In addition to selling fleets of trucks, oceans of beer and incalculable tons of potato chips, some of the most memorable Super Bowl ads promote motion pictures. But, as is the case with those spots produced for other products, some movie ads are more super than others.
Back in 1996, the attention-grabbing, adrenaline-pumping teaser for Independence Day – you know, the one in which the White House blew up real good – raised expectations and stoked must-see urgings to levels seldom if ever matched by subsequent Super Bowl mini-trailers.
On the other, the notorious 2003 spot for Ang Lee’s Hulk, in which the title character was laughably rendered with not-ready-for-prime-time temp f/x, generated a negative buzz that more or less sank the movie months before its actual release.
Movie marketers have learned their lesson the hard way: During the Super Bowl, you have only a few seconds to make a lasting impression. And that impression will last whether you want it to or not.
David Poland, the ace film industry columnist who runs Movie City News, got an advance look at some Super Bowl XLV spots on You Tube hours before kick-off. And he wasn’t nearly as impressed as he’d hoped to be.
“The thing about Super Bowl ads for movies,” Poland noted, “is that they are now dramatically overused. Unless you have an image or an idea that can be best summed up in 30 or 60 seconds, you're wasting money on that buy.”
The White House explosion from ID4? In Poland’s view: An iconic image, indelibly expressed. Something he feels that one of this year’s most eagerly awaited movie ads – for Cowboys & Aliens – sorely lacked.
“There is a shot in Cowboys & Aliens,” Poland says, “that offers the promise of what a Super Bowl spot should be: Daniel Craig with some alien contraption on his wrist. But instead of engaging us with how a cowboy figures out and tries to conceive of that kind of otherworldly thing, all we get is the standard shot of a burst coming out of it towards a spaceship. Not good enough.
“We want the premise. Aliens blow up White House? Will Smith will kick their asses for it. Aliens mess with cowboys? James Bond's great-great-great-grandfather will figure out their device and shoot back.”
For the record: I respectfully disagree. Indeed, after seeing the C&A spot, I’m ready to get in line to buy an opening-day ticket. (Mind you, since I’m a film critic, I’ll probably be invited to a press screening ahead of time. But I still want to see this sucker with a pumped-up audience of civilians.)
Still, I fully accept Poland’s premise: When hyping a film during the Super Bowl, it’s not enough to be fast and flashy. In addition to selling the sizzle, you’ve also got to give us at least a hint of how the steak will taste.
With that in mind, here’s an instant replay of my initial reactions to movie spots on the Super Bowl XLV menu:
Just Go With It – The geniuses at Sony Pictures decided to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure we know that Brooklyn Decker has very large breasts. Gee, thanks, fellows. But, er, what’s the movie about?
Battle: Los Angeles – Idiot simple. Or, more accurately, ID4 simple: Evil extraterrestrials land in L.A., start blowing up things. “Right now,” a harried human portentously notes, “we are being colonized.” Already, I’m expecting something a lot better than last fall’s Skyline.
Fast Five – Again, simple yet striking. Vince Diesel and Paul Walker are back to drive and crash cars in Fast and Furious fashion. You want more? OK, they’ll give you more: Dwayne Johnson (the artist formerly known as The Rock) gets tossed into the mix as a badass antagonist. Cowabunga.
Cowboys & Aliens – On a second viewing, I could better appreciate the presence of a spectacularly grizzled Harrison Ford. If enough viewers noted that during their first exposure, the buzz may begin: “Hey! Indiana Jones meets James Bond! Cool!”
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Giant robots kick each other’s asses. Again. Ho-hum. And, sorry, but franchise newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, fleetingly glimpsed in this teaser, doesn’t look nearly as hot as Megan Fox, whom she was hired to replace.
Thor – At the very least: Much better than the spot for Ang Lee’s Hulk (another flick about a Marvel Comics character). Also, a little beefcake for the ladies: Even when he’s not holding his hammer, Chris Hemsworth looks pretty damn buff with his shirt off. That should sell a few tickets.
Super 8 – Whoa! I still have no idea what this sci-fi action-adventure is about – in fact, I’m not 100 percent certain it is an action-adventure --but the turbo-charged teaser makes me believe it’ll bring out the best from producer Steven Spielberg and director J.J. Abrams. (By the way: Was that Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights amid the familiar faces in the rapid-fire montage?)
Captain America: The First America – A fairly efficient précis of the basic premise: Scientists zap a 98-pound weakling with super-duper stuff that transforms him into the strapping super hero known as – ta-dah! – Captain America. And dig that crazy bullet-proof shield. (But what’s with the constipated expression on Tommy Lee Jones?) On the other hand: I wonder many folks unfamiliar with Marvel Comics mythos realized while watching this Super Bowl spot that the transformation supposedly takes place during World War II? And that the villainous Red Skull dude (Hugo Weaving of The Matrix) is, well, you know, a Nazi?
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – More of the same, only… more. Mermaids. Zombies. Penélope Cruz. Blackbeard. And, of course, Johnny Depp once again playing Jack Sparrow, the battiest of buccaneers, with all the woozy grandeur and slurred-yet-precise diction of an indignant drunk trying to talk his way out of a DUI bust. Yep, this one should easily gross a zillion or two.
Rango – Johnny Depp returns, this time as the voice of a reluctantly heroic lizard in an animated feature that appears to be a cross between a Sergio Leone Western, a Road Runner short and… a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. (No big surprise about the latter: Gore Verbinksi, who directed the first three Caribbean flicks, directed this one as well.) Undeniably amusing, particularly as it promised “Comedy. Adventure. Explosions. More Explosions. Other Stuff.”
Rio – A CGI parrot inadvertently slaps a bikini-clad cutie on the ass. Well, all right, maybe that’ll get some dads to volunteer to bring the kids to the megaplex. But, then again, maybe not.
Limitless – OK, it has something to do with a smart drug. And something else to do with Bradley Cooper flaunting his amped-up brain cells. But… Well… Aw, hell, I’ll just come out and say it: Looks like just another easy paycheck for co-star Robert De Niro. “There’s no scenario,” De Niro tells Cooper, “where you don’t work for me.” Cooper ain’t impressed: “I see 50 scenarios. That’s what it does. It puts me 50 moves ahead of you.” So there.
Mars Needs Moms – That ineffably melancholy sound you heard reverberating throughout America after the game ended? The sighs of millions of parents seeing this none-too-promising spot for a frenetic but formulaic cartoon adventure and thinking, “Oh, gee, I guess the kids’ll want to see that one….”
Eminem: Imported from Detroit – Yeah, I know: It’s not a movie ad. But this moody/brassy spot for Chrysler – two minutes long, with not one second wasted – made inspired use of the opening guitar riff from Eminem’s Oscar-winning theme for 8 Mile, and damn-near brilliant use of Eminem himself. That’s right: The Real Slim Shady showed up to give a swaggering shout-out for Motor City – where they still manufacture real cars, dammit! – and wind up his pitch by strongly suggesting that anyone who considers anything but a made-in-Detroit Chrysler while shopping for a luxury-car is some kind of punk-ass bitch. Hand’s down: The best ad of any sort that aired during Super Bowl XLV.
Here's the Eminem/Chrysler ad: