It’s a truly incredible thing to see movie marketing in action. A movie like Star Trek comes along and it just hits you from every side, gets you at every niche. You never feel more like part of a demographic than you do when you find yourself going to a movie that you really only had, at best, a passing interest.
In the New York Times today, there are at least four articles referencing Star Trek in the Week in Review alone, including one op-ed entirely dedicated to explaining Star Trek in terms of old movies. How did this happen? Is Star Trek just part of the cultural zeitgeist, something that would be silly to ignore?
Don’t be fooled. It’s a manufactured zeitgeist. Behind it was an army of publicists who have, as their weapons, close connections with all sorts of reporters, editorial writers, editors; in short, thick address books with the numbers of people who can get this stuff around.
The genius comes in their ability to creatively come at one demographic by way of another. If you look in today’s Style Section, you’ll see that the 40th anniversary of Woodstock is coming up. If you read a little closer, you’ll see that this is really just a plug for Ang Lee’s new movie in disguise. The genuises at Focus want to get that Woodstock trend back in vogue in time for the movie’s release. The Style section is made for something like that. They are manufacturing that retro vogue of the 60’s.
I generally have no problem with this manipulation of the press. All the major corporations do it (see that article on how organic pork is bad for you from a couple months ago in the NYT). It is infuriating only when you know a film is going to be awful, but somehow some ‘quality’ of the film gets repeated over and over again and you get tricked into seeing it – only to find that the movie sucked despite that quality.
Take Iron Man. I’ve already told you how I got tricked into that one. But that quality became Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. That became the reason to go see the film and most of the people I know, ie. people around 40 who have no business seeing Iron Man, came away from that film saying, “Robert Downey Jr. was so good in it.” Same thing with Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada. Sure, she’s good. She’s always good, but that movie was shit and so was Iron Man.
Sometimes the publicists help make the movie. I’ll always remember standing in line for a movie when I heard an older lady explaining to some kids why Crouching Tiger was good because the martial arts was like ballet. Shouldn’t it have been the kids explaining to her that the movie was good because it came off a wave of awesome Hong Kong movies of the 90’s? Actually, these kids thought the movie was a little slow, but the lady loved a movie that, had she not had some publicist subliminally explain to her why, she would have ignored completely simply because it had martial arts in it. Ang Lee had made a high brow martial arts film and it took that army of publicists to take that disadvantage and make it into a selling point. (Couldn’t get them to make high brow Hulk sell, though, so I guess these publicists are as human as anyone, even if their moral compass is set a little differently than mine.)