If there were a moment that could be identified as when Twitter “arrived” more than any other, it would be the day in January of 2009 when Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a US Airways pilot, made an emergency landing on the Hudson River. The moment basically launched a thousand “citizen reporter” movements at media companies since the first pictures were shared on Twitter by people in the area, pictures that were then picked up by actual media until they could verify and get crews their themselves. Sullenberger was reluctantly thrust into the national spotlight for his heroic actions and Twitter immediately became the way to cover breaking news.
Now that moment has been dramatized in the new movie Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood. Tom Hanks stars as the title character in a story that follows not only the dramatic moment itself, which lasted just over three minutes, but also the fallout from it. That included the wall-to-wall media coverage of Sully and his actions as well as the government safety board investigation into the incident and his actions. It’s not always clear what those investigative motivations are and the pressure of that and the media causes problems for Sully in his personal and, obviously, professional life as well.
The first poster tells you much of what you need to know about the movie. Hanks as Sully is seen through the window of a plane, clearly standing outside but also visibly standing in the middle of the water. The star’s name is right there at the top of the one-sheet, just above copy that tells us this is “The untold story behind the the Miracle on the Hudson,” referring to the nickname that was assigned to Sully’s actions.
An IMAX poster was released later on that did more to evoke everyone’s memory of that day. This one shows the plane sitting on the water as we look straight down its nose. On each side of the plane we see people standing on the wings or sitting in pontoons as they wait to be rescued. The copy at the top tells us we’ll be seeing “The untold story behind the Miracle on the Hudson” while text at the bottom sells us on the spectacle by telling us the movie was shot with IMAX cameras.
Sully is reflecting back on the incident that forms the story when the first trailer starts. From there on out we bounce back and forth between the time on the airplane as the crew deals with the drastic circumstances and makes snap decisions on what to do, the media and other fallout from that and the investigation into what exactly happened.
It’s a tight dramatic trailer of which Hanks is of course the focus and his performance looks stoic, reserved and yet full of emotion. There’s lots of tension here as we see the airplane go down and the passengers prepare for impact, despite the fact that we know what happened. That’s helped by the music playing over all the footage. It’s a good first outing for the movie.
An IMAX trailer that came along much later opened with Eastwood and the real-life Sulzberger talking about not only the actual event depicted in the movie but also what attracted Eastwood to the story. Once it begins in earnest it takes a much more linear approach than the first trailer, starting out with takeoff and showing the incident that lead to the water landing. It does still bounce back and forth from the crisis to the investigation, but it plays out a lot more of the conversation between Sully and ground control as they try to get him to a runway as he insists they’re not going to make it and that he has to land in the Hudson.
It’s a tense, tight trailer that plays quite a bit differently from the first. While it does show an awful lot from the 200 some seconds between liftoff and landing, that speaks here to how much more the film will have to say about the days following the incident, though it does also spoil some of the tension of that sequence.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website opens with the IMAX trailer so you can rewatch that if you so choose. Close that and the main page displays the key art alongside buttons to watch the trailer again or buy either the book that the movie is based on or tickets for the movie itself. Down in the corner there are links to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles, both of which have shared photos, news coverage about the movie, trailers and TV spots and more.
Back to the site, the first section here is “Synopsis” where you can learn a bit more about the story (both real and dramatized) along with details about Eastwood’s production partners. The “Gallery” just has three images, two production stills and one behind-the-scenes shot. Similarly, “Videos” just has the one trailer and then site finishes up with a schedule of “Release Dates” to see when the movie is expanding to other territories.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots varied in tone somewhat. They all emphasized the heroism of the title character and the investigation into his actions, but some focused more on the incident on the plane itself and others on the aftermath. All sell this as a serious movie, though one with enough familiar and entertaining elements to make it a good time out at the movies.
There was so much TV advertising in fact that it topped the charts a week or so out from release in terms of movie ad spending.
It’s certain there was plenty of outdoor advertising done as well along with at least some online ad buys.
Media and Publicity
The first look at the movie came in the form of a behind-the-scenes still showing Hanks in character with Eastwood alongside him. An official still from the movie came much later, giving everyone a better look at Hanks and Eckhart.
Both Hanks and Sullenberger himself kept talking about what the movie means to them and how important Eastwood’s approach to the material was to getting it right. The movie was also among those selected for the Telluride Film Festival, where the cast and Eastwood appeared to answer questions and generally talk up the movie.
The entire campaign clearly labels this as a Very Important Movie, one we’re going to be asked to take very seriously since it contains lots of important messages. That angle is a tad overplayed here, relying largely on the natural charm and likability of Hanks to temper it a bit and make it more relatable. Still, there’s liltle that can be done to downplay the fact that we’re supposed ooo and aahhhh at everything here, at the triumph of the human spirit and other key themes. Not that those aren’t warranted and legitimate, just that they didn’t need to be hammered home quite so hard in the marketing.
Still, there’s some good stuff here. It just can’t overcome the sense that this is…how do I describe this… It feels like the movie is going to be the cinematic equivalent of your dad sitting down to tell you some long-winded story that you’re supposed to be impressed by but wish he’d just get to the point. That’s the vibe the marketing gives off. Eastwood is an excellent filmmaker and Hanks can elevate even the stodgiest of material, but the way the whole thing seems to already be etched in stone is a bit off-putting, though it likely won’t deter many who are drawn in by the subject matter and star power alone.