I’ve been convinced for some time now, since the days of Glengarry Glen Ross and Quiz Show, that there needs to be a separate Oscar category for entire ensemble performances, a feeling that was reawakened with the recent Good Night, and Good Luck. Singling out one actor or actress from movies like this is simply unfair to the rest of the cast since, in these cases, each individual performance is made stronger by the people around him or her. The Departed, the new film from Martin Scorsese and starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and others, looks like it could occupy that same spot.
The movie revolves around Damon and DiCaprio. Damon plays a dirty cop who is doing business with Nicholson’s mafioso chief and DiCaprio the righteous officer who’s investigating suspected corruption in the department. Set in Boston instead of Scorcese’s native â€“ and much portrayed â€“ New York, the movie’s pre-release buzz has established it as a return to form for the director, who has done a little wandering of late artistically. Sometimes that’s turned out more successfully than at other times but, like most true artists, what he does is always interesting to watch.
The ensemble is the main selling point for the movie and in this theatrical poster they’re right there for all the world to see. The poster takes the tactic of spreading out the title over three lines and making the letters transparent with pictures of the three main leads visible through those letters. I actually didn’t like it at first since the â€œthree horizontal picturesâ€ design concept has been done to death, mostly in dramas or thrillers featuring ensemble casts. But then I really looked at the pictures of the guys and saw the brutality each one of them is portraying and began to like it a little more. I still think the design itself is on the weak side and not very likely to attract a lot of attention in a theater lobby but at least they picked good pictures to use, which says something.
Each one of the three leads; Nicholson, Damon and DiCaprio also got their own character-centric poster. The same design concept was used with the transparent letters but instead of all three actors there was just the one. Interestingly, it was when these were released that I started to warm up to the design. I think it’s much more effective to have each actor on their own poster than to cram them all together on the same one-sheet.
The one issue I have is that while the actors are all there for everyone to see, Scorsese himself is virtually absent. This is one of the greatest directors of the last 50 years and his name is visible only if you’re really looking for it. The same mindset is obviously at play here as has been evident with the last couple Woody Allen movies. The director is seen as someone who’s not going to connect â€“ and might even actively turn off â€“ younger viewers (more on them later) and so their role is diminished in the marketing campaign. It’s a similar tactic to putting a dog’s vitamin in a glob of peanut butter or something. It’s tricking them into experiencing something that’s good for them.
What it really is is a cop-out to the mass-marketing mindset. Playing down the director’s name like this means they’re trying to appeal to an audience outset of that which is already inclined to see a â€œMartin Scorsese film.â€ I think a truly great campaign â€“ and a studio with some real nerve â€“ would have played up the director’s involvement and then done whatever they could to market to that niche. Make sure people who are predisposed to see Scorsese films know that this movie is coming out and do what you can to get them to the theater. That might involve retail-based incentives (movie ticket with the purchase of a Scorsese film or something like that) or find those bloggers and writers who are consistently talking about Scorsese or his cinematic brethren and enable them to spread the word as far as they possibly can.
Alright, rant’s done. For now.
OK, first of all, Van Morrison covers Pink Floyd’s â€œComfortably Numb.â€ That right there puts this trailer in the top ten of all time. That’s right, all time. I literally couldn’t believe I was hearing what I was hearing the first time I watched it. Once my mind was able to accept what was happening I had to watch it again. It’s so awesome it almost creates a whole new level of awesomeness. Name me another artist who could pull off a â€œComfortably Numbâ€ cover and not have it suck ass?
Moving on to the actual trailer, it does a very good job of selling the movie. We get a good outline of the plot, with Damon leading a duel life both at work and at home, one where he can’t be honest with anyone in his life. Once he realizes DiCaprio is looking into a mole in the police department his desperation kicks into high gear, while the mob boss he reports to, played by Nicholson, remains cool as a cucumber, seemingly without a care in the world, as if he’s seen this all before. Even if the trailer didn’t say so
The official website , unfortunately, is a by-the-book affair. There are some good points, such as the fact that all six TV spots are archived within the â€œVideoâ€ section, providing a nice one-stop shop for your video searching. Other than that it’s barely worth my going into since it’s so standard. Not saying it’s bad, just nothing to spend much time on.
Warner Bros also created a MySpace profile for the movie. Jeffrey Wells wondered aloud about this move, since MySpace is where young kids hangout and this movie is most decidedly not one about young people or their lifestyles. I agree that it is an odd move until you put it together with the trailer that highlights DiCaprio and the poster that downplays Scorsese’s direction. It’s just one in a series of moves that is meant to make the movie non-intimidating to a younger audience.
It’s also the one that I think works the best. Usually I’m not a big fan of movies having MySpace pages since they usually just replicate the official site’s content and don’t really add anything substantive to the campaign. But this one does. It takes a movie that might not appear on young people’s radar and brings it to where they are. The difference between this and the other appeals to the younger audience is that this one is at least blatant and open about it. Let me be clear in that I have no problem in marketing a movie to the broadest possible audience. It’s when you do so at the expense of a core, loyal, passionate niche part of that audience that I start to get upset. This MySpace page is a component of the campaign that, I think, is a good move to play to a niche â€“ young people. If it brings a few more people into the legions of Scorsese fans than that’s a good thing.
The one thing I’m aware of regarding other promotions Warner Bros. Engaged in is their sponsoring of the season premiere of the show â€œSmithâ€ on CBS about two weeks before the movie opened. The studio bought all the advertising time within the show in order to present it with limited commercial breaks and with The Departed as the only brand being shilled during those breaks. It was disconcerting to me to learn after the fact that all they did was show the movie’s trailer six times with that sole-presenter opportunity. The studio would have done better, I think, if they had showed the trailer a few times but mixed behind-the-scenes footage or exclusive clips from the film in with it.
Think about it. If you’re watching an hour-long show with regular commercial breaks and you see the same spot over and over again, you’re pretty much tuning it out by the third airing. I doubt after that third airing of the trailer anyone was even paying attention to it. And if they were, the familiarity they now felt with it was probably shifting to contempt and annoyance. The law of diminishing returns was, I would venture to guess, definitely in play here. Advertising has to add value to the property and not take away from it.
It’s a good, solid campaign that has as many strong points as it does faults. The posters are, after a little consideration, nicely designed, even if they do little to sell the movie outside of highlighting the cast. The trailer is great. The website is middle-of-the-road. The MySpace page is a great idea. The â€œSmithâ€ sponsorship is a wasted opportunity.
The strong points of the movie are so strong that it makes me think the studio is really counting on this, not just as a box-office hit but also as a critical and potential Oscar favorite. But the weak points are so weak that they make me feel like the studio wasn’t even trying. It’s a very inconsistent campaign, which is too bad considering the creative people involved. That’s a bit disappointing.