Gauging the Technology Landscape: Are We Overlooking Content?

While much of the movie blogosphere seems to be filled with amateur movie reviews and secret spy photos of the latest "it"celebrity, I feel a film blog is much more effective when it probes into current events, looking ahead to the shaping of the industry in the future. One popular topic for this type of writing is technology, and with the advent of computers and the way they have revolutionized cinema, conflicting opinions inevitably arise on where we have come from and where we are going. For this week, I have found two blog posts that deal with technology involving 3D film and animation and commented on the topics at hand. 3D has slowly moved to forefront of new film techniques, and this schedule of upcoming 3D films show that more films are on the horizon. The first post deals with one of those films, AVATAR, and its filmmaker James Cameron's future plans with three dimensional film. In my comment of the post, written by Hunter Stevenson, correspondent at SlashFilm, I discuss how Cameron's plans to expand 3D into conventional genres may not be the best idea. The second post, from Alex Billington of FirstShowing.net, looks ahead to Disney and Pixar's upcoming schedule. While the films on tap all appear ground breaking, I question in my post the potential damages that tech-focused film making can have on content.

"James Cameron Announces Next Project After AVATAR...and Yeah, It's in 3D But It's Not Battle Angel"
I found this post really interesting, and a good recap and perspective on the Variety interview with Cameron. With the recent Hannah Montana 3-D concert film release, it seems to be that everyone is discussing the next best way to utilize this new technology on screen. I've followed along with the production of Avatar and can say that its truly exciting to see what such a visionary director like Cameron could do with this new technology, especially due to Cameron's history making large, yet personal films.

However, I can say that talk of Cameron's aspirations of making a drama in 3-D worry me about the oversaturation of this new twist on the medium. While I do believe 3-D has been effective in animated films like Beowulf and event or concert films like U2-3D, and it has potential to change cinema with Avatar, I worry that if it enters every genre it will become bland and overused. If a normal genre such as drama starts to utilize 3-d, I'm afraid films will begin to rely on these effects, and before long audiences will simply be waiting for the character to reach for the mail and have their hand bursting through the screen. I think animation and event films rely on moments that allow 3-d to shine, but I doubt its ability to become the new platform for film. I feel the adjustment process would be simply too drastic and obvious, that would, in turn, dilute the content.

"Disney and Pixar's Full Animated Line-Up Through 2012!"
This post is a very informative look at the upcoming Disney and Pixar schedule, and it caused me to reconsider the landscape of animation today. While it seems like every is looking for the next film to turn into a 3-D masterpiece, I feel what is really being lost in the shuffle is traditional 2-D animation. Now that nearly every film being announced is being upgraded from computer generated images to 3-dimensional computer generated images, the idea of 2-D films of any type is not even spoken about.

While I feel like this advent of 3-D technology can potential push the boundaries of film, it seems to me the technology is moving too fast and without consideration of the artistic consequences. It seems like since the release of Shrek, studios have forgotten that a animated film cannot be successful if presented in the hand drawn style of classics like Beauty and the Beast and Lion King. The animated landscape must remain diverse, or else it is bound to become stagnant and bland. While films like Shrek, the Toy Story films and Finding Nemo have made tremendous marks in both the box office and in cinema canon, I'm sure that are few film fans who have seen The Wild, Happily N'ever After and Open Season, let alone heard of them. This new lush animation style has made every film visually stunning, complete with goofy animal characters and exotic locales, but simply place three random animals with celebrity voices and wacky adventure do not make a film. While the release of The Princess and the Frog is promising for traditional animation, it is the first of its type from Disney's 2004 Home on the Range. The films continue to get flashier, but I fail to believe that they are getting better written, and I feel that while this schedule is promising, its ultimately more of the same.


Trailers Sell Popcorn: Marketing 2008's Summer Blockbuster

It is undeniable that the summer blockbuster, for better or for worse, has become a staple of modern Hollywood cinema. Every summer without fail audiences pack the theaters in anticipation of the next action flick or mega-sequel to help quell the summer heat. The impact of big budget action films like Independence Day, released Fourth of July weekend in 1996, has reverberated throughout the industry, impacting the way studios market their films. While over time these films may have faded in quality and originality, the box office numbers have not. Since 1995, ten of the thirteen top grossing films each year came out between May and July, according to data from box office site The Numbers. As the season approaches, 2008 appears to be no different. The release schedule is littered with blockbusters and already trailers have been released to build buzz among film fans. One common thread in some of the most anticipated films of this upcoming summer is the presence of sequels and adaptations, specifically comic book films. Ever since Spiderman made spandex cool again in the summer of 2002, studios have been racing to find the next hit comic franchise, and this summer is no different. While it may seem easier to advertise a character that audiences are more familiar with, these films demonstrate some of the more creative and unique tactics used to repackage their story to obtain the widest audience possible. This is demonstrated quite clearly in the film's first trailers, one of the most important aspect of a films marketing campaign.

The phrase "highly anticipated" has perhaps never been truer than for the first film, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The fourth film in Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' legendary series is finally set for release May 22nd, just over 19 years since the series' third installment. In a recent poll by online movie ticket service Fandango, Crystal Skull crushed the competition to be named Most Anticipated Summer 2008 Movie. Being such a familiar character, it is no surprise that the trailer plays heavily on what the audience already knows about the titular hero. The trailer opens with brief recaps of Indy's previous feats, and it is not long before the familiar theme hits and the action is on. The trailer's "guess who's back" theme mirrors the return of Harrison Ford to the character. This is just a part of what SlashFilm writer Peter Sciretta describes as a classic feeling. Though it is clear that this film's rich history will insure a huge audience regardless, the trailer does a great job of playing heavily on the past, with just a hint of what is to come.

Coming in second in that Fandango poll, The Dark Knight is this summer's sequel to 2005's Batman reboot Batman Begins. Here is a strong example of a film with an established fanbase and legend, through both its comic origins, multiple previous movie incarnations, and the hit film that directly spawned it. While these facts may make selling the film seem easier, marketers are still met with the challenge of creating a new and unique story for its beloved character, allowing it to stand out in an era of countless forgettable sequels. As the trailer shows, director Christopher Nolan has painted a darker picture of its hero, and reflected it in his nemesis. Complete with dark images and haunting voice over, it is made very clear that Batman's struggle in this film will be both with the Joker, as well as within. The trailer is strong because it recognizes that there is no need to explain the character of Batman. Instead, the trailer creates a cacophony of destruction by Heath Ledger's Joker character, which serves to both show off the films scope, as well as show the inclusion of a character that the audience is familiar with from Jack Nicholson's portrayal in the 1989 version.

The next film is a unique and enigmatic one, because rather than a new story or a sequel it serves as a reboot for a franchise. The Incredible Hulk marks a new start for the classic Marvel character, and comes on the heels of Hulk, the first attempt that ultimately failed to reach audiences in 2003. Because of this, much more weight must be placed on promoting the film in a new and interesting way that remains true to the tale, while creating a fresh enough take to gain viewers. The trailer begins, fittingly, with Edward Norton, who wrote the film's screenplay, and is many ways has become the face of this new version. His extensive film career has earned him much praise, and by using his face first and foremost, he provides the production with credibility. It is also interesting to note the manner in which the trailer holds back The Hulk, not revealing him fully until the final moments. This serves as a slow dramatic reveal, as well as to tell audiences that this film does feature human character elements as well, something some reviewers found lacking from Ang Lee's 2003 version.

These three examples demonstrate just a few of the strategies used to repackage and remarket familiar characters to snag audiences. It would be very easy for any of these films to simply release their films on name and previous incarnations alone, but as the three trailers demonstrate, the marketing is much more complex. In this modern film era with dozens of films jockeying for the top spot not only weekly but across the entire summer, advertisers have learned that they need to create intricate and original campaigns to keep audiences coming back for more popcorn, time after time.
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