Space travel and exploration has long captivated audiences, including recent movies such as Interstellar, Gravity and more. The latest to attempt to capture the imagination of the moviegoing public is Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. The two play Jim Preston and Aurora Dunn, just a couple of the thousands of occupants of Starship Avalon, a ship that’s on a 120-year trip to an outbound planet where humanity is establishing an outpost.
Problems begin with Jim and Aurora wake up almost a century earlier than planned and the rest of the travelers. So they’re alone and stranded on a ship they have no control over and will most likely die on. That means they have lots of free time and a bit of fatalism. While they play out a rom com on an interstellar journey there are problems that occur both with the ship and between each other as secrets are revealed.
Nothing about the story on the first poster, just close-ups of both Lawrence and Pratt. Weird-looking characters in the middle along with the title treatment vaguely hint at a futuristic story of some sort but that’s it. This teaser is 100% aiming to just sell the movie based on your love of the two stars.
The second poster again uses the huge looming faces of Lawrence and Pratt, both airbrushed to within an inch of their humanity, as the primary element. This time though they’re separated by a huge beam of light bisecting the poster vertically, a small shot of the ship they’re on in the middle of it. Copy tells us “There’s a reason they woke up,” hinting at some sort of mystery that will be revealed over the course of the story.
We get as the first trailer starts a cute little flirty moment of Jim asking Aurora out via a little robot, which establishes some attraction and the sci-fi setting. That’s reinforced when, on their date and in front of the robot bartender, she asks him why he gave up his life on Earth. Then we start getting the meat of the story, about how they’re on a ship of colonists to another planet that was supposed to last over a hundred years. But these two woke up 90 years early. Soon the ship starts having troubles and the two have to fight for their own survival as well as that of everyone else on the ship.
It’s not bad, certainly tapping in to the audience’s love of both Pratt and Lawrence, who get to exercise flirty rom-com elements of their skills as well as the big franchise action set-piece chops both have developed in the last few years. It’s clear the studio wants to sell this to some extent as this year’s Interstellar, a weighty space movie that also has Something Important To Say, but this looks more like cheesy (but in a good way) B-movie fluff instead of an art film with sci-fi trappings. It’s emotional and action-oriented and is selling a big-screen experience even more than the story.
Significant numbers of social media conversations followed in the wake of the trailer’s debut.
A short trailer – really just a glorified TV spot – came next that boiled the story down to its core elements of two ridiculously good looking people being stranded on an out-of-control spaceship, with a bigger mystery looming over them. It’s dramatic and works like a TV commercial in how it get to the point quickly and with maximum effect.
Online and Social
The official website opens with the event trailer that you can close if you don’t want to rewatch it. On the home page there are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. There are also prompts to buy tickets now.
Also there are links to “Become a Passenger Now,” a microsite that is basically an opt-in to receive email updates about the movie and other Sony Pictures release. Finally on the main page you can “Send a Message From the Stars,” which prompts you to visit the site on your mobile device, where you can write a short message and have it added to the others that have been created.
Moving to the content menu that’s in the upper right drop-down, the first section is “Trailer” which has the same trailer that played at the site’s loading. “Synopsis” gives you a brief write-up of the movie’s story.
“Cast and Crew” has lists of those involved with the movie both in front of and behind the camera. There are just three stills in the “Gallery” and then there’s another prompt to buy tickets. Finally, there’s a link to enter the “Zero Gravity Sweepstakes” to win a date in zero-G.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one started running in early November, about two months out from release. It lays out the basic points of the story – the two characters woke up 90 years before the rest of their interstellar travelers – but basically positions it as an action romance featuring two very likeable movie stars.
Those TV spots were also used as social network ads, following in the footsteps of the first trailer.
The studio also ran “snap to unlock” ads on Snapchat that gave people access to a special movie-themed filter. This was also promoted on outdoor ads in subways and elsewhere.
Sony took advantage of corporate synergies with an installation at Sony Square NYC featuring the hibernation pods and other recreations of movie sets and props.
Media and Publicity
Lawrence would start talking about the movie as she was promoting the final Hunger Games film along with the David O. Russell movie Joy, starting with a Hollywood Reporter roundtable where she made predictably awkward comments about filming a sex scene with the married Pratt.
A while after that both Lawrence and Pratt appeared at a CinemaCon presentation to talk about the movie, their characters and the story. A few months later the public was given their first look at the movie in the form of exclusive stills in EW that accompanied an interview with director Morten Tyldum where he talked about the chemistry between the two leads, the challenge of shooting a big movie with a small story and more.The production design, particularly the look and feel of the starship, got some attention as well toward the end of the push.
That doesn’t do justice to the massive publicity tour Lawrence and Pratt went on for what seemed like four months before the movie’s release. They appeared, either apart or together, on just about every TV talk show, radio program and more, sat for joint interviews with the print press and so on until it reached overload. Of course with two such charming and photogenic actors, what else would you expect the studio to do? The campaign needed to put them out there as much as possible, even if it went well past what might be the audience’s appetite for shenanigans.
That last point is really the key to the campaign. The trailers and rest of the campaign have established the story pretty well, but the focus of the marketing has been on the chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence so it makes sense to put that on display as much as possible. It’s key considering how much the public loves these two actors, both on and off the screen,
As for the story itself, it’s…not really there in the campaign. We get the premise about the ship waking the two characters up way early and that the two start fooling around because they’re both ridiculously good looking and what else are you going to do for the 50 years you have left before you die. But what, other than some technical problems aboard the ship to keep things interesting, happens after that isn’t spilled at all. That leaves a lot of room for the audience to be either surprised or disappointed.