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Hollywood Buzz and Bust Marketing: Comparing The Green Lantern to Iron Man, Phantom Menace and Indiana Jones 4

–Guest post by Patrick Riley, AoE Culture Correspondent

There was a time when mainstream media coverage of an upcoming movie would create buzz about the film. Nowadays, publications like the New York Times find themselves covering the buzz that’s been created in the blogosphere.

In a recent article, the Times nicely describes the marketing ups-and-downs experienced by Green Lantern on its way to being this past weekend’s blockbuster opening:

In April Ain’t It Cool News, the Web zine that serves as a barometer of taste in this corner of culture, sent joy pulsing through Warner with this post: “Inspired. This is exactly what I wanted from a ‘Green Lantern’ movie.”

That sentiment is a polar reversal from November, when Warner released a trailer (timed to play before “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) that seemed to mimic the winking humor of “Iron Man” and featured cartoony special effects., lamenting the “dodgy-looking special effects,” deemed the trailer “amateur hour.” There was a creeping dread that Warner’s big DC debut would hark back to the ridiculed “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.”

“We went out a little too early,” said Sue Kroll, Warner’s highly regarded movie marketing president. “For me it was a very important lesson. We had a great opportunity with ‘Harry Potter,’ but we didn’t have enough of the movie finished.”

She added, “Once we did have some great moments to show, the feedback was unbelievable. I think people are now engaged and primed.”

A few things come to mind after reading this account:

—>The first is that, despite being a longtime Green Lantern semi-fan (I chose an emerald for my high school ring but never really knew the character’s back story), I was quick to shake my head in disappointment when I read reaction to the November trailer. I’d thoroughly enjoyed director Martin Campbell’s James Bond re-boot Casino Royale but my disdain for most big-budget comic book adaptations allowed me to be swayed by the negative talk. (I was unaware until recently that the buzz had improved, and I’m now rooting for it and hoping it’s indeed “watchable,” as Kenneth Turan says in his review.)

—> I also experienced the buzz rollercoaster with the recent J.J. Abrams-directed Super 8. When I first heard the idea, I was intrigued: A train shipping mysterious cargo out of Area 51 derails in a small town and some local kids making an amateur movie capture footage of a monster escaping the wreckage. But then, perhaps after seeing the FX-heavy trailer one too many times, I began to lose interest. It wasn’t until I caught some favorable online word-of-mouth (“Original, entertaining, suspenseful, young actors who don’t suck, real characters,” wrote a Facebook friend) that I decided to see it opening weekend and found it a warm, if heavily flawed, homage to Steven Spielberg classics like Close Encounters and The Goonies.

—> But what also strikes me about the Times buzz analysis is that there was “creeping dread that Warner’s big DC debut would hark back to the ridiculed Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.”

Twelve years after its release, George Lucas’s return to the saga that changed the industry remains the ultimate buzzkill. Even the strong negative reaction generated by Indiana Jones 4 couldn’t hold a candle to the generational letdown of the Star Wars prequels. And the official company line that fans were simply remembering the originals with nostalgia-tinted glasses only rubbed salt in the wound.

That the disappointment is still rippling is evident in a recent YouTube viral hit called George Lucas Strikes Back, which imagines the director was abducted, Oldboy style, and an imposter made the prequels in his place. 

In the comments section, a viewer questioned the clip’s relevance: “It was funny but a lot of effort to go to just to whine about the prequels. It’s not like that’s a bold new stance to take on those films. Especially on the internet.”

To that came another commenter’s succinct reply: “Some wounds continue to stay fresh longer than others.”

Indeed. No matter how Green Lantern does at the box office – and the opening weekend take was less than studio projections – the film’s producers surely realize, for better or worse, that it’s no Star Wars. A decade from now, no one’s going to care.

–Guest post by Age of Engagement culture correspondent Patrick Riley. A recent MFA graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Riley has worked as a journalist, a screenwriter, and a TV editor. This year he is spending time overseas studying the burgeoning Vietnamese film and entertainment industry, while keeping his eye on industry developments across the Pacific. He will be sharing his observations and field notes with AoE readers.

Other culture posts by Patrick Riley:

HBO’s Game of Thrones: Marketing, Fan Culture, and Closure to a Beloved Fantasy Series

Fan Culture: Time to Get a Life or An Overlooked Opportunity to Educate?

Mother Nature’s Sons: Beatles’ Progeny Struggle to Create Music Identity


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