The Film Habit #56
I think spacing these out a bit has helped me. Helped me maintain my sanity anyway. Once you’re a success you can take it easy, when you’re struggling to become a success the way we are, well there’s not much time for things like editorializing and sleeping. But this week was an important one for moviegoers, even if they don’t know it. Well it could have been an important one, if a fantastic sci-fi film named Serenity hadn’t flopped utterly. Let’s talk a about what caused it. Some of you aren’t going to like it. Remember, it's only an editorial.
The Sucking of Serenity
Fan support has accomplished amazing things in the past. Big franchises like Star Trek, owe their very existence to it. But this weekend, we may have seen the very first instance of fan support killing a movie, an overbearing backlash of resentment against the over-the-top people promoting their favorite, flavor-of-the-month. Yeah, I’m talking about Serenity.
If you haven’t read Scott’s weekend box office report for Serenity's debut weekend, you might want to (here). Much to my dismay, the modestly-budgeted, heavily marketed, highly anticipated (at least by a few people) sci-fi picture lived up to every one of my expectations, and flopped heavily into theaters to the tune of a meager $10 million debut. It couldn’t manage more than the number two slot, getting trounced by the very beatable, poorly reviewed Jodie Foster thriller Flightplan in its second week of release.
Look, all the numbers aren’t in, but you can hardly call this a success. What went wrong here? The movie was marketed like a mother-fucker. It’s gotten glowing, and in some cases rave reviews from just about everyone. Ebert & Roeper gave this baby two thumbs up! Where’s the audience? Why aren’t they showing up? There’s two reasons. Let’s talk about them.
The first is marketing. Yes, at the last minute Universal went crazy and pushed this thing with a big marketing blitz. That’s good, better than not advertising it at all, as some of us once feared they might do. But the question here is how did they advertise it? Most people blame The Island’s massive belly-flop earlier this year on its misfired marketing campaign, and that definitely seems to be a player here. In the case of The Island the problem was that the ads didn’t do a good enough job of letting audiences know what sort of movie it was going to be. Serenity has a little different problem I think, Universal didn’t seem to know when to shut up.
All the ads for Serenity, and I’m including posters, trailers, TV spots whatever in this, have two things in common. One, they’re marketing this as a movie about an ultra-hot (which she’s not) ass-kicking kung-fu chick movie (which it isn’t) and two, they’re beating you over the head with the fact that it’s written and directed by Joss Whedon. People are pretty sick of ass-kicking chick movies, but maybe marketing it that way wasn’t such a bad move. I’m not sure how else you’d sell it to people completely unfamiliar with the “Firefly” television show (and considering it was cancelled for low ratings, that’s probably a lot of people), but selling sex is always a good default in these situations. It’s the other half of their advertising equation where they blew it, and here’s the reason: No one cares about Joss Whedon. No, they aren’t biased against him as you Browncoats I’m sure are already busily telling yourself to dull the shame. Just no one cares. The trailers kept screaming “From Joss Whedon the creator of ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’” over and over again, as if that was something akin to winning an Oscar. It isn’t. In fact, it’s kind of like the anti-Oscar. Maybe you like “Buffy”, maybe you don’t. But these aren’t exactly shows with high ratings. In fact, for most people “Buffy” is something they’d never ever watch. It doesn’t have any kind of broad appeal, I don’t care how well written it is. When people hear from the creator of “Buffy” being screamed at them by Mr. Movie Announcer, Serenity instantly becomes a movie they cross right off. Sure, the rabid, sometimes unreasoning Whedonites will show up, but they were coming anyway… and again, judging from the ratings of Joss’s television projects they aren’t enough to power the box office of a feature film.
That brings me back to the other thing Serenity had working against it, and that’s its fans. They call themselves “Browncoats” and never has the word rabid been more appropriate. Star Trek has its Trekkies and Star Wars has its… well its dorks, but they’re harmless. They look funny, act weird, but they’re generally pretty nice people who just haven’t had much sex. Think Steve Carrell in The 40 Year-Old Virgin. But the Joss Whedon fan is a new breed of uber-fan… and they’re a blight. They’re devoted to the point of militism. They hijack message boards, become quickly offended by anyone who doesn’t agree with them, and they’re often self-delusional to the point of ridiculousness. Now I’m speaking broadly here, of course this isn’t every single one of them. More than a few are as normal as they come, and I think we’ve done a good job of running the worst ones off our message board. But other places I frequent haven’t been so lucky. What we’re dealing with is a very loud, very vocal, very vicious, self-deluded little minority that’s taken over as representative of their fan community… and given it a really really bad name.
The result is that a lot of people are refusing to see or support Serenity, just because they don’t like its fans. No, they aren’t anti-Whedon, they’re anti-Whedonite and there’s a damn big difference. I’ve lost count of the number of people on our message board and others that I’ve seen saying the same thing “I’m not going to see this because of the fans, they’re horrible.” And these are the sort of audiences a movie like this needs. The people boycotting are science fiction fans, movie buffs, the kind of people that would usually line up around the block for this sort of quality, space Sci-Fi movie. It’s the angry, blind, and sometimes idiotic behavior of a loud minority of Whedon’s fans that have driven a lot of people, key people, away. Serenity is getting zero support from the normal geek community, the bread and butter of movies like Star Wars because of it. Great reviews don’t make a dent when you’ve got someone screaming at you about how stupid you are for not buggering Joss Whedon. There’s a genuine refusal to have any sort of meaningful discussion with these fans, and to me worse, a determined lack of sense of humor. Don’t you dare make a Joss Whedon joke, don’t you dare point out any of “Firefly’s” flaws. What a dire, depressing bunch.
Of course they haven’t learned they’re lesson. The film’s utter box office flop hasn’t touched them. Instead, they’re already out making excuses. In their world, the movie didn’t flop, instead it made back ¼ of its budget in the first weekend! I guess it’s easy to ignore the fact that the 40 million production cost figure is before you add in $20 million in marketing costs. And oh yes! It had the week’s highest per-screen-average… oh wait, except for A History of Violence and about five other limited films which kicked its ass in that arena.
I’d tell the “Browncoats” to be ashamed of themselves, but they won’t listen. They’re already getting outraged, and preparing their next assault on slightly-more-normal movie nerds everywhere. But I for one am saddened. Serenity is a great Sci-Fi adventure, and with the right kind of support it could have, and should have turned into the next Star Trek. If there’s any hope for Serenity it’ll be in this next week, in winning over the folks who’ve avoided it this weekend. Good word of mouth gives it some hope, but at $10 million start isn’t much to build on. Basically, it’ll have to become March of the Penguins, and I don’t see that happening. Guys, try and behave yourselves. That might be a good start.
E-Mail From Hell
And now for the only thing you people really care about… yourselves! We get e-mail, here's some of it. Not all of it of course! My inbox is so full... aw who am I kidding, we're not that popular. This is all of it. I've revamped the email section a little, brought in Shatner to straighten things out. Who better than the Captain? This week, there's not much about movies, but for some weird reason a lot from another type of humorless zealot... the religious. Here we go:
me or I'll come up with my own content.
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