Trailer Hitch: Super Bowl Edition
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
February 8, 2005
1) War of the Worlds
“Get in, Manny. Get in, Manny, or you’re gonna die.”
The biggest spots run during the Super Bowl always have the least winnable position. Nobody ever considers this fact, but a known commodity only offers two potential outcomes. It will satisfy lofty expectations or it will disappoint to some degree. The latter is much more likely than the former, as the producers of The Hulk will attest. A film directed by Steven Spielberg starring Tom Cruise and that creepy little Dakota Fanning based on the most famous story of the radio era is a film that is going to have lofty expectations. Surprisingly enough, War of the Worlds does not, however, fall into the category of disappointment.
The commercial has an epic scope of desperation and panic. The fear presented in the spot is highlighted by Fanning looking terrified. The fact that there is something out there that scares her, the most terrifying child since Damien, is more than enough to put the fear of God into us. This tension is amplified by the shots of highway destruction taking place all around them. It’s simple, no-nonsense fear factor.
We give bonus points to the subtle theme presented in the trailer. Cruise’s character is wearing a NY Yankees hat while his passenger is wearing a Boston Red Sox hat. So serious is the threat of alien invasion that even the modern day answers to the Hatfields and the McCoys are able to unite and rise up against the Martians.
2) The Longest Yard
"You can do it!"
This call-back to The Waterboy will be plenty enough to win over people who are already fans of the type of films that proliferate Adam Sandler's filmography. Additionally, there's an allusion to the original 1974 film that is sure to catch the attention of people who loved it. Putting a spot for The Longest Yard smack in the middle of the Super Bowl made a lot of sense, really. Highlighting the various “big” athletes who will be featured in the film alongside Sandler, it's a nice start for a campaign that will certainly be building as the movie's May release date approaches. The Longest Yard certainly looks like a winner.
3) Be Cool
The return of Chili Palmer is something we have been anticipating for a decade now. The last film, Get Shorty, was the first Elmore Leonard novel ever turned into a great motion picture. The witty cynicism of Hollywood’s moviemakers stemmed from prior attempts where Leonard was burned by the incompetence intrinsic to the business. He used this to his advantage and scribe Scott Frank crafted a brilliant cinematic recreation of the tone. The follow-up attempts to use that same subversive streak, but it has been transported to the music industry, another genre fertile for spoofing. The concern here is that the entire production appears to have a hard-on for Quentin Tarantino instead of Leonard. The film title itself references a quote from QT and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn, and there is a dancing sequence between Uma Thurman and John Travolta that is a throwback to Pulp Fiction. We assume these are aberrations rather than a microcosm of the production, but it’s a concern nonetheless. What we do know is that Vince Vaughn in over-the-top mode is hysterical (see: Anchorman and Starsky & Hutch), and he is given the limelight in this commercial over more famous peers Cedric the Entertainer and The Rock. His hanging off the roof is the funniest such sequence since John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda. The pieces are in place for this to be one of the funniest films of the year, and the commercial should be eye-catching to Super Bowl audiences.
Although this Super Bowl spot doesn't really offer up anything new, it ties in nicely to Will Smith's pre-game appearance (he introduced the Eagles as they were coming onto the field). Additionally, it centers completely on the inept Kevin James attempts to dance, which admittedly makes for pretty funny television. Never mind that this entire scene has probably now appeared in advance of the film's release; it's amusing and an easy, vanilla way to draw audiences into the theater. Hitch is shaping up to be one of the big hits of the first quarter of 2005.
5) XXX: State of the Union
For the second time, a Vin Diesel franchise has been launched while leaving Vin behind. 2 Fast 2 Furious opened huge before vanishing, so it’s no surprise that Sony/Revolution would try to make another xXx film even though he passed on the project. The key is to sell new star Ice Cube as the replacement. The trailer does just this as from the first words, Samuel L. Jackson tries to present the replacement as edgier, a guy with “more attitude”. Lee Tamahori, whose last directorial outing was Die Another Day, is given just as much glory, though. The quick cuts show a Michael Bay-esque volume of wrecks and explosions. Carnage rules the day here. XXX: State of the Union is being positioned as a straightforward action movie which has (hopefully) learned from the mistakes of excess inherent to the first film. That makes the sheer number of flaming wreckage a miscalculation to a degree, but Ice Cube seems to have that undefined quality an action hero needs. The concern is that he has shown off this aspect of his nature twice now. Those films were Torque and John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars. Ouch.
Let's just accept from the outset that no one's ever going to out-Pixar Pixar when it comes to the creation of great-looking CGI-animated features with stories that match the exquisite look of the film. With that said, the Super Bowl spot for Robots achieves exactly what it sets out to do: hook the target audience, which is kids and parents looking for safe family fare for those children. The marketing is savvy in its prominent and consistent placement of Robin Williams as the big draw. People who fondly remember him as the voice of The Genie in Aladdin will get warm fuzzies as they internally make the association. Robots looks like good harmless fun, and will almost certainly allow Fox to find similar success to what they had with Ice Age a few years ago.
After a severe misstep in the initial trailer, a conscious decision has been made to move this spot towards the Matrix realm. The heavy doses of mystical special effects are offering audiences a promise of Neo the Sorcerer. The problem is that there is an aura of silliness to it all that cannot be understated. The fervent manner in which Reeves clasps his elbows together in order to cast a spell is an early frontrunner for the most absurd moment of 2005 cinema. We already know from Chain Reaction that the chemistry between Keanu and co-star Rachel Weisz is only marginally better than what Harrison Ford and Anne Heche had in Six Days Seven Nights. Nothing happens to dispel that notion in the Super Bowl spot. With a recent rash of very, very bad comic book films creating a skepticism about the genre, Constantine needs to be a home run. Instead, it feels like the worst sort of degenerative copycat. It’s not quite Elektra bad, but it’s certainly in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen class.
In hindsight, the boldest move of Super Bowl advertising was made by the producers of Sahara. They waited until the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter to air the trailer. Had the game been a blowout, they would have totally missed a good portion of the audience. The problem was that they were two plays too early. The game was 24-14 at the two-minute mark. Right after that, the Eagles scored the TD to make the game close. Had Sahara's commercial aired at the 1:48 break, *everyone* would have been attentive. The onside kick to determine the game was coming up on the next play. It really doesn’t matter that much, though, because the commercial is lousy. Basically, dust is kicked around for awhile. There are shades of The Mummy, Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone and even National Treasure here. The reality is that the films that are most readily comparable from a visual perspective are Hidalgo and The Flight of the Phoenix, and that’s not a good thing. Later marketing might reveal a more interesting, distinctive nature to the project. But a ton of money was spent to buy a Super Bowl spot, and little was done with it.
9) Batman Begins
I can still remember back in the early months of 1989, when Tim Burton's Batman was a wildly anticipated affair. Despite concerns about the casting of Michael Keaton, the marketing for the film was ubiquitous and effective, with t-shirts bearing the Bat-signal being one of the most popular clothing items for college students at that time.
After the franchise was seemingly eviscerated by Joel Schumacher with Batman and Robin, the adventures of the comic book hero will return to the big screen, this time under the guidance of the brilliant Christopher Nolan, who guided a little film called Memento to wider attention than it was ever expected to receive.
Unfortunately, the previews so far just aren't doing it. The scenes fly fast and furious, and the character of The Scarecrow definitely does look intriguing. However, Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman just feels woefully miscast. He displays all of the charisma of a wooden block in the Super Bowl spot, which is especially bad considering that he's supposed to portray "off the cuff" ease of nature in the final snippet. Given the proliferation of comic book films in theaters in recent years, Batman Begins doesn't offer up anything special or unique.
10) The Pacifier
After the wild-looking action of the xXx sequel – starring Ice Cube rather than Vin Diesel – it's depressing to see the gravely-voiced Diesel reduced to comedy relief in this sanitized family comedy. Sure, Arnold had his Kindergarten Cop too, but playing Diesel against a set of feisty kids simply seems to have disaster written all over it. Not only did Cube take the prime xXx role, but he beat Diesel to the punch by starring in a similarly-themed Are We There Yet? I've always believed that Diesel has been unfairly maligned as a bad actor, but he's really not doing himself any favors with his career choices at this point.