It’s never really a good idea to make decisions when you’re upset. While there are instances where that may work out OK, most of the time it’s a bad idea. You’re not thinking clearly, you’re ruled by your emotions and things are all swirled up in your head. Combine that with those times when you’re desperate and reaching out for some foothold to keep you grounded or provide a reason to keep getting up in the morning and you have a recipe for disaster. Or at least some serious soul-searching.
The new movie A Hologram for the King is about that kid of soul-searching. Based on the Dave Eggers novel, Dave (Tom Hanks) is a businessman who’s had a string of bad luck. On the outs with his wife and daughter and on the verge of run, he travels to Saudi Arabia to try and sell a hologram-based conferencing tool to the monarch of the country. But the meeting keeps getting pushed and pushed and Dave finds the opportunity may not be as solid as he thought. In the middle of all this he has a medical emergency that brings him into contact with a female doctor who helps, in her own way, put him back on the right path.
There’s not a whole lot happening on the movie’s poster. Hanks is shown in a suit and holding a briefcase out in the middle of the desert and…that’s actually about it. That establishes the basic setting of the story but not much else. There’s no additional copy that offers any explanation of what he’s doing there, what the story is or anything else. Aside from the credit block the only additional information on the poster is the big callout that it’s based on an Eggers book.
So we kind of get the sense that Hanks’ character is on some sort of journey and that it’s a fish-out-of-water story but that’s it. It really fails to sell a movie that has at least some decent story points on anything but the name recognition that comes with the actor, which may not be enough to convince audiences who know literally nothing else about the movie.
The first trailer starts off by introducing us to Al in some sort of scene – it’s not clear exactly what this is – out of a Talking Heads song. Soon we see he’s been sent to Saudi Arabia to pitch his company’s technology to the royal family there. Things don’t exactly go as he hoped as the project isn’t even started so that coupled with the usual culture clashes mean Al is kind of floundering. When he has an anxiety attack in the middle of his trip he meets a female doctor and the two form a connection, which seems to inform the second half of the movie.
The trailer is oddly not great. It’s tonally all over the place, not presenting a consistent picture of the movie. Hanks surely gives a great performance here but it’s not clear what he’s meant to do here since most of the story is just about him reacting to what’s going on around him. I just don’t see the cohesive story thread here, which I’m blaming on the trailer editing more than anything.
Online and Social
The official website opens with some full-motion video of scenes from the trailer and when you scroll down you can watch the trailer again if you like. After that is an “About” section that has just a single paragraph of story synopsis.
After that you can get information on Hanks as well as co-stars in the next section. And that’s followed by a gallery of a half-dozen stills.
That’s it for the official site, but the Facebook page has a bit more information, mostly in the form of short clips and other videos along with other promotional videos. There was also quite a bit of engagement-bait in the form of old magazine covers featuring Hanks that have nothing to do with the movie but which are being used to create a positive association in the minds of the audience. The Twitter profile has largely the same material.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing that I’ve seen or can otherwise find. The studio doesn’t seem to be putting a huge effort into this so I’m not surprised they haven’t thrown dollars at paid placement.
Media and Publicity
The first still from the movie actually debuted way back in 2014 around the time of Cannes, but then things went very silent for a while.
While it wasn’t part of the movie’s formal publicity campaign, Hologram was included as an example of a wave of movies showing Americans leaving the country to find themselves abroad, often somewhere in the Middle East.
The biggest piece of press was a New York Times feature that included comments from writer/director Tom Tykwer about how he discovered the story and went about adapting it, Eggers on having his work adapted into something more light-hearted and upbeat than it was originally and Hanks on working with Tykwer and bringing something new to the story. The story hits most of the usual beats, about how Hanks is a delight to work with, how this one of two Eggers adaptations Hanks is involved in right now and more.
Just days before it opened the movie debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival to middling reviews that probably explain why it waited until the last minute.
I’ve mentioned a couple times already there doesn’t seem to be a full effort going on here. The studio is kind of dumping the movie, which is too bad for something starring Hanks and coming from a director that seems to be on the upward track. The lack of major press push, no advertising (unless I’ve missed something) and only a single trailer coupled with a lackluster poster all add up to a campaign that doesn’t seem to be making a very strong case. And what there is isn’t working very hard to sell the story, instead relying on Hanks’ charm and general name recognition to make the case, which doesn’t work here.
The story itself looks like it might be kind of a mess. As was noted in one of the press stories linked above it’s one of a series of movies about people journeying to the Middle East to escape their lives or find themselves and it kind of falls into that generic trap of white people finding that region so exotic and healing. Hanks looks like he’s doing what he can with the material, but the trailer in particular is so poorly constructed that even that can’t do very much. It might be better in full but based on the marketing the movie looks like an uneven mess without very much original or interesting going on.