real treat for the eyes and the soul. By “treat’’ I mean “I wanted to hide under the bed and sob whilst angrily punching a Japanese love-pillow with Kickboxer-style glass fists the entire time I was watching it because I found it so confusing and so scattershot in its delivery”. Yeah as you can tell, I really dug this movie! Is it the movie’s fault though? Or was I just mislead by the marketing when I was a kiddo? The world may never know, and I will never know if I would’ve enjoyed this flick more if I didn’t think that it was a laugh-out-loud horror-comedy that would harken back to the days of Ghostbusters and Back To The Future, only to be shocked and annoyed by the ghost-rape, cult references, and complete lack of anything funny after the first fifteen minutes…did I mention the mass-killing?
Anyhow, the point is that I didn’t really enjoy this movie the first time I saw it and disliked it even more on my most recent viewing, and that might be the marketing’s fault, because you never get another chance to create and fulfill the expectations of a first viewing. This has happened to me before, more than once, with the most ready example being The Way Of The Gun.
Let’s start off by saying this: I dig the hell out of The Way Of The Gun. It’s written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Mission Impossible: Fallout, and you know, winning a friggin’ Academy Award), it’s got some sweet Benicio Del Toro action, James Caan, Taye Diggs, Juliette Lewis, and is the only reason I began to realize that Ryan Phillipe is talented. It’s also a damned poem of a movie that features cool dialogue, great music, and is all slick and tone and mood. It’s like a lesson in cool, I heart it. However, I didn’t at first, and that’s why my friends and I walked out of the theatre the first time I tried to watch it. Yeah that’s right, I walked out of a movie; something I’d never done before and I haven’t done since. I saw Master Of Disguise and The Last Jedi in the theatre and got all the way through; I was that serious, and it’s all the marketing’s fault.
I remember it like it was yesterday, the trailers that were blasted all over MTV in the weeks before its release. They featured rock music (Incubus, when I liked Incubus…like way more than anyone should like Incubus), comedy beats (Ryan Phillipe jumping into the empty fountain and getting hurt), and a ton of action. Plus, it’s a movie called The Way of The Gun, it had to be an action-comedy! It was going to be huge! I bought tickets in advance! I made my friends all come with me because it looked like literally the best thing ever!
We got the theatre and I was shocked at how empty it was. It was the old Bayside Quad on Bell Boulevard in Queens (New York), and I had expected such a small theater to be packed to the gills with people waiting to enjoy the next 48hrs, Midnight Run, or Beverly Hills Cop; the second coming of Point Break or Die Hard. Nevertheless, I munched some popcorn and waited to have my life changed.
Thirty minutes later I was walking to the car, having left an empty theater because my friends and I hadn’t signed up for this “slow burn” crap. I didn’t know what I was seeing because I was so ill-prepared for the film I was being shown. How could I appreciate something so nuanced and deliberate when I was being told I was going to watch a shoot-em-up with laugh out loud moments? I didn’t watch the movie all the way through until a couple of years later, and didn’t really fully appreciate it until a couple of years and a few re-watches after that. It was a tragedy of cinematic enjoyment, and it’s one of my strongest memories of advertising setting me up for failure…at least when it comes to movies; the toy companies were running this gambit on me for years when I was a kid; so much so that they created laws against certain types of false advertising to protect my generation from being swindled.
There’s been plenty of other instances where movie marketing tricked me into watching something for the wrong reasons. Anyone remember Find Me Guilty? It was marketed as a comedy about a whacky mobster who (*record scratch*) defends himself in court! There was going to be My Cousin Vinny style courtroom hijinks, Italian stereotypes, and a boat load of cliché jokes about pasta and meatballs and grandma’s sauce. Even the box for the DVD had Vin Diesel shrugging his shoulders at the viewer while a bunch of Mafiasos in loud suits made funny faces in the background. I rented it ready to enjoy two hours of goofy lasagna jokes, but what I got was a serious courtroom drama! I hated it! It’s got some solid reviews on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s probably not bad for what it is, but it was a terrible comedy and that’s what I signed up for. This was a legit flick with big stars too, not some Asylum Production called The Quick And The Angry about race cars, it was directed by the guy who made friggin’ Serpico! I expect some honesty in the marketing!
Unfortunately, even as trailers have become something you look up on YouTube after reading a blog post about a movie you hears about on a website a year before, video stores have ceased to exist, and DVD covers only exist in Walmarts and Amazon fulfillment centers, the trend of lying to the audience through film marketing continues. Whether it’s the thumbnail on Netflix pretending that Bruce Willis is in more than five minutes of some cop-flick that actually stars a lesser-known Wahlberg, or a trailer showing the only funny parts of Steve Carrell movie that’s actually super-depressing (I’m making these examples up, but I’m sure there’s some accidental accuracy in them), the marketing departments for most film releases could care less about giving us an accurate depiction of what movie we are getting ourselves into. Some would say that you can’t blame them because it’s their job to show us only the best from what they’re promoting. Others would say that I’m a moron who expects trailers that say “This movie sucks and you shouldn’t watch it because it’s not going to give you what you’re looking for”. I say screw all of that. If a movie sucks and someone pays you to show that it doesn’t, show me a trailer with only the good parts, sure, but show me a trailer that’s at least honest about what genre of film we’re watching. If you can only afford to have John Malkovich on set for two days, put his name on the poster, but at least put “And Featuring” before his name so I know that he’s not running the show. You don’t have to judge the quality of the movie for me, I can do that for myself, just don’t lie to me! Don’t give me false expectations, and maybe I won’t hate your movie when it doesn’t reach those expectations. Most people decide on what to watch from a check on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s not doing you any favors to have bunch of negative reviews floating around because you promised comedy but delivered tragedy.
I have plenty of other gripes to make about trailers, but I will save those for another day. For now, just remember that you’re probably better off going into a movie having only read the logline and knowing if you enjoy the work of the people involved. Try it sometime, you can’t be let down if you don’t really have expectations. End Rant.
BONUS Random Train of Thought:
“The Lesser Known Wahlbergs” sounds like the name of a band that would sing the track from the trailer for a movie starring Rachel Leigh Cook and Giovanni Ribisi as teenagers who work in a supermarket and have a quirky romance during a summer power outage that traps them in the store.
I just remembered whilst writing this that in Gone In 60 Seconds there’s a character named ”Freb”. Chi McBride is also in that flick, hence the train of thought. So yeah, Freb…welcome to the early 2000s.
Also, whenever I think of the name ”McBride” I think of Marty’s boss mispronouncing his name in Back To The Future 2 and Sab Shimono trying to say “McBride Trail” in The Big Hit
We will be covering The Big Hit someday. Screw you, I love that movie.
Finally, Sab Shimono was in Gung-Ho¸and I’ve heard people say that said movie is racist. While it’s not the most culturally sensitive thing ever created, I have to argue and always will say that it’s not at all racist against its Japanese characters. Instead, at least through my current lens (30 years after the fact), I see it as more of a comment on how crappy Americans can be at allowing outsiders to assimilate into their culture. Anyhow, I dig that movie, and the final message is that we can all learn from each other, if it takes an exaggerated group of Japanese men soaking in a lake and George Wendt being an ugly American to get there…so be it.