The Film Habit #56

The Film Habit #56

The Film HabitI 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.

NFL Spellcheck

Vohlers: Lord of War was brilliantly reviewed on your site. I agree with almost all of the points made by the reviewer. Pardon my editing obsession, but observe the following: (Refer to the last paragraph of the review) Manning led the Colts last Sunday; Favre will lead the Packers next week. Lead is a poisonous metal. Keep up the good work.

Josh: Sorry, we're movie geeks. We don't watch football.

Cliff: Better watch out Josh; if the truth is under those sheets, it may be more of a Crying Game kinda truth...

Josh: Guess I'll have to explore new facets of my sexuality. Hold me Cliff.
Andy Kaufman Rises From The Dead

Marc: Good afternoon cant you send me the news scoop about the news movie of Superman return, I know is go out only in june 2006. Sincerlly thank you verry much. (sorry about my english)

Josh: Dear Latka: No. Sincerely have a nice day.
Texas Shoots NPR

Samuel Ewing: As I was surfing the web going over various message boards I found out something interesting about the residents of your home state: Texas and conservatives from the deep south in general. They absolutely despise Prairie Home Companion. Why exactly I have no idea granted keillor's liberal but thats not generally speaking a focus of his show(besides he's much more a populist than he is the sort of liberal activist hated among repubulicans) and his humor doesn't appeal to everyone but then again niether does jimmy fallon's but not very many people have hate obsessions with him(Fallon) of course that might change if someone somewhere actually liked fallon. To me though loathing Keillor is on par with being out-raged over references to evolution in a volcano pic. That is to say that prairie home companion is so bland and inoffensive that despising it is comical and should probably merit a trip to a pyschologist for anger control. Either that or lesson in the basic principles of satire: Keillor is a christian therefore he satires christianity; good satire in my mind anyways is not based in disrespect but qutie the opposite. Woody Allen doesn't write satire about Texas; Douglas Adams didn't satirize politics, and Mark Twain didn't satirize california. They all satirized things they knew and cared about(New York, Science, and Mississippi respectively). Satire doesn't equivacate anger usually as much as it does knowledge. Sometimes I wonder if people who call Keillor bitter and angry have actually ever listened to him talk; he's probably one of the most genial down-to-earth and caring people working anywhere in radio, television, or over the I-net so much so that listening to his show he actually sounds half asleep most of the time. Kind of like an NPR DJ with a husky voice on nyquill (light bulb) maybe that's it people from Texas hate Keillor because they can't stand the idea of a comedian not being obnoxious and in your face. Maybe keillor should take his show on a road-trip to texas and while there do all his performances in the nude to reinvigorate his relationship with the people of texas or at least give them an actual reason to hate him

Josh: Keillor's liberal. That's probably all you need to know if you're wondering why he's not popular in Texas. Also, perhaps Christians, much like Joss Whedon fans, have very little sense of humor about themselves, and don't take kindly to satirizing, even from one of their own.

In my house, he's not popular because he's on during the weekend... on freakin NPR. That's my time. For drinking. Also for sleeping. I don't want to learn anything.

But some conservatives outside of Texas do like him. CB's own Scott Gwin I believe is something of a big fan. Also, I imagine he's huge in discount nursing homes. He should be happy with that. I wouldn't come to Texas if I were him, people tend to shoot things they disagree with around here. That's why I keep my address unlisted.
Summer Box Office 2005: Revenge of the Critics

Cliff (again):Regarding Herbie: Fully Loaded, I'm glad to see that someone else besides me understands why that movie failed. Even though I hated Herbie as a child, I was still fully prepared to spend solid cash to see Lindsey's Lohans on the big screen. Once I read about the reduction, I opted instead to see lesser films, and my life will never be complete. At least Lindsey will have a nipple slip at some point, hopefully before she gets pregnant with her creepy dad's baby… Also, who is this Evangeline?

BTW, do you guys really have an office? Where at?

Vote Pedro!

Josh: Thank you for saving this column yet again Cliff. However, I can't support someone with no childhood love of Herbie. Those movies are classic. Glad we could save you though from boob disappointment. It's tragic. Hey, maybe this will help. Havoc came out on DVD today. Check it out.

Evangeline Lilly is on TV's "Lost", and apparently also in Michael Brody's bed. Yes we do have an office, and I frequently sit in my underwear, which ought to give you some clue as to where it is in relation to my bed. My wife also calls it our "spare bedroom" but I'm trying to get her to cut that out. Show me some respect!

Vote Pedro-eating Tribbles.
Festoon Your Luxury Car With The Lord

Nell:We already have metal Jesus fish for the back of God-fearing cars here in the UK. Generally on Volvos. Just thought you'd like to know.

Josh: My respect for your civilization dwindles yet further. Poor buggers. Tell me, do you have peeing Calvins?
British Moviegoers Get Chruch Ads - Josh Already Has Em'

Sam:So let me get this straight, you actually see advertisements for churches when you go to the movies. I live in detroit one of those wierd cities in america that is niether the bible-belt or san-fransisco mainly due to the fact that while there's a lot of religion here it tends to be more liberal in nature than it does in the south. I wouldn't find church ads before a movie highly odd but I always imagined that churches wanted to disassociate themself with hollywood. I just couldn't imagine going to see say the Aristocrats and getting cum jokes mixed in with religion.

Josh: Yes, we do. Apparently this isn't as common place as I thought when I wrote about how used to it I am here in Dallas, Texas. I simply assumed it was everywhere; luckily it isn't. The creepiest ones are part of the pre-movie slideshow, in which all the preachers are made to look like pedophiles. I'm not sure if this is an accident, or if maybe the Baptists are trying to recruit new Catholics.
Scott Disses Non-Polygamists

David Willhelm:I can respect your option on behalf of the movie review. Don’t make comments on things that you do not understand or have no knowledge of. This is more then a movie for a lot of people. It is a corner stone of faith and persecution that took place to the LDS people, which is true and well documented. I challenge you to research the life of a LDS family during this time and then ask yourself the question; Do you know of anyone with as much faith in Jesus Christ as these people?

Josh: Scott Gwin wrote that news story, find it here. But I approved it, so that means it's got my support. Frankly, with all the dissing of Scientoligists lately, don't you think it's time we spread it around? Besides, you're lucky anyone's covering this movie at all. It's not exactly the stuff of broad interest. Take his comments and thank Amercian Jesus for them. Then go drink som caffeine, you don't know what you're missing. Or, just remain certain that your faith is better than everyone elses. That'll probably work better for you.

Hey! Do you like writing for mildly successful movie websites with no guarantee that you'll ever be paid? Are you over 18? Do you live in Los Angeles? You're in luck. is looking for writers just like you. If you think you can capture the signature Cinema Blend style as a critic, interviewer, and/or news reporter send me an with a few samples and we'll talk.


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