18 December 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: Is Anchorman the Most Marketed Movie Ever?

Around a decade or so ago a small film came out featuring a once funny SNL alum who was more famous for playing an Elf. A few years ago I wrote an essay exclaiming the wonder of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), proclaiming its great features, such as its odd competing realities, lack of a villain, and nature of toying with its audience between reality and expectation. This was all fine and good, and Anchorman was forever this immortal sort of film - stuck between cult classic and mainstream hit. Ron Burgundy eventually became a household name and its cinematic mark on the world of comedy is undeniable.

Did someone say sequel?

No toilet store in sight.

Now, comedy sequels almost always suck. They lack the tension built up in the first go around, and since the comedy is derived from that tension, or at least the high concept, the sequel often stumbles. Here's a big fat list of comedy sequels, try to name even one or two good ones from that. I'm not even sure if Back to the Future: Part II (1989) or Lethal Weapon 2 (1987) should even really count, but whatever, you can throw them in. Was either really better than the first one? Some may match their predecessors, such as Clerks II (2006) or Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995), but more often you get horrors like The Blues Brothers 2000 (1998) or Meet the Fockers (2004). Actually, the only flick on that list that I'll say surpasses the original is A Very Brady Sequel (1996), which rules for taking everything strange and out of place in the first film and going full on incestuously insane with it. What a delight.

Anchorman was sort of this slow burn. It's such a weird, translucent film experience that audiences for some time had trouble pinning it down. A sequel isn't totally outrageous, director Adam McKay and star Will Ferrell cobbled together Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie out of spare scenes they had shot while filming Anchorman and released it on DVD in 2004. It's not a great film by any stretch and some of the edits are pretty choppy, but the evidence of where they were going with certain ideas are there and it forms a neat sort of alternate universe version of Anchorman.

Wake Up, Ron Burgundy is my primary rationale for why Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) won't be total shit. Each of the five main actors (Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, and Steve Carell) know their characters pretty well, and each is pretty solid (Burgundy, Veronica Corningstone, Brian Fantana, Champ Kind, and Brick Tamland). Not only that, but just watching the characters interact with each other, without even a story to go along with (such as is the case with Wake Up), is just damned funny. So here are my concerns. They center mostly around the Dodge Durango.
"There were horses and a man on fire
and I stabbed a man with a trident."

I have ranted previously about trailer abstinence, and I stand by that theory, especially when it comes to comedies. Comedies, especially ones full of potential cameos such as Anchorman 2 rely on surprise to generate that impact of cognitive conflict which results in an expression of shock, hopefully displayed as laughter. When that surprise or conflict is removed, the movie ain't funny. Think of any joke or flick you saw the first time and compare it with the eighth time. While there are cult exceptions (Anchorman itself is one that tends to grow in humour as it ages, although part of that is nostalgia, self-satisfaction for memorizing lines, and the occasional new insight), comedies need to be pristine. I still contend that's why I enjoyed The Hangover: Part II (2011), while it tends to be reviled elsewhere. There's no guarantee of this, because I went totally cold into The Hangover: Part III (2013) and that movie just sucked ass.

So I've done the impossible so far, with a few more days to go - completely avoided all of Anchorman 2's marketing material. And this has possibly been the most advertised movie of all time. Its TV commercial period has been about double standard film campaigns and the amount of product tie-ins, most blatantly Dodge Durangos and Sportscenter appearances have been over the top and ridiculous. Oh, and apparently, Durangos are selling like cray cray, by the way. I'm curious as to whether or not this is just building more of the Ron Burgundy world or spoiling all our appetites for the main course.

I'm also concerned about whether any of these ads needed to appear at all. In 2004 my generation was coming off a heady love of Will Ferrell from SNL, Zoolander (2001), and Elf (2003). I graduated High School that summer and everyone was talking Anchorman. And Spider-Man 2 (2004). While we weren't that important of a market, there's hardly a soul among us who wouldn't be interested in more Burgundy. Like me, all many out there needed was an announcement and a date and we'd show up cash in hand. No Durangos necessary.

Then again, there's a wee bit of fear from earlier. Comedy sequels suck. Not enough people knew about Wake Up, and if they did, they didn't watch it. Will Ferrell, despite my pleas to the contrary, has overstayed his welcome and settled into a rut. What is a boy to do? Advertise the fuck out of Anchorman 2 and sell that the gang is back, primed, and ready to capitalize on the greatest comedic dream team once again put on film.

Really, in the past ten years Paul Rudd and Steve Carell have become household names with plenty of their own legendary turns (I'd pick Role Models (2008) and Michael Scott. Maybe Burt Wonderstone. No, no, I can't even keep a straight face with that one). David Koechner is still the same supporting role master, from Snakes on a Plane (2006) to The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009). Christina Applegate is coming off the underrated and newly cancelled Up All Night. The time is right. And that time is right now.

So how will it do? I always cheer for a movie being good, but this one's hard to figure. I have some faith in the very self-aware and parodic sensibilities of Ferrell and McKay, but with so much pressure, there's no telling where this thing can go. Anchorman was a shot in the dark. A film made by amateurs and crazy people that somehow caught on. Anchorman 2 is expected to be the prestige of Hollywood. If anything, the hype machine is going to ruin this film in the eyes of its fans. Then, twenty years from now it will join the list of  Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991) and Weekend at Bernie's II (1993) as really misguided comic sequels. We'll find out this Friday, December 20th, 2013.

Until then, stay classy, Planet Earth.

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