10 May 2011

First Impressions: THOR, The Cultural Context of an Event Film

Yesterday I talked all about the recent THOR (2011) film but in this day of Tentpole Blockbusters there is a lot more to this flick than just what was on screen. To make an honest splash in a Summer Season full of explosions, 3-D extravaganzas and well-weathered plots it's more and more important for films do do something to stand out. They need to elevate themselves into "Events" - to the point that it appears that viewers would fall into a cultural void if they missed seeing it. AVABAR (2009) captured this better than any other movie in history (probably not, I'd say Gone With the Wind [1939] superseded it as a must-see cultural event). A film needs to really capture the zeitgeist and infiltrate many different and distinct parts of culture until it actually isn't a film any more but it reaches that "EVENT" status.

I've never seen a movie that tried as hard at this as Tron: Legacy (2010) last winter. That thing was marketed to death years ahead of its release date attempting to build a ridiculous momentum that would make it one of the Greatest Box Office Kings ever. The results weren't that bad, it made back its production budget (I can't imagine it made back its advertising budget through it is the kind of film with a lot of toys and other merchandise to support its revenue. Tho its DVD sales haven't been great. I mean, c'mon, it's getting outsold by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader [2010]), but it was far from expectations, especially for something that dominated zeitgeist enough to inspire some nice synergy here.

You haven't really made it until your mug is on a soda can.
THOR had a big gambit ahead of it. Somehow a non-A List comic property, non-sequel is a risky enough venture to attempt another form of marketing - the Event Release. Whether I wanted them to or not all my Dr. Pepper for the last month has been THOR Pepper, which I call Thorper. Burger King ran a promotion with some exclusive comics geared towards kids, but I really wanted a THOR Whopper which I also call a Thorper. I mean, we got the barely adequate Whiplash Whopper last year for Iron Man 2 (2010), you'd think they could whip up something incredible for the God of Thunder. And don't give me crap about Marvel's partnership with Disney which would seem to beget collusion with McDonald's because THOR's distributor is still Paramount - same as Iron Man 2 and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) which gave us a terrible, terrible movie but a pretty good Indy Whopper. Damn that Indy Whopper was actually pretty good. I'd say it was good enough to warrant the production of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Ugh I feel like a whore now. What the hell was I talking about?

In the last few months THOR has built up a pretty respectable momentum. Prior to this summer the biggest credit Thor had on the Big Screen was probably Adventures in Babysitting (1987). Actually what's disappointing with the mainstream debut of the God of Thunder is that this little girl's bizarre obsession feels a bit less obscure now. She wasn't pathetic, she was prophetic. That sucks, THOR ruined Adventures in Babysitting and that my friends, is unforgivable.

Slowly though Thor is suddenly everywhere. From incredible Conan Parodies to incredibly poor Sci-Fi Knockoffs, Thor is on the pulse. It's a tough call between the big-screen debut of THOR and its companion, Almighty Thor (2011) but I think audiences will be able to choose a film not starring Richard Grieco. This site even had a huge Thor Week, from which I found this Thor video which I need to point out as it really captures exactly what THOR wanted to do - become an integral part of the culture that everyone needed to see to avoid feeling left out of the zeitgeist.

A very early trailer debut (10 Dec 2010) along with tons of pictures, news and anticipation thoroughly braced the world for the World of Asgard (I always read that Ass-Guard. A signal of my continued maturity). Marvel needed to intensely sell the epic nature of this film to truly deserve that Summer Kick-Off spot where other flicks like both Iron Man movies, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Spider-Man 3 (2007), X2: X-Men United (2003) and Spider-Man (2002) had excelled. All of these were locks for success. THOR was always a bit iffy. It's important that the Summer Lead-Off does well. Studios want to one-up each other and that's an enviable spot on the calendar. You can't waste it (looking at you, Mission: Impossible III [2006]).

To actually appreciate how well THOR has handled its marketing and selling of a strange universe we need only look at the Eerily Similar Circumstances facing DC Film Green Lantern (2011). They're both B-Heroes who exist in a very unbelievable world that contrasts heavily with preestablished worlds in the same universe (Let's say Iron Man and The Dark Knight [2008] respectively). They both nabbed respectable directors to handle the difficult property (Kenneth Branagh and Martin Campbell). Green Lantern went the extra mile casting the very popular Ryan Reynolds in a title role that isn't exactly right for him whereas THOR led with the unknown but better suited Chris Hemsworth. Both also started their marketing very early in an attempt to persuade audiences early that their film is big, loud and important.

Check out Tomar-Re's weird rack

So why did THOR look awesome and Green Lantern looks like a piece of shit? When you trade Skarsgård for Sarsgaard and he looks like this, that's bound to happen. Green Lantern looks to be all CGI, which would be fine if it was impressive CGI at all. The best CGI still lies in that realm of possible. The effects in THOR were mostly lightning storms and stuff which happened too quick to notice anything strange, Asgard, which while fantastic is based on possible structures, and the Frost Giants which did look shitty. The effects in Green Lantern are...everything. Almost every non-human character, all the lantern effects, whatever the fuck this is and worst of all, the main character's suit doesn't seem real. When the suspension of disbelief is destroyed before we can even enter a movie, it's doomed. And I really like the Green Lantern, too. There is also this badass quality to Thor which is lacking in this interpretation of Hal Jordan. You know Thor is just there to kick some ass. Hal Jordan can be awesome but they're not showing it here.

Naturally with any big "Event" Film nowadays there has to be a heavy reliance on 3-D showings. THOR was no different and had a post-production conversion. I refuse to see these mostly because the image typically comes out Dark and Shitty. The 2-D was fine, I'm not sure why studios can't accept that if their product is superior they don't need to bolster it with gimmicks that sacrifice quality for novelty. Maybe I should introduce 3-D type to both all my Jersey Shore posts as well as my Rebecca Black posts - you know, to get more response from my most popular articles and make up for my shitty ones.

So after all this nonsense what was the payoff? $65.7 million. Okay...that's decent. A lot better than Tron: Legacy at least. It's not the best Marvel has ever done but it's enough to ensure that they're making a good investment with The Avengers (2012) but it seems unlikely that THOR will see a lot more adventures on his own. Tho his worldwide total is actually pretty decent. It's an exciting time for Norwegian Morning Wood with this flick honouring our gods and The Troll Hunter (2010) getting an American Release in a few months.

So what have we learned? THOR actually has some pretty good word of mouth so far. It will probably do pretty well as long as people keep drinking Dr. Pepper. Out of all the movies this summer it probably had the most advance marketing and certainly tapped into the most zeitgeist for an extended period of time. It won't be the highest-grossing flick of the Season but it will probably win May, which is nothing to shake at.

So go forth into the world my little Thunder Gods. Go grab a Thorper or two and hold on tight - this Summer's just beginning.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know where to fit this in, but I needed some comment regarding the Truly Legendary Screenwriting Team behind this movie: I'm talking about the Mighty Pen of Duo Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz whose credits include...um...only Agent Cody Banks (2003). Also Fringe and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Ouch.

    Well, Naturally they're rounded out by Don Payne who wrote...Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) and My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006). What?! Payne was also a Simpsons writer (yeah, Seasons 12 on). Holy hell, how did Thor get off the ground. Using a magic hammer of course! Wheeeeee!


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