The biggest obstacle to overcome with prequels, stories that take place before what we’ve already seen, is that we already know what comes next. We know where the characters wind up and have some sense of their back-story as it’s been established. That can lead to some problems, such as story bits that directly contradict what fans already know. (See, for example, the entire Star Wars Prequel series as the biggest example of this.)
But the prequel strategy has been adopted as a way to extend a franchise’s mythology, introduce new characters and continue the story of a fan-favorite character in a way that doesn’t necessitate the involvement of other talent from the existing series.
That’s precisely what 20th Century Fox has done in producing X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The movie takes that fan-favorite character and explores his years prior to encountering Rogue along the Alaskan highway and getting mixed up in the adventures of the X-Men team and their fight against Magneto. It traces him all the way back to his childhood and recruitment by the Canadian government’s Weapon X program, none of which he can remember when we first meet him in the core X-Men film series. So the movie is a vehicle to give him his solo feature debut as well as explore the mysteries surrounding his character.
The first teaser poster pretty well established this as a Wolverine solo flick. It’s just him and his claws, right there front and center on the one-sheet. He looks allscowly and fierce and all that. It’s a teaser so there’s not a whole lot to talk about, but the basic purpose of the poster is to alert the audience that there is a new chapter in the Wolverine story coming out and it achieves that goal pretty well.
There’s not a whole lot more happening on the film’s eventual theatrical poster either. Wolverine stands at the front of an array of the film’s other mutants, who are arranged in order of the star power of the actors playing them.Liev Schrieber (Sabretooth) and Ryan Reynolds (NotDeadpool) are right behind him while Gambit, Emma Frost, Cyclops (WTF ?) and Silver Fox are toward the background. All of them stand in front of the same sort of metallic “X” symbol that was used as the branding for the previous X-Men team films, providing a sense of visual continuity for the audience.
The problem I have with this one, though, is that throwing all those additional characters on there just creates a sense of overload that could actually result in turning the casual fan off. There’s too much of a possibility for the reaction to be “Who are all these people?” It’s probably more meant for the hard-core fan who can say “Ooooo…Emma Frost…” but those people are going to be appealed to more effectively and in a more targeted manner with other tactics like, say, online character profiles.
The marketing department for the movie seemed to realize this to some extent since, just a couple weeks before the movie’s release, a new poster was released that was basically just a slightly brighter version of the teaser. But it succeeds in that it strips away the clutter and returns the focus to the main title character.
The first trailer for the movie starts off with a very introspective and conflicted looking Logan as someone reminds him of all the pain he’s gone through in life. While this goes on we see clips of him as a young child and then as an adult on battlefields ranging from the Civil War to Vietnam. Then a younger William Stryker than we’ve seen in X2 talks about putting together a special team, which is when we get to see the rest of the mutants that we’ll be introduced to in this film. Logan is then seen about to be lowered into a tank we know to be the source of his adamantium skeleton as he makes the decision to have his military dog tags changed to say “Wolverine.”
From there the trailer becomes much more action-oriented, with it being clear that Wolverine is now on the loose and the military that spent so much to make him an indestructible animal isn’t thrilled about that. We sort of get that the team of mutants that’s been assembled is charged with bringing him in, though Sabretooth is the only one who actually seems to be out to get him.
It’s a good first stab and certainly, I think, showed the general tone of the movie and the fact that we’re in for lots of mutant action and carefully choreographed fight sequences.
The second trailer, which debuted in front of Fox’s remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, starts off with Wolverine about to be lowered into the adamantium-imbuing tank and a scientist telling him to focus on the reasons he’s putting himself through this. Logan saying “Trust me, I’ve been through worse” is the cue for a montage of his emotionally painful moments (father dying, girlfriend dying, wars) to start playing, which is supposed to make that scientist’s “No, you haven’t.” all the more painful.
This one follows a similar format as the first, with the setup then being followed by a series of action sequences that show off the other mutants in the movie. Each of them gets a bit more screen time in this version, though, with better glimpses ofNotDeadpool in action, The Blob being massive and even some scenes of a young Scott Summers. It even ends the same way, with a face-off betweenSabretooth and Wolverine, though it is a different scene than the one that’s used in the first trailer.
I like this one better largely because it starts off more solidly. Beginning at the moment Logan becomes Wolverine and gets his adamantium is the moment where he becomes the character that we know, as opposed to everything that came before that in his life. Not that all that isn’t important in an origin story but the audience is looking for the Wolverine that’s the best at what he does and emotionally scarred Logan is kind of secondary to that.
Just about a week before the movie’s debut there was a third trailer, labeled as an “Internet Exclusive Clip,” released that really differed from the first two only in the beginning moments. We seeSabretooth and Logan being assassinated by a firing squad and then stuck back in a cell after that turns out differently than the firing squad probably anticipated. This is the moment whenStryker appears and recruits them for his team, promising he knows what they really are and can help them unleash their full potential.
Other than a new scene of Logan having second thoughts about participating in Stryker’s program this is pretty much a mashup of the first two trailers and works about as well as they do.
When you bring up the official website’s front page it will give you a few options on what to do but you’ll also notice that it says the “Trailer is loading.” If you let it go ahead and load and don’t do anything else it will eventually start playing the second trailer, which then closes when it’s done and once again shows you the main menu. You have the option there to Play Trailer, play the Time Warrior Game or download the Weapon X App for your iPhone.
Down at the bottom of the screen there’s also options to become friends of the movie’s pages on Facebook and MySpace (I’ll get to those later) or share the site on Facebook, Delicious, Stumbleupon or on other social bookmarking/networking sites.
Going back up toward the top you can enter the site, which then loads by filling the “X” symbol with liquid adamantium to show how things are progressing.
The site opens by showing us Wolverine but you’ll see that toward the bottom the names of the other characters appear. Clicking on them brings up a big picture of them and a brief audio snippet, as well as downloads and video clips specific to that character.
At the top of the screen there’s a flashing button that says “Activate Powers.” Click that and then use the arrows next to it to select a mutant. Then click with your mouse anywhere on the screen and you’ll see a demonstration of that mutant’s powers. So if you choose Wolverine you’ll be able to slice up the screen. Choose Gambit and you’ll throw an exploding playing card on the screen. Nice little feature.
OK, enough playing around. Let’s get into the site’s informational content, which you can access by mousing over the Navigation header at the top.
“Videos” is up first and is where you’ll find both of the first two trailers as well as the three TV spots that debuted on Fox a month or so before the movie opened. After that is “Synopsis,” which just contains a one-sentence recap of the film’s story that unfortunately gets lighter and lighter – and therefore harder to read – as it goes down.
I’m torn on how I feel about the “Gallery” on the site. On the one hand I like that they stocked it with many of the promotional images that were created. But on the other hand none of those aredownloadable and there’s only two stills from the flick, which is usually what I’d expect to find here. I’m going to chalk it up as one of the more odd examples of a photo gallery I’ve seen on a movie website and, I think, leave it at that.
“Mobile” is where you’ll find some ringtones and wallpapers you can download to your mobile device. Along that same vein is “Downloads” where you’ll find Wallpapers, IM Icons, a Screensaver and a Widget you can embed on your own blog or put on your social network profile of choice.
Finally, there are sections for “Partners,” “Time Warrior Game,” “Weapon X App” for Facebook or other social networks and an “iPhone App.”
Two big things about the site that are worth noting outside of the content above. First, the navigation really started to irritate me. That little nav icon should have been there throughout the site and not forced me to always go back to the front page to access it. For some reason this was just bugging me.
Second, there’s a link at the bottom that labels the site as being “Brought to you by” Papa Johns Pizza. As we’ll see that company was a major promotional partner for the film but this is one of the most persistent logo placements I’ve seen.
As I hinted at above the movie has a pretty broad presence elsewhere online.
The XMenOrigins Twitter profile was used to make a handful of announcements, including when a new TV spot was about to debut or when the winners of a contest were announced. There was nice interplay here between this profile and the other sites for the movie, though still a disappointing lack of dialogue between it and its 650+ followers. There’s also a profile from star Hugh Jackman where he posted updates on various appearances and activities.
The movie’s MySpace profile just has the trailer and a countdown clock. The Facebook profile has a bit more, linking to most all the videos and other news, such as the exclusive clip on Papa John’s website. There’s also, as I mentioned before, an application you can add to Facebook or elsewhere that lets you try and combine mutant genes to build the perfect Weapon X.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
As the distributors of the first movie of the 2009 blockbuster season, 20th Century Fox has pulled out most all the stops in advertising X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
There have been plenty of online ads around the web not only for the movie itself but also for the Blu-ray DVD release of the first three X-Men movies, ads that also mentioned the set came with “movie cash” that would be good for admission to the new movie.
The biggest TV ad push came in the form of a three-part spot that debuted over as many nights on corporate sibling Fox TV. Each one ran about a minute in length and was themed (“Outcasts, “Brothers” and “Legends” and featured some new footage that what we’d seen in the previously released trailers. The anticipation for the spots became a story in and of itself and did a lot to get people excited about their debut and led to a lot of chatter after they were aired and, I’m guessing, didn’t hurt the ratings of the shows they appeared within. These spots were then scavenged for parts that were used to assemble the theatrical trailer released afterward.
Most of the other, more traditional TV commercials were variations on the two trailers, sometimes featuring a new glimpse or two of the movie but mostly rehashing and condensing what the audience had already seen. At last count about 10 or 12 different versions of a 30-second spot had been released, a number that allowed Fox to keep a whole bunch in rotation and achieve significant audience reach while not hitting the viewer with the same spot over and over again.
Finally, there were a whole series of character-specific spots that each run about a minute long and were released just over a week out from the film hitting theaters. Wolverine, NotDeadpool, The Blob, Emma Frost, Sabretooth, Gambit, Wraith and even William Stryker each get profiled. The spots all have them standing alone and explaining themselves to the audience with footage from the movie interspersed through all those. These are probably the strongest bits of promotional footage I’ve seen and really make an impact. They’re designed to introduce all the disparate new characters to the audience as well as reinforce who they are to the segments of that audience already familiar with them.
They were also, to some extent, collected in this montage clip.
On the cross-promotional front there are a handful of companies that have decided to hop aboard Logan’s first solo feature outing.
As evidenced by their premium placement on the movie’s official site, Papa John’s is one of the biggest partners the movie has. The chain began offering what they dubbed an XL X-treme pizza with “a full pound of cheese” on it. Their site also had little identity cards for Wolverine, Gambit and Sabretooth that listed each character’s supposed three favorite toppings. The Papa Johns website also featured a branded Wolverine section that contained Wallpapers and other downloads, as well as offers for $10 off the X-Men trilogy on DVD or Blu-ray and the ability to get a Wolverine-branded gift card. The Papa Johns co-branded site also later played host to an extended clip of the scene we glimpsed in both trailers or Wolverine being launched on to and subsequently attacking a helicopter.
Wolverine also became the latest super hero to appear in a Got Milk? campaign that attributed a healthy diet of milk to his strong bones and ability to re-energize quickly. The Got Milk? site also featured a contest to win a trip to the movie’s premiere red carpet and also had downloadable versions of the ad you could use as an IM Icon or desktop Wallpaper. I think I speak for everyone when I say I looked at this particular tie-in and thought, “Well, sure, milk is great. But unbreakable adamantium doesn’t exactly hurt in building strong bones either.” Not that there was a problem with this component of the campaign, I’m just sayin’ is all.
7-Eleven must have liked what all the super hero movie promotions did for them last summer because they’re back with a Wolverine tie-in this year. The convenience store chain is rolling out a “Mutant Berry” Slurpee flavor that you can get in one of three collectible cups that feature characters from the film.
Shaving product maker Schick also lined up with a “Transform Yourself into Wolverine” contest. This promotional video did not contain a URL with details or anything, just a quick blurb at the end, which was kind of irritating. Eventually, though, I came across an online ad for the promotion that led to a Schick Quattro site where you played an “Escape from the Xperiment” game, could register to win a walk-on role in an upcoming movie and get information on the limited edition Wolverine-branded Quattro razor. The site also contained some exclusive Wallpapers and a Screensaver to download.
Jackman has always done his best to embrace the comics fans that make up the franchise’s core audience, from his appearance at Comic-Con on, never appearing condescending or like he was winking at them. Late in the campaign’s life-cycle that sort of respect for the fans took form inJackman releasing a PSA, which was followed by the movie’s trailer, for Free Comic Book Day, the annual event meant to increase comics readership.
Fox even arranged for what, to my mind, is one of the most unusual paid stunts in recent history. In an ad for ESPN’s “Inside the NBA” host Charles Barkley is seen suddenly sprouting razor-sharp claws after the whole crew has engaged in a discussion of the strategic abilities and weaknesses of the mutants that appear in the movie.
Media and Publicity
The buzz for the new movie, already quite high as filming was progressing, got its first major jolt when the first bit of footage was screened at 2008’s Comic-Con event, a debut that came courtesy of Jackman himself, who appeared in front of fans making much of the fact that he really wanted to be there and arrived straight from the set of the movie. The audience, naturally, went wild and this was a great move byJackman and the studio to get people talking about excited about the movie.
In fact throughout the campaign Jackman has been willing and able to be front and center in front of not only comics fans but the more general audience as well. Since the star has broad appeal and since this is the character’s first solo outing, the movie’s fate literally stands on his shoulders.
One of the biggest coups for Fox was when Jackman was named the host of the 2009 Oscars ceremony. As a lifelong unabashed song and dance man this was a natural fit for him, giving him a big stage on which to perform and a lot of face-time with the general movie-going public. As a nontraditional pic (read: not a comedian) the media coverage of the announcement and then the preparation for the show was a bit heavier since it had everyone speculating as to just how Jackman would do in the role. Turns out it was exactly as anticipated, with the star turning in a lot of fun songs and a good sense of being a hard-working entertainer, something his stage performance background likely helped with greatly.
Meant to get people who were looking forward to the movie active, the studio launched a contest that let people vote for which town the premiere would be held in. The contest was run off the official website but was announced with a video of Jackman explaining the rules and how to vote. Just a short while before the film’s release it was announced that Tempe, Arizona had won.
Jackman really got the media frenzy started in a big way by zip-lining from a helicopter down to the Syndey Opera House in Australia before the premiere there of 20 minutes from the film. Later he would take part in one of the most time-honored movie publicity events, the placing of his handprints and signature in cement along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Unfortunately bigger than any of the many appearances Jackman was making or announcements from the studio was the leaking, about three weeks before the movie hit theaters, of a work-print to the internet. Initially reported to be the finished movie it was later confirmed to be an early print that lacked special effects and did not reflect changes in the movie that came after re-shoots and reedits meant to highlight some characters and de-emphasize others, as well as being sans final special effects. That didn’t stop it from generating a lot of discussions and even a couple of reviews of the movie, including one by Fox News freelancer Roger Friedman. His review of the movie based on that pirated print ultimately led to his firing by the site since it not only damaged the corporate parent’s reputation but because it implicitly endorsed movie piracy by virtue of simply mentioning it.
Later on, just about a week before release, a “scoop” appeared on AICN from someone who had reportedly seen the finished movie and said, despite all the statements to the contrary, the final version had exactly the same running time as the leaked work print. David Poland is absolutely right to call BS on this particular report, or at least to be extraordinarily skeptical of its veracity since the chain from AICN to The Business Insider and from there into the conventional wisdom is not one that’s exactly filled with hard-hitting journalistic ethics. Instead there’s at least a strong possibility that the story is faulty and placed there by someone with an agenda biased against either Fox in general or its leadership in particular.
Then things really got out of control. Alex Billington reported after attending a press screening that Fox was attaching “multiple secret endings ” to the movie that would be placed after the credits. The placing of kickers after the credits is becoming more and more common, especially with these comic adaptations (X-Men: The Last Stand and Iron Man both had them) but the idea that there are multiple endings would appear on the surface to be an obvious ploy to get people to go to see the movie more than once.
Now there’s a scenario under which, if true, this could succeed. And there’s one under which, if true, it could not matter a whit.
IF people begin to come out of the theater and immediately post to Twitter or their blogs or wherever that Ending A is playing at Local Theater 1 and someone else posts that Ending B is playing at Local Theater 2, it could create a wave of interest that allows people to pick and choose where to go, basically crowdsourcing the movie’s buzz. I doubt people are just going to go to the movie two or three times on the blind hope that they’ll see a different ending. Disposable income is probably notprevelant enough to support that sort of shot-in-the-dark thinking.
IF, though, people manage to grab a shaky cell-phone video of the multiple endings and post them to YouTube (which is exactly what happened with X-Men and Iron Man) people will be happy with the one time they saw the movie and assume both or all the endings will be on the DVD and they already saw it online so they’re fine.
Both, I think, are just as likely and there’s going to be some overlap but it will be interesting to see which one plays out and how this tactic winds up working for Fox.
On the lighter side, though, there were plenty of ways Wolverine was brought to the forefront of other media. Marvel Comics,which already has the character belonging to about 12 different teams as well as a handful of solo titles, launched another new title to highlight him. This one, titled “Weapon X: Wolverine,” is devoted to Woverine’s involvement in the Weapon X program, something introduced in the second X-Men movie and major focus of the new film.
There was also a new cartoon series called “Wolverine and the X-Men” that debuted a few months prior to the film that diverged from previous incarnations quite significantly. Set a while after the X-Men had disbanded, this has them needing to come together once again to face villains and such. But in this version Wolverine is the leader of the team, a role given to him so his prominence in the stories, something that comes by virtue of his popularity among fans, is more natural. Conveniently, a DVD of the first handful of episodes hit store shelves just a couple weeks before the movie’s release.
Also arriving just days before the movie were two volumes of the 1990’s “X-Men” cartoon series. This series had gotten a couple compilation releases containing various episodes but this is the sort of full set that collectors had been looking for. The series not only featured, naturally, Wolverine but also had Gambit playing a lead role.
Looking over the campaign from top to bottom I’m struck by what seems to be the heavy reliance on publicity. And I mean that in two ways.
First there are the activities that fit in to the traditional definition of “publicity.” Fox certainly did not leave many opportunities to put Jackman out amongst the people on the table. From Comic-Con to the Tempe premiere to the Oscars, the star racked up a lot of personal appearance hours, signaling the studio’s belief that the film’s fate hinges on the audience’s connection to him. That’s understandable since he does play the title role and Fox even said that this would be key to the movie’s campaign.
But then there’s the publicity that resulted from the release of the film’s marketing materials. Fox did a great job of making the release of each new trailer or poster or whatever into an event that was sure to get written up on countless blogs. These materials seemed almost specifically designed to generate buzz and not just work on a traditional marketing level.
What occurs to me, though, is that the “Jackman Front and Center” publicity effort was often not carried over into the marketing. The trailers, the posters and even the website take pains to play up the movie as an ensemble effort, highlighting NotDeadpool, Gambit and the other mutants and characters. So there’s an odd disconnect, if you view the campaign at a high level, between the marketing and the publicity. Wolverine is still very much the focal point of the marketing – there’s never a doubt that it’s his journey we’re watching here – but at the same time there’s an emphasis on the “team” component of the story that makes it seem like someone wasn’t convinced Wolverine alone could bring in the audience.
I would guess that a lot of that comes from wanting to make it clear to the comics fans Fox is counting on for repeat business that there’s lots of mutant-goodness for them to enjoy. I get that and it makes sense. But it’s clear that there are dual agendas at work and sometimes they compliment each other and sometimes they don’t.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 5/8/09: The company that produced the tie-in video game for the film used some of the same tactics movie marketers do, including creating what amounts to a teaser trailer for the game that shows no footage from either the game or the movie but instead features action from the protagonist’s point of view. The idea was to break out from the pack and create something more unique than the average game trailer.
- 5/8/09: The ink on the reports on Wolverine’s first weekend were barely dry before Fox announced a spin-off movie for Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. It also says it’s beginning work on a sequel to Wolverine (I’m hoping for X-Men Origins: Wolverine: The Sequel just because it might set a record for colons in a movie title) that would take the character to Japan and explore his connections there.
- 6/12/09: Check out the Wolverine-inspired shoe designs from Nike that are about to hit retail shelves. Not sure why these are coming out so far after the movie’s release, but they still look pretty cool.