Too many movies these days apologize for what they are. I think this has something to do with the New Yorker Caption Contest Paradox: development people are tired of hearing straightforward pitches that actually try to capture the appeal of the property. As soon as they hear about a “edgy new take” on a property they own, they wake up from their stupor. Finally! This isn’t your father’s [franchise name]! This one’s hip!
There’s just one problem. Moviegoers aren’t hip. We’re square. When we order a steak, we don’t want to find that it’s been stuffed with wasabi sauce. We just want a steak. Ironically, this is one area where developers disagree with their own marketing people, and marketing, for once, is firmly on the side of the audience.
Disney recently made the wise decision to cancel their upcoming big-budget relaunch of The Lone Ranger, and I’m sure that the marketing department helped to put a stop to it. The last thing they wanted to have to say was: “Listen up, America, it’s the Lone Ranger! He’s a cowboy who’s been framed for a crime so he wears a mask! But it’s not really about him, it’s about his Indian sidekick Tonto! But don’t worry, Tonto is played by a white guy! Oh, and did we mention that they’re fighting werewolves?? Awesome!”
It’s hard enough to remind people who the Lone Ranger was. It doesn’t actually help to say “It’s the Lone Ranger, but…” A “but” never helps any marketing message.
There was a revealing quote from Jerry Bruckheimer about his 2004 version of King Arthur. He said that they had developed the movie on the assumption that audiences could only show up if they had a new twist on the old story (This time it’s grim, grimy and pseudo-celtic!) To his surprise, in the test screenings, the feedback he got was that people were disappointed it wasn’t a straight up Camelot movie. He had a flop on his hands.The recent reboot of Sherlock Holmes was originally pitched as an “edgy twist” version, but once it came out, they found that it seemed to be popular despite the edgy stuff, not because of it. Audiences responded positively to the classic characters and tolerated the supernatural/steampunk elements. The studio told them that they could have a sequel if it was more down to earth and stuck to the original stories more. It turns out that people go to a Sherlock Holmes movie because they want to embrace the concept, not reject it.
I knew Thor would be a hit when I saw this poster. If you’re making a Thor movie the concept is four words long: “The God of Thunder.” Either people say “Hell yeah!” or they don’t. In this case, the movie itself actually did have a twist on the concept (nudging it from mythology into science fiction), but they were smart enough not to promote it that way.