Guard your secrets

Posted by · 7:52 am · June 16th, 2010

Yes, another “Inception” post — the wilting lettuce garnish and half-nibbled canap├ęs that make up this year’s summer-movie buffet aren’t providing us with a wealth of conversation topics, you may have noticed.

Brent Lang’s lengthy piece in The Wrap on the film’s marketing strategy covers a familiar angle: positioning the film as the Great White Hope for original material in rehash-crazy Hollywood, while noting the commercial risks posed by its cerebral subject matter in the current climate. (Less familiar is the description of “Public Enemies” as a “high-concept” blockbuster — huh? — but Lang gets his point across.)

Two things in the article, however, struck me as worthy of mention. The first, which may or may not be significant, is that Lang relies largely on the internet community for quotes, tapping Drew McWeeny of HitFix, Mike Sampson of JoBlo, Steve Weintraub of Collider and Alex Billington of FirstShowing ahead of any print journos or industry representatives.

Perhaps Lang simply skews that way himself, but it’s tempting to read into this a more prominent profile for the film in online (some might say fanboy) circles than elsewhere. Or, most likely, not.

The second relates to a split in opinion among those questioned as to the merits of the film’s highly guarded, even oblique, marketing approach — with each new trailer carefully recycling the same limited footage and a tease-heavy viral campaign. For a film most are expecting to save the season, not many people have much idea of what it’s actually about.

McWeeny praises Christopher Nolan for protecting his property like this in an era when trailers routinely cover at least two-and-a-half of a film’s three acts, and I’m right there with him. (Full disclosure: I haven’t actually watched the trailer, and don’t intend to — par for the course with my most-anticipated titles, lately.) It seems others, however, are dissatisfied with the marketers’ work:

[S]ome bloggers complain that “Inception’s” online promotions have dealt too much with explication and haven’t given viewers enough Easter eggs to justify the time spent. “Some viral campaigns really worked separate from the movie as entertainment, but this isn’t one of them,” Sampson said. “The ones that work better tend to be based on an existing property such as ‘Tron’ or ‘The Dark Knight.'”

Further, some, such as Alex Billington at, have griped that the posters and their taglines “Protect Your Thoughts” and “Mind Crime Is Real” are infuriatingly vague.

With due respect to Billington, I say keep it vague — from posters to taglines to trailers. Few things are as exhilarating as walking into a film cold, piecing the premise together and learning the rules of the storytelling as you go. (It’s a pretty stern test of a screenplay, too, given how many mainstream titles these days neglect essential character and situational set-up, assuming the marketing has already done the work. A friend who recently watched “Iron Man 2” with no knowledge of its predecessor or its source material told me it took her a good 20 minutes to figure out who she was supposed to be following.)

I first experienced this when, aged 15, I attended an advance test screening of “The Truman Show,” knowing little more than the names of the talent involved. Needless to say, its revelations were as startling to be as they were to Truman Burbank himself. Outside of the festival rush — when it’s all one can do to remember the title of the film one is scrambling to the theater for, much less the synopsis — it’s not something I get to experience often these days.

For my money, then, the best-marketed film of 2009 was “A Serious Man,” a thematically unwieldy beast of a movie that intelligently sold itself on strange, prickly atmosphere rather than any recognizable narrative hook. Of course, non-arthouse fare isn’t allowed the luxury of being so wilful — in the final month before “Inception” hits screens, then, I hope Nolan et al continue to be as infuriating as they can get away with. In this of all summers, playing the game differently from everyone else can only be a good thing.

→ 14 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

14 responses so far

  • 1 6-16-2010 at 7:58 am

    MovieMan said...

    So are you anticipating “Inception” as much as Kris very obviously is, Guy? And what about you, Chad?

    I can’t wait for the screening.

  • 2 6-16-2010 at 8:04 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Very much so — though I have concerns, too. It’s a good position to be in.

  • 3 6-16-2010 at 8:45 am

    James D. said...

    I kind of can’t wait for this thing to pass. Nolan can usually be depended on, but people have acted like this is the Second Coming.

  • 4 6-16-2010 at 9:02 am

    Red said...

    My concerns about this movie are becoming smaller and smaller each day. While I’ve always been excited for this, I thought this movie had a very “Public Enemies” feel to it on several different levels, ironically right down to the love interest of Marion Cotillard.

    Not exactly a bad thing, since I thought Public Enemies was horribly underrated and simply thrown aside by the public because of it’s length and the way Mann delivered it, but I just don’t want Inception to end up with the same fate.

  • 5 6-16-2010 at 9:20 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    As is well known around these parts, I love “Public Enemies” — but I fail to see any similarity so far.

  • 6 6-16-2010 at 10:32 am

    Sarah El said...

    I agree that there is nothing quite like walking into a movie cold, not knowing precisely what to expect from it, and it is for that very reason that I’m more excited about Inception than pretty much every other movie this summer – because I’m not sure what I’ll get out of it, as opposed to say, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which is pretty clearly an infusion of indie rock culture, Michael Cera awkwardness, and modernist comic book. The trailer is great, but it also doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination, which is the most important part of watching a movie. In fact, if I don’t see the movie, it’s not such a big deal, because the trailer was plenty enough.

    And that problem with trailers is what makes some movies completely disappointing next to their trailers. For instance, when I first saw the Watchmen trailer, I was astounded and thought it was fantastic. The movie itself? Not bad, but not nearly as good as the story the trailer told. Not to mention many comedies and horror films giving away all the funny/scary moments in the trailer and reserving none to actually surprise the audience later on in the theater.

  • 7 6-16-2010 at 11:06 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I am excited for Inception. But the only Nolan film I really like is The Dark Knight.

  • 8 6-16-2010 at 11:09 am

    Filmoholic said...

    I’m sorry, but why should we care what Alex Billington thinks? A fanboy with a website who has absolutely no film knowledge (he’s never heard of Rebel Without A Cause), and no revewing skills.

    It’s embarrassing these days that every nerd with website is somehow an authority on film, or someone with an opinion worth listening to.

    Anyway, I have no issues with the marketing of Inception. The less we know the better.

  • 9 6-16-2010 at 5:30 pm

    Hans said...

    Wow, Chad, I am glad to hear that. I know I’ve commented before on your peculiar but justifiable distaste for nearly eerything mainstream, so that was a pleasant surprise to read.

  • 10 6-16-2010 at 6:40 pm

    DRM said...


    You’ve seen no footage of Inception? I have to admit that is pretty impressive. I’m surprised you have been able to avoid the trailers.

  • 11 6-16-2010 at 6:51 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I’ve also avoided the trailers, minus the first teaser. It’s not hard since I rarely see big studio films in the theater and I don’t have a TV. Common practice to steer clear of anything I already know I’ll be checking out.

  • 12 6-17-2010 at 1:20 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    DRM: Admittedly, the fact that I attend press screenings a lot of the time makes it easier to avoid trailers.

  • 13 6-17-2010 at 10:00 am

    Red said...

    Guy: Not saying that the movies themselves are going to be similar, just the people working on them and the anticipation of summer releases of their size expected to receive alot of awards attention as well.

  • 14 6-17-2010 at 10:57 pm

    MovieMan said...

    If it manages to better “The Dark Knight”…I’ll have been stunned, considering “The Dark Knight” was perfect in every way.