fanboys_ver2Every year a handful of movies are released that were made years and years ago. Sometimes films wind up finishing production and then the studio that owns it doesn’t know what to do with it, or it winds up being part of a library that’s acquired by another studio or something like that. So it winds up “sitting on the shelf” for a while before eventually getting released to audiences, usually in as minimal a way possible and not with a ton of marketing support.

But few have had as twisted a path as Fanboys. Here’s a brief recap:

The movie first started gaining traction in late 2006, when a trailer was released. At the time it was pegged as an early 2007 release, if memory serves. But then it very much wasn’t released. 2007 came and went, as did 2008 and still the movie remained unseen.

The story being circulated was that The Weinstein Company, the studio that had bought the flick, was engaged in quite a bit of tinkering with the finished product. Specifically reported was their desire to excise one particular plot point from the story and that it had ordered reshoots/re-edits and such like that.

The story for Fanboys is set in 1998. A group of friends, all comics and sci-fi nerds, find out one of their friends is dying of cancer and will likely pass away before the release of the much-anticipated Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. So they decide to take the friend and break into Lucasfilm, where they believe a finished version of the movie to exist so that he can see it before he dies.

So which plot point did TWC have a problem with? The cancer one. Yeah, the one that’s kind of the whole impetus for the entire film.

The problem TWC ran into was that they were invoking the anger of…well…fanboys. Clips from the movie had played at Comic-Con and elsewhere and people were getting stoked for the movie. So each new report of tinkering with what many felt to be a great homage to fan culture brought with it rounds of outrage.

But now it appears Fanboys is finally getting released. Despite that meaning I’m about to lose $10 in my “Fanboys Doesn’t Get Released in 2009, Either” pool at work, that’s a good bit of news. What’s missing, though, is a clear statement as to what version of the movie is actually about to hit screens, the original or some sort of re-edited one. Whatever the case, though, TWC has previously signaled some level of intent to release both versions on DVD, so if this winds up being a modified one the chance still remains that the final thing will be seen, even if it is just on home video.

The Posters

The teaser poster that was released way back in early 2007 was immediately a hit, and rightly so. It’s an homage to some of the posters used for the actual Star Wars movies, with a set of hands raising a lightsaber in the air. The copy at the top hints to the movie’s plot and makes it clear this is about a group of Star Wars fans engaging in some sort of tom-foolery.

It’s kind of awesome, largely because it manages to show a respect to Star Wars that hasn’t really been in large supply since about 1998. It’s fun and filled with nostalgia and it works on just about every level you can think of, at least when it comes to appealing to a target audience.

The theatrical poster works a little less well simply because it’s trying to be evocative both of the fan culture portrayed in the movie and clever in its repurposing of the one-sheet image from the far more recent 40 Year-Old Virgin. It’s not that it’s not funny, it’s just that it’s not quite as immediately appealing on a deep emotional level as the teaser.

It does get points, though, for being (probably) unintentionally funny with the “Never tell them the odds” copy and how it can relate to both the movie’s plot and to the feeling that the movie was fated to never see the light of a projector booth.

The Trailers

The initial trailer was released back in late 2006 and while it’s still pretty funny it does kind of show its age. I’m not saying it’s dated, just that it is lacking a certain polish that the later theatrical version has. That might be a good thing and it might not depending on your point of view.

It is much more of a hand-made looking effort, like it’s a movie that the makers just cobbled together with whatver they could and with a lot of love, having fun along the way. It lays out the story pretty well, though like the later version does omit any mention of someone having cancer. Instead the quest to see Ep. I is presented as being the culmination of a fervent fandom and an inability to wait any longer for a new Star Wars adventure.

That later theatrical trailer is pretty funny even if it does have a few obvious issues.

It takes the viewer through the basic concept, of the group of friends planning to break into Skywalker Ranch and then getting into all kinds of hijinks along the way, most of which have some sort of Star Wars callback within them. From the overt (wearing Stormtrooper masks in a drive-thru) to the more subdued (OK, “light speed” isn’t exactly overt but it is really funny) almost everything is a SW reference in some shape or form.

The trailer also highlights the film’s star-studded cast of both Star Wars alumni and well-known fans of the franchise (Introducing Kevin Smith as “The Guy From Die Hard 4” made me laugh out loud), something that again speaks to the movie being just one big hug from a fan to the movies.

Online

The movie’s official website is a pretty bare bone affair, which is typical for The Weinstein Co. and the movies they are getting rid of after years of languising. The trailer plays on the main page after you bring it up but it’s not found anywhere else on the site.

The site contains a simply “About” section that once again lifts out any references to a cancer storyline. There’s also a “Cast & Crew” section and a “Gallery” with a dozen stills in it.

The best the site can do in terms of interactivity a Widget that contains the trailer and other materials for you to display on your social network page or other site. On that Widget page you can also grab a handful of banners that are, both in essence and actuality, ads for the film that the studio is hoping you’ll run gratis on your site.

Fanboys also has a MySpace page , probably because it was thought that the film would be coming out in 2006 or 2007, before Facebook really caught on as a marketing tool. The best part about the page is a short teaser video for something called “Disturbances in the Force,” which appears to be a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

No advertising to speak of, at least none that I’m aware of. I haven’t even seen any online ads, where you’d expect the studio to dedicate its resources to hit those most likely to be interested.

The one bit of cross-promotion was with Comcast, who put a reported 30-40 minutes of trailers, clips and other footage on their On Demand service for peolpe to check out.

Media and Publicity

Despite a concerted effort in the last month or so to load up on released clips and other material it’s been hard for TWC to outpace the audience’s expectations and the bad blood it already had engendered with all the delayed releases and stories of it hacking up the movie it bought.

Also getting a bit of press was the movie’s release strategy, which had it appearing only on a handful of screens in eight or nine markets. Rumors were this was just an initial rollout, with more screens to come, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

More interviews with the cast and crew also came up in the weeks prior to release, but that was about it.

Overall

If you think fanboys and enthusiasts are groups to be looked down on you should read Jake McKee’s post on the matter. We’re all passionate about something and it’s useful to step back and realize that the ones we view with disdain are simply those that don’t align with our own interests.

These Fanboys love Star Wars and real-life Star Wars fans appear to have embraced Fanboys. A smart marketing campaign would have done everything in its power to embrace those fans and get them on the side of the movie, sharing video and screening information and more. But all the fumbling of the movie – and the subsequent fumbling of the public relations campaign – has resulted in a half-hearted campaign for a movie The Weinstein Co. is probably just looking to unload and get behind them.

The trailers are funny enough, as are the posters, but it’s lacking any sort of “oomph,” which I would define as a strong publicity push around the movie. The sorts of outlets that are talking to the movie’s talent would be talking to them regardless. There’s been no big press push and that, more than even the sparse website, has me thinking this chapter can’t come to a close soon enough for the studio.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 2/9/09: With all the delays and built up expectations, did Fanboys peak well before its theatrical release?
  • 4/24/09: Fanboys has continued to expand into more and more cities since its initial limited release and how has a new poster that, for the first time, puts Kristen Bell front and center in her Leia’s Golden Bikini outfit.