Liberty Under Attack

August 7, 2007 § Leave a comment

By Mike Gillis

The new teaser poster for “Cloverfield,” the top-secret movie project from J.J. Abrams, has been circulating for a few weeks. As a piece of premature promotion, it’s not that impressive. (See our earlier take on “Cloverfield.”)

What is it with blockbusters all wanting a piece of the Statue of Liberty? The teaser trailer for “Cloverfield” features a quick shot of the head of the statue rolling down a New York street.

But who is shocked or even offended at the sight of a defiled Ms. Liberty these days? After all, she’s fallen victim to a host of sinister plots over the course of cinematic history.

Certainly the statue has figured into some finer cinematic moments, such as Hitchcock’s “Saboteur,” and even as a sign of hope in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Immigrant.”

But it’s more often been a target of the blockbuster.

Here are some other clips and movie posters featuring the Statue of Liberty.

“Escape from New York”

“Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins”

“The Day After Tomorrow”

“United 93”

“Planet of the Apes”


For more on the Statue of Liberty in popular culture, see this page:


Cavemen, Start Your Cameras!

July 19, 2007 § 1 Comment

By Mike Gillis

So here we are, eight months away from the release of “10,000 BC,” the latest pop epic from once and future blockbuster king, Roland Emmerich. Eight months isn’t a lot of time to prep audiences for a film (see our earlier post on “Cloverfield”) so Warner Brothers has already dispensed with a teaser trailer thick with angry cavemen, mastodons, pyramids and woolly mammoths to whet our appetites. I’m going to bet the filmmakers have concentrated on little thus far other than the effects included in the trailer. Well, that and filming thousands of extras in loincloths battering each other with rubber spears.

It’s simply too easy to question the movie’s value. It will be big. It will be dazzling to the eye. It will make hundreds of millions. It will be called historically accurate or reckless and sacrilege. (There is no dialogue in the trailer, so it’s unknown if Emmerich will follow the path of Mel Gibson and “Apocalypto” and choose to use the native tongue, which for “10,000 BC” is … grunting?)

The real question is, what’s up with our affinity for cavemen? Would “10,000 BC” be possible if not for Geico? I don’t think “Clan of the Cave Bear” had much to do with it.

Perhaps the answer is biological.

For years, we’ve been told to get know our primal selves, to look to our ancestors for answers. Whether it’s Robert Bly yapping about “primal masculinity” or Ken Russell looking backwards in the underrated “Altered States,” life’s mysteries — or at least nagging questions like how do I twist off a bottle cap with my teeth — are already encapsulated in our genetic past.

H.P. Lovecraft once wrote, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” That simple truth serves us well to this day.

Of course, it may also do well by the filmmakers of “10,000 BC.” If it’s true that our basest and most fundamental urges and emotions are primal, then we should be scared silly seeing our ancestors on the big screen being stomped to a bloody pulp by a woolly mammoth. If that’s the case, and we are nothing more than cavemen in sneakers and jeans, then Emmerich may well hit the cinematic jackpot.

And then the cavemen will, finally, have bullied their way to the top of the Hollywood pile.

Cavemen, start your cameras.

See the teaser trailer for “10,000 BC” here:

The Best Movie You Will Never See

July 10, 2007 § 7 Comments

By Mike Gillis

What is “Cloverfield” and will it be a great film? No one cares. Slim chance it will be remembered beyond opening weekend. That won’t matter.

“Cloverfield” is the working title of a secret film project by “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams. Based on the paucity of information available, it’s a monster movie about a giant parasite. Or robot. Or ancient deity. Websites and blogs are popping up all over the web, components of a very savvy marketing campaign generating early interest in the yet-to-be-named picture, set for release in January 2008.

So why are we talking about it now?

“Cloverfield” is sure to become one of the most notable examples of how movies are marketed in the modern age. The film’s publicity arm is already tapping into a hyperactive and voracious network of bloggers and web socialites, feeding them intrigue in small but steady doses. A short teaser trailer surfaced in theaters during the opening weekend of “Transformers,” triggering a landslide of giddy interest and debate online, where the trailer now lives. A whole contingent of moviegoers hopes the monster is Godzilla.

Selling a movie these days, specifically those of the tent-pole variety, isn’t about the movie or even whether it’s any good. It’s about product. And product placement — not whether brand-name potato chips are devoured on screen, but to transform the movie itself into a consumable product. The majority of movies released today are crafted as nothing more than disposable entertainment. You watch, you’re entertained, you forget.

Now before you start flaming me as a “film snob,” understand I like being entertained as much as anyone at the movies. Whatever other purpose film may serve — social, philosophical, investigative — it is foremost a medium intended to entertain. That’s fine.

But what happens when people are herded to the theater for the next big picture — and it’s no good? Nothing. The movie lives on, on DVD, online and in infinite syndication. I mean, how many times have you seen “Tremors” on TV?

That picture has probably earned back its budget ten times over on television alone. (“Tremors” isn’t a bad little B-picture, actually.) What about the atrocious “Independence Day,” which ratcheted up the Hollywood hype machine months in advance? Who doesn’t want to see a movie in which the White House blows up? Or what about the years-long buildup to the god-awful “Star Wars, Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace,one of the worst but highest-grossing movies of all time? The end-of-the-world picture is always populat, but who really remembers “The Day After Tomorrow” just a few years after its successful run in theaters?

Spreading the good word before a movie is released is not a new strategy. Oh sure, there were reports of inexplicable catastrophes on the set of William Friedkin’sThe Exorcist,” which no doubt steered a few people to the theater. And what about the long-running press coverage of “Apocalypse Now’s” seemingly doomed production?

Everyone loves a train wreck. But those two pictures survived. They are watched, discussed and enjoyed today, They would have likely survived without incessant coverage.

And they made it without “viral marketing.” Viral marketing aims to perpetuate a product primarily via the internet and its social networks. Once the seed is planted, and if it catches on, word spreads on its own. It’s a perfect vehicle for movies. Click here for a look at how a viral marketing campaign works.

The Blair Witch Project” was one of the first films to latch onto viral marketing. Via mysterious websites and curious clues planted online — much like “Cloverfield” — the filmmakers sparked interest in a little movie, shot on video, that would have otherwise disappeared without a trace. Instead, that curiosity translated into big box office and made “The Blair Witch Project” one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time. Not bad for a film, despite my admiration for its limited resources, isn’t a very good movie.

Which brings us back to “Cloverfield.”

Is it a movie about Godzilla? One of the entities from the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft? Voltron?

Keep watching the web. The mystery is bound to be better than the movie.

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