The workplace is a rich mine of comedic material, something that’s been proven out ever since the invention of filmed entertainment. From Laurel and Hardy’s The Piano Movers and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times to “The Office” (both the British original and the U.S. version), there’s no end of funny situations that can be derived about people suffering through the drudgery of their daily jobs in the pursuit of a paycheck, no matter the soul-crushing cost.
One of the modern classics in this genre is Mike Judge’s 1999 film Office Space. Not only incredibly funny but also a source of hundreds of greatly quotable lines, Office Space was not really a success until after its home video release, where it quickly gained a cult following based on repeated viewings.
After diving into an exploration of just how stupid society is going to wind up being because idiots breed more than smart people (Idoicracy – a funny movie that deserves a more thorough look) Judge is now returning to a place of business, though this time not quite in the same way.
Extract stars Jason Bateman as the owner of a flavor extract company whose life is not all that fulfilling. He wants to sell the company but an on-the-job accident by one of his employees forces him to hold on to it and do what he can with the factory. At home things aren’t that much more fulfilling, with his wife (Kristen Wiig) showing no interest in him and possibly cheating on him. The only thing he has to look forward to is passing the time with the stoned bartender (Ben Affleck) who he can pour out his misery to. But then a new temp (Mila Kunis) starts who gets his heart aflutter but who could be holding an agenda that goes beyond simply filling a role on the factory floor.
The first teaser poster really didn’t do all that much other than just tease that there was a new Mike Judge movie coming out soon and that it probably would involve at least one person being hit in the testicles. The former point is emphasized by the “This Labor Day, the creator of Office Space heads back to work” copy at the top, a nice connecting of the dots between that previous movie and this one, leading the audience to make the assumption that it would be hitting similar notes. The latter point is made by the presence of two walnuts on either side of the extract bottle, one of which has a broken shell, and the line “A comedy that hits you where it hurts” at the bottom. Pretty funny, though definitely a play to the lowest audience denominator. In fact when you think about Judge’s lampooning of crotch-based humor with the “Ouch My Balls” sequence in Idiocracy, this poster is actually quite a bit funnier.
With an ensemble cast like this it’s not that surprising there would be an initial round of character-centric teasers, though it is somewhat unusual to find this sort of thing in smaller movies. Affleck, Kunis, Wiig and Bateman all got their own individual one-sheets, each with their face below some copy that gives a quick description of their character to the audience.
There are two posters that came across my radar that seemed to be final theatrical versions and I’m honestly not sure which one is legit. Some sites have both, some have one or the other and some have neither so it’s hard to figure out what’s what.
The one goes for a very visual and literal gag, showing Bateman trapped in a bottle of his own product and looking like he wants to get out, with that bottle being held by Kunis in a very physically disproportional way while J.K. Simmons and Wiig stand behind her. This one features similar color branding with the teasers, but a different copy point within the framing of the poster. It’s probably my favorite of these two options since it’s at least a little bit funny.
The second version drops the color used in all the previous posters in favor of a stark white background. On this one the same shot of Bateman featured on his character poster is used in the bottom half, with the rest of the cast arrayed above the title treatment at the top.
I just don’t feel like this one goes as far as it should in selling the movie. It also loses some points since it drops the color-coated branding the rest of the one-sheets have established, which I think is a mistake. Plus, it introduces two ancillary characters who haven’t been in the trailer and so aren’t going to create any sense of consistency in the audience.
The movie’s trailer, which premiered on Cinematical, opens on the workplace accident that sets off some of the movie’s tension, with lazy workers leading to problems and eventually to one employee getting his walnuts cracked. Then there’s the other tension, that between Bateman and Wiig, with him trying to get home before she puts on her sweatpants and the possibility of…relations…is long past. That then sets up his excitement when Kunis joins the company as a temp and we can see he’s going to be facing some major temptations. At the end there’s a throw-away gag about how Bateman’s character can’t handle smoking pot that does nothing but try to elicit a laugh without selling the movie’s plot at all.
It does a decent job of setting up the characters and some of the plot elements but doesn’t delve into how all those wind up paying off or coming together. The vast majority of them, I’m willing to bet, come from the first half hour of the movie. While I’m not a fan of spoiling the whole movie in a trailer I also worry that by showing this as just a series of one-gag-after-another type of movie the marketers aren’t making a strong enough case for people to see the movie.
A few days before the movie came out there was an internet-only trailer released that took a slightly different tone than the original. It starts off by actually getting into the part of the plot that deals with how Bateman’s character is being sued by the guy who got his balls knocked off, including a scene with KISS’s Gene Simmons and his role as the plaintiff’s sleazy attorney who has a unique way for the lawsuit to end quickly. After that there’s a bit more drug humor and a montage of scenes that show everyone’s always asking how Bateman’s character is doing and asking if they can help, something that he’s clearly getting tired of.
It works probably just as well as the first trailer but for different reasons. I like that they pulled one of the other plot threads into the campaign but it still comes off as probably a bit more slap-sticky than the movie really is overall. Still quite funny, though, and it’s nice to see that the studio isn’t completely abandoning the film.
The movie’s official website opens up, as many do, with the film’s trailer that begins playing once the page loads. Below that there are icons that encourage you to share the page on the social network/bookmarking site of your choice. And a little farther down there are icons for you to connect with Miramax Films on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Flickr depending on what you’d like to get from your social relationship with the studio.
Once you Enter the Site you see a giant image of Bateman – again the same one that was on his character poster – with a couple options floating around him. Clicking any of those opens a related video clip that’s pulled from the trailer.
To the left there’s the main Menu where you can get the site’s primary content.
“Film” contains a Story synopsis that lays out the movie’s entire storyline – it’s pretty spoiler heavy and gives away all the twisted relationships that go into the comedy – very clearly. Production Notes is a surprisingly frank and honest story about Judge’s problems with studios and focus groups around his first two movies and how he worked under the radar to get Extract made with minimal interference. It’s quite a read. The Filmmakers section gives the information you need on Judge and the rest of the folks behind the camera.
You’ll find information on those in front of the camera under “Cast,” which brings up the same rotating image of characters that populates the upper right hand corner of the site throughout.
There’s just the trailer in the “Video” section. “Gallery” has a pretty wide selection of stills from the film. Finally “Downloads” has the usual selection of items; Icons, Wallpapers, a Screensaver and the Character Posters. The nice touch is that if you want them all you can download the Extract Kit as a Zip file that contains everything.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
While I don’t think there were any promotional partners on the movie there was a fair amount of advertising done. TV spots were, for the most part, shortened versions of the trailer though there were a couple that featured some new footage. There was also a bit of online advertising done, including video units that utilized Google’s new system of putting video ads alongside search results.
There was, I’d speculate, just enough and in just the right places to make sure that most of the audience that is predisposed to like Judge’s work would know there was a new movie coming out, with most all those spots including a hearkening back to Office Space.
Media and Publicity
Mike Judge also brought the cast and some footage to this year’s Comic-Con, putting the cast on a panel to answer questions about the movie and probably more. While there’s nothing comic or sci-fi ish about the movie it absolutely makes sense since the Comic-Con crowd is just the kind of folks that have been making Office Space and Idiocracy cult hits and so are likely to give this movie a big hug. MTV also announced it would be hosting the footage shown to the audience there online so that everyone could get a taste.
The panel session not only contained those clips (which did indeed wind up on MTV.com) but also, of course, addressed the long-rumored/reported/speculated on “Arrested Development” movie, which is only natural considering Bateman’s presence.
Judge also brought the film to fan-friendly territory Austin for a premiere there.
Independent of those more audience-targeted efforts there was also a general media push that allowed everyone to promote the movie and gave writers to bring up memories of Office Space and “Arrested Development” and other past projects from the cast and crew that are still popular with the public and so make for easy journalistic hooks.
At the last minute two of Judge’s most famous creations – Beavis and Butthead – gave the film a ringing endorsement for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it shows a guy being paid to have sex, something they say is woefully rare in society.
I like the campaign from a high level but when you start to break it out into its individual components problems begin to emerge. The posters don’t make good on the promise of such a large comedic cast, the trailers don’t really give you an accurate sense of the movie’s story and pacing and the website just seems half-done.
The cast and crew seem to be giving it their all in the publicity for the movie but even then the movie simply isn’t big enough to break through into the mainstream audience’s awareness to any great extent. There isn’t the carpet-bombing advertising that other summer comedies have gotten.
While the campaign does to a large extent play to the lowest common denominator (what do you expect?) it also doesn’t have the reach for the residents of that lowest common denominator to find it. The marketing could have been so much better if 1) There had been more of it and 2) It had been more targeted.
As it stands this will probably be another Mike Judge movie that plays rather well to its core audience but which most people find off-putting because it’s not as broad a comedy as the campaign made it out to be. It will probably die quickly at the box-office and then become a moderate hit on home video, where people will appreciate it and wonder, like his other movies, why it wasn’t more of an initial hit.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 9/3/09: There was a “Press” blog on the Extract official website that I completely missed that has all the posters and trailers as well as footage and photos from the movie’s red carpet premiere, mock motivational posts and character descriptions that go above and beyond what’s on the full site. I wish I had known about this well before the movie came out since it would have made my researching easier by a metric ton. There was also a Facebook fan page for the movie that I blew by completely that likewise has clips and photos and information on some of Judge’s promotional appearances and other events.