Friday, 9 July 2010

Entertain me, just don't make me think

It sounds as though the money men at Warner Brothers are having a few sleepless nights ahead of their big summer release next Friday. It might be from the director of The Dark Knight, which made more money than Diandra Douglas' divorce attorney, but 'Inception' is proving to be something of a hard sell.

Despite writer-director Christopher Nolan's impressive credentials, it was still a brave decision on Warners' part to splash $160 million on a film with no dinosaurs, vampires or 3D, that wasn't based on a book, TV show or previous movie. It's a completely original concept, which is ironic considering that the film is all about a guy with the ability to steal other people's ideas.

At least, that's what it's rumoured to be about. Nolan runs a tight ship and kept the film's plot tightly under wraps. The problem is, the studio is now finding that awareness of the forthcoming movie is decidedly underwhelming.

When studios try to measure awareness, they're looking for clues that people have seen the film's marketing efforts and have an understanding of what to expect from the film. It's a bit difficult when limited snippets released to date are as cryptic as a text message from Salvador Dali.

The test screenings have thrown up some similar problems. At a recent showcase in Amsterdam, one industry insider commented "I have heard everything from 'awesome' to 'a bit confusing' from those who went to the screening." If the marketing is designed to build up the opening weekend, then it's word-of-mouth that determines a movie's 'legs'. Unfortunately, word-of-mouth is decidedly underwhelming when it starts with "WTF?"

However, the real problem that Warners needs to overcome lies in America's heartland. According to industry buzz, the film is in danger of being "the darling of the East and West coasts and miss[ing] the rest of the country."

Say what you like about the red states, but it seems that they don't like to think too much. That's why the Republicans have managed to maintain their hold on 'fly-over' country, by carefully positioning the liberal enemy as intellectual elitists.

You'd think that most people would want to be thought of as intelligent and informed, but a couple of decades of cleverly articulated rhetoric has made 'thinking' the exclusive preserve of the Champagne-quaffing lobster-munchers. Who needs fancy book learnin' when you've got NASCAR and the Museum of Britney Spears?

Films like Transformers 2, Hannah Montana and New Moon might be about as much fun as being locked in a cupboard full of agitated, incontinent baboons, but there's a sizeable audience for them in Middle America. They're the ones with the power to turn a moderate hit into a full-scale blockbuster. Fresh ideas, complicated plots and characterisation are not welcome here.

The film's tagline is 'Your mind is the scene of the crime". Ain't that the truth...

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