Movie Marketing Madness: Underworld: Blood Wars

underworld_blood_wars_ver8Kate Beckinsale is back as Selene the death dealer in Underworld: Blood Wars, the fifth installment in the Underworld franchise that began all the way back in 2003. It’s been four years since the last movie and while it’s hard to say that the general populace has been clamoring for more, the movies have generally at least made their money back (though the last one can’t hold to that claim) and so in the age of pulling out any and all brand names from the closet, this one was likely inevitable for a new movie.

This one puts Selene once again at the forefront of the eons-long struggle between Lycans and Vampires, each side wanting to eliminate the other. This time she’s out to put a final end to the fight while also dealing with the Vampire clan that betrayed her, I’m guessing in the last movie, which I haven’t seen. She holds the key to the war’s end and finds that achieving her quest may lead her to make the most difficult decision of all.

The Posters

Beckinsale as Selene stands alone on the first poster, her black leather suit just barely visible beneath the white coat she’s wearing while standing in a snow-covered forest of bare white trees. So…white. She’s got both guns drawn and at the ready and look of fierce determination on her face, which is presumably in line with the movie’s story, which we’re told here is to “Protect the bloodline.” So Selene’s clearly on an important mission here.

A series of character posters came next showing Selene and the rest of the major characters. No names or other information are provided about them, just the actor’s names, on images that put them in front of some kind of gothic or snowy background. Again, the color palette here is all white and blue and grey.

The next poster just featured Beckinsale as Selene in her signature skin-tight black outfit and firing her pistols at something just below the camera, promising the audience a bit of sex appeal and plenty of violence.

Finally, the theatrical one-sheet shows Selene in a less violent and more contemplative position, looking out in the distance as rain or snow falls around her. “Protect the bloodline” copy at the top hints at the story a bit but that’s about it in terms of selling the story.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with Selene catching us up on the battle between the vampires and the Lycans, including how personal the war is to her since the enemy killed her parents. Things have been quiet but have started moving again, with the Lycans under new leadership. Selene, we find out, is no longer the favorite death dealer of the vampires but her skills are needed now, not to mention that her blood may hold the key to something vague and undefined.

Ohhh…kay. This certainly does sell an installment in the Underworld franchise, which means it’s confusing, more than a little nonsensical and is filled with mythology without any actual stakes. It features plenty of blue-tinged visuals and violence, hallmarks of the previous movies. It deals with the fact that it’s been several years since the last installment as well as it can with the opening narration but ultimately it fails to present a real reason why we should be interested in the return of these characters.

There’s more of a clear-cut (at least for this franchise) story on display in the second trailer. We get some talk about how Selene has been out of the fight for a while but she’s needed now because reasons. And there’s another coven that’s after both her and her daughter because they need her blood to make them more powerful than they are, something Selene’s not on board with. Then it’s just a lot of special effects and fighting.

Like I said, this one’s a bit better because it features a clearer explanation of the movie’s story, but the audience is still being asked to sign on for a muddled narrative filled with mythology that, I’m guessing, not everyone remembers from the first few films.

The main addition from the third trailer is that it makes it clearer Selene goes on some sort of journey that results in her getting new powers, powers we’ve seen in the other trailers but never had explained.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with one of the trailers and when you’re done with that there are links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles for the movie over in the upper right corner.

“Trailer” is the first section of content in the left-hand menu as well, followed by “Synopsis” which is where you can find a brief plot outline. “Cast and Crew” just has the names of the major players without any further information or links about them.

The “Gallery” has four stills, all of which feature Beckinsale in her signature outfit. Finally, “Partners” has links to the companies that signed on for promotional efforts.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one continued to not really worry about coherently selling a story instead focusing on various aspects of the flashy visuals, offering bits and pieces of the plot. Oddly, there’s no overt appeal to nostalgia or mention of this wrapping up the series’ story or anything like that, it’s just kind of out there as a crazy, over-the-top sequel.

The studio also ran a “3D interactive lens” ad on Snapchat, a 360-degree lens that added movie-themed branding to people’s pictures and videos. There wa also a Snap-to-unlock along with that.

There were also a handful of cross-promotional companies, including:

  • Darkstorm Comics: Published a tie-in graphic novel related to the movie’s story.
  • Vampire Vineyards: Offered a movie-themed sweeps to win a hometown screening.
  • Venum: Also offered a hometown screening sweeps.

Congratulations to the studio exec who found two companies with thematically-appropriate names, but couldn’t they do anything more original with them?

Media and Publicity

It was announced that this would be one of the movies Sony brought to New York Comic-Con in advance of release to help promote it to the geek crowd assembled there. At that panel Beckinsale and others talked about returning to the franchise, their characters and more.

Beckinsale, naturally, continued to be the focal point of the press push with interviews like this that let the actress talk about her career to this point.

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Overall

The campaign seems fine, though it can’t shake the fact that the movie seems to be the definition of non-essential. As I said at the outset, it’s not like this is a widely beloved franchise that has a long history of success. While it surely has a core devoted fanbase, if someone asked the average moviegoer when the last Underworld movie was they’d likely have a hard time nailing it down. It’s been around, but isn’t like some other recent sequels where we’re revisiting characters we haven’t seen in a while. This seems like someone just making sure the IP is kept in-house.

As I’ve said throughout, it’s remarkably unconcerned with selling the story, perhaps a realization that’s not the franchise’s strong suit. Just throw Kate Beckinsale in the suit and insert some random werewolf and vampire minions for her to shoot along with a couple mustache-twirling jerks out for their own agendas and hope the audience shows up to the extent it makes its money back.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Love and Friendship

love_and_friendship_ver2Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Jane Austin adaptations are a lot trickier than they may seem on the surface. While they might first look like straightforward character studies involving studied manners and clearly-defined social norms but there’s usually lots more going on in the character’s motivations than are betrayed in their actions. And that can be hard to translate from the page, where the opportunities for exposition and narration are pretty limitless, to the screen, where they need to be conveyed in a much different way. Some succeed, some don’t.

Entering the fray is Love & Friendship, the new movie from writer/director Wilt Stillman. Based on the book “Lady Susan,” it tells the story of Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Bekinsale) a woman who pleasures in both adhering to and upsetting the societal strictures of her time. Visiting her in-laws while weathering a bit of bad gossip about her she tries to get both herself and her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) a husband. While there she also spends time with what we would now call her “frenemy” Alicia (Chloë Sevigny).

The Posters

love_and_friendshipA poster was released around the same time as the movie’s Sundance premiere that showed the two leads standing and looking at each other in front of a stately house, clearly setting the time period of the story. A cluster of words above them seem to describe their relationship while the tagline below that states “A lady never reveals her tactics,’ hinting at the intrigue that we’ll see play out.

A second poster clearly positions Beckinsale as the star in the same way the first trailer does. So she’s front and center in her society-appropriate finery, a couple of gentlemen flanking her on either side who we can presume are either love interests or pawns in her machinations. Sevigny sits in the carriage behind them all and the whole thing is set in the courtyard of a lavish estate. A critic pull quote appears at the top with five stars that declares the movie “Flat-out hilarious” and below the title treatment we’re told this is based on Jane Austen’s “comic gem.”

This one isn’t as good as the first simply because it comes off as much more staged, which isn’t a good look for comedy, even a comedy of manners like this. That quote at the top is necessary because there’s nothing here that identifies the movie as being remotely funny, though to be fair that’s the case for the first poster too. So it needs to take those extra steps to tell the audience it’s alright to laugh at the goings-on.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer is funny and charming. Everyone is talking about Lady Susan before her arrival as she’s referred to as a massive flirt and so on. The whole rest of the trailer is about her setting her daughter up for marriage, managing a suitor of her own as well as a married man she’s carrying on an affair with. Lady Susan is constantly referred to as a whirlwind of destruction on all around her, descriptions that are backed up by the way she acts and just kind of manages the people she knows in a way that she sees fit.

It’s pretty funny in that Jane Austin kind of way and it’s clear Beckinsale gives a wonderful, fully-featured performance in the lead role. Sevigny is given minimal screen time, which is too bad, but this is about setting up the main character and showing everyone what the basic story. On that front it succeeds.

Online and Social

The trailer pops up and plays when you load the official website and is certainly worth your time to rewatch. As you scroll down the page you’ll find a “Synopsis” that recaps the story pretty well and sets up the situations the characters find themselves in. There are a also a series of photos, images and videos that have been posted to promote the movie since the site is apparently built on Tumblr.

Moving on to the menu that’s just below the key art, “Cast & Crew” brings up background information on Beckinsale, Sevigny, Stillman and Austin. “Reviews” offers a pull quote from early festival reviews of the movie as well as, nicely, links to the full write-ups. “Soundtrack” takes you to Amazon where you can buy the music from the movie and “Tickets” lets you…you guessed it…buy tickets.

love and friendship pic 1

The movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles were primarily used to share promotional images, short clips and links to positive reviews of the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some online advertising was done that used key art to get people to click through to the official website. Nothing that I could find in the way of TV advertising, though and I’m not aware of any outdoor or other paid placement.

Media and Publicity

Just before the movie had its Sundance premiere, Amazon and Roadhouse picked it up for both theatrical and on-demand release. While there the cast talked about coming together as an ensemble and working on a costume drama like this. The movie came back to everyone’s attention when it was announced as the opening film at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.

love and friendship pic 2

Stillman talked in this interview about how he first became aware of this obscure Austen novel and what motivation was to bring it to the screen. And Beckinsale talked about the way she immersed herself in the world of the story to prepare for the role and loved that it was an overt comedy from Austin, combining laughs with the manners and rules of society at that time.

Overall

There’s a lot to like here, with the emphasis placed squarely on the rules and manners that make up society and how Lady Susan openly flouts them, steadfastly adhering to her own set of rules. Beckinsale is clearly in her element as a woman who marches to her own beat and doesn’t give a damn what other people think, something the campaign highlights and which makes me wish she’d do more comedy.

To that point, the movie is very much being sold as a dry comedy, not even as a comedy of manners or anything like that. Sure, there’s some of that in here but the trailer in particular wants to present it almost free of the expectations that come with being a Jane Austin adaptation while also taking advantage of the association with her name. That may sound like a contradiction but it’s not really and it works here. If you’re a fan of bone-dry comedy this one is being marketed especially to you.