There’s an article I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time now, readers. It’s about the controversial and emotional topic of hype. Hype is basically the cross-roads between marketing and word of mouth publicity, for anyone who’s living under a rock. It’s what studio marketeers and advertising departments are hoping for when they make trailers and ads and posters for a movie. It’s pretty much free publicity, supported by the public, where a movie’s advertising campaign becomes a self-sustaining phenomenon. You put out a poster and a trailer in enough public spaces, and people start blogging and talking and making a big fuss about your movie. This is a studio’s wet dream, cos it means that after the entire marketing budget is spent, if you’ve done a good enough job, people are still talking about your movie up to the release date and beyond. If the movie looks good enough and is from a big enough name director who has a lot of online fans willing to vote his movie to number one on the IMDb Top 250 within four days of its release (stupid fanboys), hype is a guaranteed phenomenon.
Hype is a powerful force within the movie world. It can make opening weekends and kill second weeks. Ang Lee’s Hulk, a movie I stand beside to this day, opened at number one. It’s negative hype caught up with it by the second weekend, and dropped the movie 60% in earnings from week to week. Is that movie still the record holder for greatest decrease in revenue from opening week to second weekend? I should hope so. Nobody deserves to be hit by hype and bad press like that. Hype can also be a very positive powerful force. For instance, James Cameron’s Avatar is now the number one grossing film of all time. Number two is James Cameron’s Titanic. James Cameron’s next movie should–I say should–be a moderate success.
Why am I so fascinated by hype today? Truth is, I’ve meant to write this article since the first real article I published here, Five Movies You Should See Instead of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. When I first posted that article to Facebook, a friend of mine who’d enjoyed the movie–also named Joe–replied in a very thoughtful and respectful manner that he disagreed with my position on Scott Pilgrim. I want to mention how kind he was about this so that no one reading this thinks I’m just mad at somebody and venting. However, he pointed out that in my article, I’d mentioned that Scott Pilgrim had been hyped to a fever pitch by everyone I knew and that he’d seen it untainted by the hype machine. A point to be made, sure. But over the last couple months, the underlying implication has bugged me for a few reasons.
The biggest reason it irks me is that I now have to ask myself: Was I disappointed in Scott Pilgrim for being a waste of potential from very talented people or was I disappointed because of how frequently I was reminded by everyone I knew that it was incredible? I remember the first time I suffered hype backlash. I was thirteen years old, and a total pill, so when everyone told me about this “great movie” called Finding Nemo, I just tuned out. When I saw it later that year, I couldn’t stand it. What was this, made for kids? God. Kids movies are SO immature, you know? Finally seeing it again years later, I realized how much I’d let myself be influenced not by the movie but by the fans, and re-evaluated my opinion of little Nemo. This was over a year before Pilgrim was released.
Probably the most important experience I have in answering the question above was my experience with Christopher Nolan. I like Christopher Nolan a little bit more than I like David Fincher. They’re at about the same level of quality to me, with Nolan getting more frequent moments of brilliance in exchange for more frequent studio backing. Now, the first time I saw Batman Begins, I was fifteen and loved it. It was so grim and gritty and action-y. I was a pill at fifteen, too. Eventually, after I came out of The Dark Knight and thought it was about forty-five minutes to an hour overlong, I realized: not since Memento had I really loved one of Christopher Nolan’s movies. They’d all managed to middle around a B to B+ range of filmmaking. This was when I fell out of love with Christopher Nolan–about four to six months before Inception‘s release.
I was never excited for Inception, and I was alone in that (with the exception of Dan). Everyone I spoke to who had so much as heard the title of the film agreed it was one of the biggest landmarks in cinematic history, and this was well before release. Even until the day it came out, I was still refusing to see it in theaters, wanting to catch it OnDemand or on Blu-Ray at a later date. Yet, when a movie like Inception comes along, you know that you’ll end up seeing it at the movie house. Sure enough, my parents, Ailish and I went to see it on the Sunday of the opening weekend. I say this now so that it can be immortalized for all time: Inception was the first movie from Nolan since Memento to thrill me and impress me. It was a unique experience in storytelling that won’t be reproduced for a long time. And this was after it had been hyped to death and I still wasn’t interested.
So, was I disappointed in Scott Pilgrim for being a waste of potential or was I disappointed because of how frequently I’d heard that it was great? If my reaction to Inception says I can see a movie for how good it really is, even when I’m initially uninterested in it and the hype has built to a deafening fervor around its release, then I was disappointed because there are more better movies than Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It’s a critic’s job to be able to see through and around hype and their own expectations going into the theater. I’m not a critic yet, but with my experiences with Inception and Scott Pilgrim in recent memory, I like to think I’m learning how it’s done.