Ready Player One demonstrates there’s such thing as too much Marketing

Ready Player One has not had a good marketing campaign thus far. To say it’s been rocky might be downplaying it a bit.

Based off the Ernest Cline novel of the same title, Ready Player One is a movie set in the not too distant, dystopian future about a teenage boy who becomes obsessed with solving an elaborate puzzle within the OASIS, a hyper-real virtual reality simulation, where the eventual winner wins a crapload of money.

It’s not a terrible premise, and considering that the book wasn’t exactly the Great Gatsby of its era, it really didn’t have a high benchmark for expectations. Helmed by Steven Spielberg, it could still very well become a great movie, it’s just…..well, the movie is already on the cusp of a box office implosion due to its shaky trailer, social media backlash, and poor marketing efforts.

Let’s examine, starting with the problematic trailer:

The trailer is chalk-full of what some people might consider “Easter Eggs”-an intentional message, joke, or nod to fans who may get a reference to earlier work.

Except, when executed poorly, Easter Eggs can creep into another territory altogether.

It’s a concept called “Intertextuality”, which was masterfully covered by the Nerdwriter over on YouTube.

He defines intertextuality as “something in a movie that is shaped by another text, usually another movie, or book, or play”. Basically, it’s a cultural reference to something outside of the movie. He goes on to argue that films are increasingly using intertextual references as a substitute for emotion or solid storytelling.

Because intertextuality isn’t a bad thing in itself, but when incorrectly used, or in the case of this trailer, overused, it can leave audiences feeling dull, flat, and worst of all….bored.

If at any point during this trailer you said to yourself, “Hey, I know that thing” then you just experienced weaponized intertextuality.

How Ready Player One abuses its intertextual ancestry

Yes, I’ve read the book, and I realize that the book is also structured around its sentimentality ridden narrative, possibly subverting the hero’s expectations as it relates to his obsession with video game culture and nostalgia.

But that doesn’t excuse the marketing teams behind Ready Player One for absolutely going HAM on their audiences expectations of intertextuality. Instead of going for something more subtle, they simply photoshopped old, classic movie posters and substituted the stars of Ready Player One on top of it like it was some sort of crying Jordan meme.

The problem when you try to reposition beloved pieces of art from people’s childhoods, is that the payoff rarely matches the original. I mean, if I wrote a book about a wandering traveler through the desert of the Middle East and I mirrored the cover of the Alchemist, I’m sort of setting myself up for disappointment aren’t I?

How to conjure up nostalgia the right way

I can think of two specific examples of intertextuality working the way it should be. The first most obvious choice, is Stranger Things. The genius about Stranger Things is that while it relies pretty heavily on 80’s references, it doesn’t use it as a substitute for story. At it’s heart, Stranger Things is really about a group of kids trying to find their way through adolescence, against the backdrop of an interdimensional threat that threatens their way of life. That story isn’t about the 80’s. The 80’s are merely the supporting character.

Another great example is one of my favorite comic book movies of all time, Logan.

In Logan, there are definitely references to the comic books, and previous X-men movies. But the story isn’t bogged down by these references, and most importantly, the director James Mangold intentionally didn’t want to go down the path of creating just another superhero movie.

That’s because most superhero movies are guilty of weaponized intertextuality. How many times has a friend leaned over to you in the theater and said “Ooh, a character I know from the comic books!” or “ooh, I bet that’s an easter egg for the next movie!”

Constant character references from obscure comic book issues and movies that serve as an appetizer for bigger, better movies, don’t really make a good movie in itself, do they?

All this is to say that in the modern age of filmmaking and marketing, we need to be smarter about how to connect with and resonate with audiences. People love being reminded about their past, but in a way that’s not shoved in their face, and right on the nose. Because just like advertising, people do not fall in love with products, references, or easter eggs, they fall in love with a feeling.

Originally posted on Leonard David Raymundo’s Medium

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Have Superhero Movies Reached Their Peak?

Originally posted on Medium

With the recent release of Black Panther having set a new bar for action movies (as mentioned in my previous post), one cannot help but think that the superhero genre in general may be running out of steam. Batman vs. Superman was incredibly underwhelming, the latest Justice League, while better, failed to live up to its hype, and both Marvel and DC Comics fans have been left with what amounts to a lineup of profitable, yet unimpressive films.

In the last 5 years there have been 23 films released based on Marvel and DC properties alone. You would think that this would create something of a superhero fatigue, right? Well, not exactly, and that’s because the superhero genre, after experiencing a bit of a rough patch in the mid-to-late 2000s, has now hit something of a renaissance. And what is the contributing factor to this renaissance, you may ask? Well, put simply, it is creativity, passion and a clear vision.

Let’s take one my favorite superhero movies of all time, Logan for example. Released just last year, Logan was the 10th film in the hit-or-miss X-Men franchise that saw the final story of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Why was this film such a critical and commercial hit? Aside from the fact that it had a great story, terrific acting and some of the best action sequences ever created for an X-Men film, it had used creativity to disrupt the traditionally conventional superhero genre. 20th Century Fox could have put out another PG-13 movie to make a quick buck, but instead, they took a risk and gave fans what they have been asking for for years: a violent, gritty, almost sociopathic Wolverine. Logan featured no shortage of foul language, grisly death and a realistic tone. This was a huge change of pace for the franchise, which previously leaned on toned down violence and language. Because of the passion of everyone involved in the project, namely by director James Mangold, we were left with a beautiful love letter to a character that many of us grew up with.

In fact, Logan is less a “superhero” movie, and more of an old western. If you haven’t already, watch “Unforgiven” with Clint Eastwood sometime. You won’t regret it.

Now let’s take a look at a film that fared poorly with critics and audiences: Justice League. Also released last year, Justice League was a meager attempt at cashing in on the tremendous success that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has had. A garbled mish mash of CG action sequences and funny, but off tone comedy, Justice League was destined to fail — but why? Because it relied too heavily on traditional genre tropes, failing to pack the emotional punch that other superhero films (like the Dark Knight series) did before it. In fact, the film made more headlines for its trouble behind the scenes than it did for being a film. As leadership changes troubled DC’s film department, Zack Snyder, the creative director who’d made the DCEU what it was (for better or worse), was having problems of his own. Due to personal reasons, he was forced to leave the film before finishing production, and DC had no other choice but to find a new director.

Enter Joss Whedon, the nerd’s nerd. DC, and by extension, Warner Brothers, were hoping that Whedon would be able to add his creative touch to the film and create a box office darling; they were wrong. Instead, Whedon attempted to undo most of Snyder’s dark and gritty atmospheric choices and replace them with lighthearted fare that would appeal to audiences, leaving us with a superhero film that has no clue what it wants to be. Fans noticed this and didn’t bite. The film failed.

This is precisely where Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and to a certain extent, 20th Century Fox’s X-Men universe, is getting it right. They are taking creative risks and putting their films in the hands of creative and passionate individuals whom all have a clear vision for their project. The MCU is headed by Kevin Feige who understands that taking creative risks and playing homage to the source material of these films pays off big time. The first two Thor films didn’t necessarily flop at the box office, but they were not critical darlings; however, once Taika Waititi’s brand of off-the-wall humor made its way into the franchise, Thor: Ragnarokgave a refreshing take on the character, and saw massive praise and box office receipts; Ryan Coogler’s heavy African influence on and passion for the source material of Black Panther made the film the billion-dollar behemoth it is today.

Is the superhero genre dying? No, I don’t believe that it is. I simply believe that we are now experiencing something of a “revolution” in superhero films in which the traditional genre conventions must be disposed of, in favor of originality and authentic storytelling. Black PantherThor: RagnarokWonder WomanDeadpool and Logan all share one thing in common: they were made with a clear vision, and did not limit themselves to what a superhero film “should” be. Superhero films have not reached their peak, not as long as we have young professional filmmakers who care about these characters as much as fans do.

How Newspapers Have Survived in the Digital Age

It is no secret that the outlook for the traditional American newspaper is looking undeniably grim. Sales of physical papers are down, newspaper publishers are shutting their doors, membership to renowned newspaper associations like the Newspaper Association of America — which has now changed its name to become the News Media Alliance — are dropping rapidly, and the word ‘newspaper’ is nearly meaningless to many news corporations.

Many attribute this steep drop-off in circulation to the ubiquity of technology and its ability to deliver news to the peoplewithout a fee. Others say that it is newspaper publishers’ own fault, as they focused too much of their time and resources into creating an online presence.

In spite of these pointed opinions, it is important to note that the newspaper’s decline is not due to the negligence of corporations, nor the disinterest of millennials. Instead, the newspaper is merely changing with the times, adapting itself in order to fit into the busy lives of its readers — or, in today’s terms, viewers. This is how newspapers have strived to survive in the digital age:

Print may be “dying,” but it is still profitable. While there is no denying that circulation is down, many publishers still make a majority of their profit from their print versions. This is due to companies that still invest in print advertising. Although this form of advertising is also slowly waning, it is still exponentially more profitable than digital advertising, especially since these ads are known to be more memorable to and impactful on audiences.

Technology cannot rule all. Although many fear that jobs will be stolen away by artificial intelligence, it is evident that the supervision — and mere presence — of humankind is still very much necessary to any business around the globe. After all, no robot can be programmed to emulate human discretion — as evidenced by a major blunder Facebook made just last year.

The issue spun out of control when the popular social media platform turned to an algorithm to track and report trending news stories, as opposed to allowing humans to select newsworthy topics to put in the spotlight for the public. It led to several unsavory and false stories to be placed in the forefront of the public’s mind — and generated a lot of scrutiny.

This ties directly into the operations of newspaper publications because, although online materials may be more efficient for readers to skim, the information is not always entirely correct.

This is because the rigorous process of drafting and approving pieces that produce a newspaper does not go into producing articles for online platforms. The process is often write, publish, then edit and/or correct. This is detrimental to the integrity of the story, especially when viewers read it prior to edits and adjustments.

Evidently, there are some major changes coming to the world of journalism and readership. However, it will likely be a long time — at least two to three decades — until a moratorium is officially read on behalf of print journalism.