March 31, 2008

Coming Distractions

The Dark Knight - Harvey Dent adThe promotional campaign for the Batman sequel The Dark Knight has been impressive with its creative and engaging mix of viral, ambient, and experiential marketing. The film doesn't even arrive until July of 2008, but Warner Bros. started planting seeds online back in May of 2007. This build-up has utilized faux websites, international scavenger hunts, and mobile phone messages to heighten the awareness and interest of the movie-going public.

To compete for attention in environments that are over-saturated with advertising, media companies are forced to experiment with innovative and unconventional methods of promotion. Audiences have become so jaded that it takes something really clever, humorous, or just plain shocking to trump consumer apathy and ad blindness.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Mooninite placardForgoing the traditional advertising approaches will help keep a film from getting lost in the crowd, but it also brings a new set of risks to the table. The public might be confused and misinterpret the campaign, or worse, not even realize that something is being advertised.

Last year, guerrilla marketing efforts for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie went awry when Boston police mistook the electronic placards for improvised explosive devices. Although Cartoon Network's parent company Turner Broadcasting had to pay a couple million dollars in recompensation to the city, the wealth of news coverage from the event provided more publicity for the film than the channel's original marketing plan ever could have.

Fantastic Four - Silver Surfer quarterTwentieth Century Fox must have thought they had the ultimate viral marketing campaign for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The studio had commemorative coin company the Franklin Mint alter the backs of 40,000 U.S. quarters to promote the movie's summer release. The modified coins featured an image of the Silver Surfer and the URL of the film's official website.

Within days of releasing the custom currency into circulation, Fox received notice from the U.S. Mint that advertising on any form of legal tender was a federal crime. The news had fans seeking out the controversial coins, and the studio no doubt saw the resulting fine as a small price to pay for such publicity.

The Simpson Movie - Giant HomerAlso that summer, Fox insulted modern pagans when they hired British artist Peter Stuart to put a massive Homer Simpson next to the carving of the giant hill figure at Cerne Abbas in Dorset, England. The image depicted Homer in his underwear and wielding a donut in his left hand. The promotional stunt garnered plenty of press, and in turn, even more publicity for the studio's already over-hyped release of The Simpsons Movie. While the famously phallic geoglyph is a chalk figure carved into the hillside, the giant Homer was just a fleeting joke, rendered in water-soluble, biodegradable paint.

The Day After Tomorrow - Submerged billboardSony dipped into the Disneyland trick bag to trumpet the opening of The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep in Japan. A hologram-like image of the Loch Ness legend rose out of Tokyo Bay to astonished onlookers. The illusion was produced by a very precise interaction between water, light, and sound. Computer controlled water jets created a 15-meter wide liquid screen onto which the images were projected. Disney theme parks pioneered this kind of hydrotechnic display over fifteen years ago in their nightly Fantasmic! show. Watch a report of the event from Fuji News Network, or for an unedited angle, there's a Japanese onlooker's video as well.

The apocalyptic weather in The Day After Tomorrow inspired the creative location of this billboard. The idea is simple and echoes the film's plot wonderfully. It was placed just off the coast of Mumbai, India, to promote screenings at the local multiplex Fame-Adlabs.

When Spider-Man 2 came to India, the same group installed a clever sight gag in the men's bathroom. This simple promotional effort hits all the right notes--it's humorous, hard to miss, and very memorable.

Dude, Where's My Car - Guerrilla adSTAR Movies made clever use of ambient marketing with these parking space ads for the Asian network's premiere of Dude, Where's My Car? in Hong Kong.

The Lost World - Guerrila adAnother inspired ad placement from STAR Movies in Hong Kong. The image is printed on removable static cling vinyl and when affixed to a car's side mirror, it recalls a famous shot from The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

Death Proof - Ambient AdSeveral movie theaters throughout the Netherlands grabbed the attention of passers-by with a realistic severed arm gag placed in front of their establishments. The fake limb gripped a dummy DVD announcing that Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" was now showing.

Sopranos - Taxicab trunk gagThis same trick was used earlier in a Russian ad campaign for HBO's The Sopranos. Local cabs had folks doing double takes when it appeared that a dead mobster's arm was dangling from the trunk. Bumper stickers bearing the show's logo were strategically placed to keep people from needlessly calling the authorities.

Sopranos - New York Cab Arm GagInterestingly, an identical guerrilla tactic was used in New York for an Art Directors Club Young Guns advertising assignment.

The line between cleverness and poor taste is becoming increasingly blurred as advertisers strive to make an impression. This faux crime scene in a Singapore bathroom for the CSI TV series is undoubtedly successful at conveying the show's morbid milieu. However, it must have startled and confused a number of restroom visitors who weren't so pop culture savvy.

Kill Bill - Stall Ad (India)
Kill Bill - Stall Ad
Kill Bad - India

This promotional stunt for Kill Bill in India is bolder still. The adhesive floor gag only pays off when you actually enter the stall, leaving more squeamish individuals to seek out another restroom.

The bloodiness of Kill Bill is effectively illustrated by this billboard promoting the premiere of the film on New Zealand cable television. Transcending the confines of the advertisement's frame, the gore not only coated the surrounding wall, but it sprayed a nearby prop car for a nice mix of traditional and ambient marketing.

One more example of innovative Kill Bill marketing, this time making good use of the way elevator doors open.

The effect is even more suited to this campaign for Superman Returns in Brazil.

The multiple panels of a revolving door can also be effectively utilized, as shown by this simple ad for Catch Me If You Can in Hong Kong.

Even something as mundane as the doors of a bus can be enhanced with an inspired idea.

This shark-themed wraparound ad for the National Geographic Channel is very eye-catching and truly memorable.

With a simple twist, conventional methods of advertising can be elevated to higher levels of noticeability. A flat poster for Superman Returns becomes an amusing optical illusion thanks to a clever incorporation of the ubiquitous grey light poles in downtown Belgium.

An otherwise unremarkable Ugly Betty spot becomes much more with the placement of an oversized paper bag over the sign. The covering draws attention while also evoking the stereotype of the title character. Just the vital information is still showing (what show, what time, and what channel).

And finally, this inspired use of the bulbs behind the sign brilliantly brings to mind a trio of Star Wars light sabers, while simultaneously announcing the arrival of the third installment in George Lucas's latest trilogy.

Tarsem Channels Dali

The Fall, Tarsem Singh's follow-up feature to The Cell, is finally hitting theaters after a two-year delay. The poster art features a pair of eyes peering through a rectangular mask, with a nose and mouth suggested in the combined imagery of a butterfly, flower petals and the Taj Mahal's silhouette. The layout reminds me of Salvador Dali's 1935 painting, "Face of Mae West (Usable as a Surrealist Apartment)."

Face of Mae West

The Fall

See also: Hidden Images in Horror Movie Art

March 22, 2008

Déjà View: Sex and Breakfast vs. Manchild

The DVD artwork for the recently released Sex and Breakfast features a cluster of naked male and female legs poking out from the end of a sofa. Such imagery is often used to convey the playful romps inherent in a modern day sex comedy (for example, the posters for Virgin Territory, Shortbus and All Over the Guy). It struck me as very typical, but I otherwise didn't give too much thought to the cover design.

A few weeks later I happened across the first season of the British TV series Manchild. The cover of the American DVD version features a very familiar jumble of naked legs poking out from the end of a sofa.

Manchild Season 1

Sex and Breakfast

The designer of Sex and Breakfast's cover pitched the angle of the original couple's limbs to make room for a third person's leg. Either the latter completely ripped off the former, or they both employed the same stock photo source by chance.

Antisex (2008)UPDATE 10/29/08
The plot thickens with this artwork for the Russian comedy Antisex (2008). It's obviously the same source image, only now the couch has been tipped even further and a bra and more body parts have been added.

March 19, 2008

The Version Suicides

Never Say Special Again

The Evil Dead: Ultimate EditionAnchor Bay released The Evil Dead: Ultimate Edition a few months ago, making it at least the sixth version of the film to be released on DVD in Region 1. This 3-Disc set offers nearly four hours of bonus material, but one has to question if yet another edition was really necessary. The other two entries in Sam Raimi's trilogy have been equally whored out, with four versions of Evil Dead 2 and six versions of Army of Darkness on DVD. There are other film franchises that have been repeat offenders. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix trilogy, George Romero's original zombie trilogy, and the vast James Bond canon are available in a variety of versions on DVD.

The term "Special Edition" begins to lose its meaning when there are two or three other versions of the same film to choose from, often with their own assortment of bonus material. Sometimes the studios will switch it up and call it a "Collector's Edition." Other times it may be "Limited Edition" and come housed in a custom tin, or gift box, or some other fanciful packaging twist.

When an even more special edition comes along, the ante is upped and we get majestic proclamations like "Deluxe Edition," "Definitive Edition," and "Ultimate Edition." Warner Bros. attempted to cover all the bases with their 10-disc Ultimate Matrix Collection Limited Edition Collector's Set.

The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers: Platinum Series Special Extended Edition Collector's Gift SetIt would seem difficult to justify any further re-release of a film after such bold nomenclature, but the studios have plenty of other angles they can work. There's always an "Unrated Edition," an "Extended Edition," or a "Director's Edition" that can be unveiled.

If not, marketers can do a lateral move and employ such ambiguously regal banners as "Signature Edition," "Gold Edition," and "Platinum Edition." New Line took a bunch and mixed them all into a mouthful for The Lord of the Rings: Platinum Series Special Extended Edition Collector's Gift Set. Should that somehow fail to lure the completists, the occasional "Commemorative Edition" tends to work, and of course, anniversaries are ripe for exploiting every five years. Fans of the films Pretty Woman and Edward Scissorhands recently had their once adequate "10th Anniversary Edition" upstaged by a newly packaged "15th Anniversary Edition."

Mrs. Doubtfire: Behind-the-Seams EditionEven with this vast array of gimmicks to re-release films under, 20th Century Fox still felt that none of the labels could adequately represent the fanfare that something like the third DVD version of Mrs. Doubtfire deserved. So the studio used another approach: the Cutesy Pun Edition. Thus their triple dip release became Mrs. Doubtfire: Behind-the-Seams Edition.

Unfortunately, this release was hardly the first instance of such winking wordplay in a DVD edition title. There had already been Sony's Kung Fu Hustle: Axe-Kickin' Edition, Paramount's Summer School: Life's a Beach Edition, and Fox's Ice Age: Super-Cool Edition. The studios are no longer concerned with making each subsequent edition bigger and better, so they've largely dropped the exponentially hyperbolic labels. Now they just make sure each version has its own wacky edition title to differentiate it from future re-releases.

Five years ago, Universal hit upon the catch phrase method with their Animal House: Double Secret Probation Edition. An oft-quoted line from the film is used in the edition title, resulting in something like Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Awesome! Totally Awesome! Special Edition.

Airplane: Don't Call Me Shirley EditionParamount took this idea and ran with it, churning out far more of these inane DVD titles than any other studio. They started out by giving us Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition and Clueless: "Whatever!" Edition, which were quickly followed by Airplane!: "Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition, Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Bueller... Bueller... Edition, Pretty in Pink: Everything's Duckie Edition, and Trading Places: "Looking Good, Feeling Good" Edition.

It wasn't long before Fox realized that they, too, had plenty of quotable movies that could be re-released in ridiculously titled versions. The DVD market was therefore graced with Revenge of the Nerds: Panty Raid Edition, Porky's: The One Size Fits All Edition, Point Break: Pure Adrenaline Edition, and the most impressive one yet: 9 to 5: Sexist, Egotistical, Lying Hypocritical Bigot Edition.

Office Space: Special Edition with FlairFox showed admirable restraint in the titling of special editions for two of their most obnoxiously over-quoted comedies. Rather than pull from the expected pool of PC Load Letter/Oh! Face/Case of the Mondays/TPS Report quotes, they went with Office Space: Special Edition with Flair. We were likewise spared from the wealth of irritating Napoleon Dynamite lines, and instead were presented with Like, the Best Special Edition Ever!

It's refreshing when the joke is a little more subtle, such as with Universal's The Jerk: 26th Anniversary Edition or Billy Madison: Special Ed-ition. A simple twist on the special edition idea is always preferred, especially when the wordplay echoes the movie's theme. You know there's bonus material included with titles like MGM's The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert: Extra Frills Edition, Back to School: Extra-Curricular Edition, and Sony's Little Man: Loaded With Extra Crap Edition. It's less clear with awkward titles like Disney's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: The Friendship Edition, The Shaggy D.A.: The Canine Candidate Edition, or The Emperor's New Groove: The New Groove Edition.

When the marketers are at a loss for wordplay or if they feel the film isn't well known enough for its own catch phrase, they tend to go with a third, increasingly common method: the Random Reference Edition. This involves a word or two that's related to the film in some way and almost makes the re-release sound like a cheesy direct-to-video sequel, like in Universal's Flash Gordon: Saviour of the Universe Edition or Xanadu: Magical Musical Edition. The phrase is almost meaningless, and can be typically concocted from a quick scan of the movie's artwork or plot synopsis.

The guilty parties include Buena Vista's Rock 'n' Roll High School: Rock On Edition, Sony's 13 Going on 30: Fun & Flirty Edition, Fox's The Siege: Martial Law Edition, and Paramount's The Wood: Back in the Day Edition and Grease: Rockin' Rydell Edition.

The studios aren't likely to end this practice anytime soon. Selling your favorite movie to you over and over again in absurdly titled, slightly different versions is their business, and as the corporate cliché goes, business is good.

March 13, 2008

Deadly Extremities

The Machine Girl (2008)The upcoming Japanese film The Machine Girl (Kataude mashin gâru) is an over-the-top revenge story about a schoolgirl who lost her family as well as her left arm to a Yakuza gang. In her quest for vengeance, she replaces her dismembered limb with various weapon attachments, such as a chainsaw or a rotary machine gun. If you haven't seen the trailer yet, pay a quick visit to and check it out.

The Machine Girl
's prosthetic weapon gimmick started me thinking about other films in which a character's limbs have been enhanced for combat. It may simply be an amputee tricking out their stump or an individual who's undergone significant body modification, but I've rounded up a baker's dozen of notable instances from the last four decades of film.

Grindhouse: Planet Terror (2007)The most recent example is also an obvious influence on The Machine Girl: Cherry Darling's combination machine gun/rocket launcher leg in Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror. Although it's unclear just how the trigger mechanism functions, it looks cool enough to forgive the lack of real-world logic. It's also par for the course in the director's unapologetically outrageous love letter to seventies grindhouse cinema.

Evil Dead 2 (1987)Devotees of his oeuvre know that this is not the first time that he has creatively customized a firearm. In 1995's Desperado, Rodriguez modified mariachi guitar cases so that they hid rocket launchers and automatic machine guns, and he gave Tom Savini's character a phallic crotch revolver the following year in From Dusk Till Dawn.

Discussion of this particular topic cannot really get going without mentioning what is surely the most memorable deadly extremity movie of all: Evil Dead II. After cutting off his possessed right hand with a chainsaw, the character of Ash modifies the power tool to fit onto his stump. Bruce Campbell achieved an international cult following with the role, and the iconic character returned in another sequel (Army of Darkness), a handful of video games, comic books, and even a stage musical.

Missing hands are probably the most common disfigurement in this pseudo sub-genre. Herman Scobie (played by George Kennedy) sported a steel claw as a substitute for his right hand, with which he menaced Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant's characters in the 1963 Hitchockian romp Charade.

Live and Let Die (1973)Roger Moore's debut as Agent 007 in Live and Let Die had him taking on a corrupt Caribbean Prime Minister known as Mr. Big. One of Mr. Big's henchman was a reptile wrangler named Tee Hee Johnson who lost his hand to an alligator bite and subsequently wielded a set of mechanical pincers. He demonstrated their power by twisting James Bond's gun into scrap metal.

Before the advent of such useful devices, a lost hand was often replaced with a simple hook. Thanks to numerous permutations in urban legend, the image of the hook-handed killer has been well represented in cinema. For the purposes of this post, I'll just single out a couple of popular examples. If you're eager for more, Richard Harland Smith offers an extensive examination of this type of villain over at

Rolling Thunder (1977)After penning the screenplay to Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader co-wrote another late seventies meditation on violence and vengeance called Rolling Thunder. A recently returned Vietnam vet is targeted by a band of outlaws. They rob his home, kill his family, and stuff his arm in a garbage disposal. He ends up wearing a hook-hand, which he sharpens into a lethal weapon and uses to seek bloody revenge.

The film later inspired the moniker of Quentin Tarantino's short-lived film distribution company. The logo for Rolling Thunder Pictures even featured the image of a hook striking a flat surface, which mimicked the letterform of a capital 'R.' Unfortunately, Tarantino's endeavor didn't survive long enough to oversee the release of its cinematic namesake; this grindhouse classic remains tragically unavailable on DVD.

Candyman (1992)One of the more infamous hooks in modern movies belongs to Daniel Robitaille, a.k.a. Candyman. Borrowing elements from the folklore of Bloody Mary, the 1992 film introduced horror fans to the vengeful killer who terrorized the residents of Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing projects.

After having his hand sawed off by a lynch mob, Daniel was covered in honey and swarmed to death by bees. His soul was somehow captured inside a mirror, allowing him to return whenever the name Candyman is repeated five times. The living urban legend swung his gnarly appendage through two sequels: Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Candyman 3: Day of the Dead (1999).

Enter the Dragon (1973)In the 1973 kung fu favorite Enter the Dragon, the crime lord Han makes use of interchangeable attachments for his left hand stump. Throughout the majority of the film, he wears a fake hand discreetly sheathed in a black glove. For the big rumble in the third act, however, he switches out the fake hand for an exotic tiger claw weapon. When Bruce Lee quickly disarms him of that one, he opts for a four-bladed extension that resembles the paw of a robotic wolverine.

X-Men (2000)Speaking of wolverines, Logan is easily the most popular character in the X-Men movie franchise. A set of retractable claws in both of his forearms inspired his mutant nickname. Coated in the nearly indestructible alloy known as adamantium, Wolverine's twin weapons give him a distinct advantage in hand-to-hand combat.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)The shear-fingered subject of Tim Burton's 1990 fairy tale may never have engaged in much violence, but Edward Scissorhands could certainly give Freddy Krueger's customized glove some competition in a slasher contest.

Hellboy (2004)It may not be versatile enough to type with, but Hellboy's Right Hand of Doom sure proves useful during a fight. It's indestructible, impervious to pain, and delivers blows with the force of a sledgehammer. The ancient appendage is also a potential catalyst for the Apocalypse, as seen in Guillermo del Toro's 2004 film adaptation.

Robocop 3 (1993)As a cyborg, RoboCop's entire body could arguably be considered a weapon. However, a scene from RoboCop 3 is what ultimately inspired his inclusion in this post. Officer Murphy receives an impressive upgrade in the form of a multi-weapon arm attachment. The combination machine gun/anti-tank launcher/ flame thrower extends from where his left hand was.

The 1989 film Tetsuo: The Iron Man went beyond the usual enhancements of arms and legs. The title character's body gradually becomes metalized, and his penis mutates into a large power drill. In one of the movie's most controversial moments, the man's girlfriend gets fatally ravaged by his spinning tool.

Tunneler from
Puppet Master
Blade from
Puppet Master

And finally, even though they're not human, several of the murderous marionettes in the Puppet Master film franchise have specialized weaponry built into their anatomy. The top of Tunneler's head is a deadly drill, Torch wields a flame thrower in his forearm, and instead of hands, the character of Blade sports a knife and a hook.