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Archive for Friday, September 5, 2008

Niccum: Success of summer movies can’t be measured by sites

September 5, 2008

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On the street

Do you ever visit a movie’s Web site before you go see it?

I think the only one where I did was with Cloverfield, which had more of a viral marketing campaign. I ended up going to see it, but I wasn’t too impressed.

More responses

Back in 1995 when I was writing a film column for an alt-weekly publication, I started getting pestered by people about the movie ads we were running.

These folks would call (not e-mail) to ask if I knew what those strange markings meant that began with "www" and were stripped along the bottom of the ad.

So I did an explanatory column - keep in mind this is 1995 - that introduced phrases such as "URL" and "download" to a whole contingent of film fans ignorant to the joys of the "official movie Web site." My guinea pig for the piece belonged to a fairly forgettable comedy called "Angus," and I took readers through its site's various interactive games and doodads.

It wasn't until "The Blair Witch Project" hit in 1999 that the idea of marketing a movie through its Web site became an embraced mainstream practice.

So now that a baker's dozen of years has passed, I thought it might be entertaining to see how some of this summer's blockbusters fare when it comes to their respective Web sites.

Let's take a look at:

¢ The summer's biggest movie - "The Dark Knight," $500 million and counting.

¢ The current biggest movie - "Tropic Thunder," No. 1 at the box office for the last three weeks.

¢ A movie that absolutely bombed - "The Rocker," weighing in at $3 million and change.

We begin with the Batman (thedarkknight.warnerbros.com), which launches with an appropriately dark background and embedded trailer before sloooooowly loading a page where the viewer is being bombarded by joker cards dropping from the sky.

The majority of these sites have photos and cast info, so there's no point in rehashing that. But "Dark Knight" offers numerous screensavers, wallpapers and buddy icons - although I'm not sure what being buddies with Heath Ledger's Joker means, exactly.

While the moodiness is to be appreciated, the overall corporate-ness of the site becomes smothering. When clicking on the "Friends of Gotham" link, I expect to be invited to a special secret club with a bat decoder ring or something. But instead I'm shown a cattle call of sponsors' corporate logos. Time to exit this bat cave.

Next up is the abrasive comedy "Tropic Thunder," whose advance trailers proved "insensitive" enough to elicit picketing from special interest groups. (Note to special interest groups: Picketing NEVER harms ticket sales.)

The site (tropicthunder.com) instantly attempts to lure you to the flick's MySpace and Facebook pages - which is kind of odd since you're already on the main site. But once in, your cursor switches to a sniper scope, and there's a great interactive weapons gallery that features animated characters spouting their various catch phrases. There are also goofy links to the fake products such as Booty Sweat energy drink that pepper the picture. Not bad.

For the lowly "Rocker" (rockermovie.com), the site pulls out all the stops without any corporate gladhanding. There's a funny book chat in which star Rainn Wilson interviews legendary guitarist Slash. (Wasn't expecting that.) In addition to all the aforementioned screensavers, etc., "The Rocker" features a game in which you try to master the rock star art of throwing a TV out the window. It's a lot harder than it looks, and it doesn't help that Wilson's character consistently berates you during the competition. I rack up a $2,500 bill: $2,000 for the TVs and $500 for the window.

So what does it say when one of the biggest disasters of the summer has a clearly superior Web site to one of the biggest hits?

It says the Internet is still merely a tiny piece of the puzzle when it involves marketing to our "digital" society.

- Entertainment editor Jon Niccum explores facets of pop culture that have established a unique niche on the Internet in Net Worth. He can be reached at 832-7178.

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