(awesome Jaws/Pacific Rim mashup by Matt Ferguson)
Buried in a Variety article about Legendary Pictures’ impending split with Warner Bros is the kind of news that makes you want to breathe into a paper bag. The news that says potential audiences are more interested in a sequel to a lazy Sandler movie than a contemporary homage to Robot Jox set in a world of Godzillas. You know? Maybe this whole nerds-ruling-the-world thing has been greatly exaggerated.
Timing is key for Legendary as it looks to broker a new pact. Tull’s company has a lot riding on the success of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim,” a more than $200 million-budgeted tentpole, which is facing some hurdles in exciting moviegoers before its July 12 release despite getting a major promotional push since last summer’s Comic-Con in San Diego.
Early tracking for [Pacific Rim] is so far disappointing with audiences showing more interest in Sony Pictures’ sequel “Grown Ups 2,” which also opens that weekend. Some are comparing “Pacific Rim” to to Saban’s “Power Rangers” kids franchise or Japanese anime. As a result, expect a last-minute marketing blitz from distributor and 25% investor Warner Bros. to try to turn around those numbers.
Before we freak out, and trust me, I’m tempted to freak out, we should point out that “tracking” just means people aware of and supposedly looking forward to the movie. And while we don’t know the precise methodology involved in this case, that generally means marketing interns polling a bunch of people who don’t have anything better to do than take marketing surveys in the middle of the day. The people who put together the tracking reports – everything about them is a subliminal attempt to try to make the process sound scientific – have an interest in trying to make the people who do the financing think they’ve found a way to take the guess work and uncertainty out of the film distribution business, when all signs point to the the tracking/testing/focus grouping process being just as fickle as the audiences themselves. Just the other day I was listening to Seth Rogen on Fresh Air telling Terry Gross how Green Hornet tested better than any movie he’d ever been a part of. It was confusing for Rogen and the rest of the people involved in making the movie because they’d assumed the movie was sort of a mess before that, but early test audiences almost talked the creative team out of their own common sense. Which of course turned out to be mostly right when the movie was a disappointment, commercially and critically.
The scary part is that just because the process is flawed doesn’t mean studios don’t still believe in it. Having numbers to cite, no matter how arbitrary the methodology to produce them, is a nice way to absolve yourself of responsibility in case of a bomb, which is important to long-term job security. Spending $200 million on a movie about giant robot punching with no stars might seem not worth the weeks of anxiety when you can just film Adam Sandler farting on Kevin James and everyone gets a Maserati. But Pacific Rim is still two and a half weeks out, and it’s a non-comic book, non-sequel with no big stars (Idris Elba may matter to us, but not to your great Aunt Martha), in a summer already saturated with explosion movies. People like the familiar, and Grown Ups 2 is sequel to a movie built around familiar jokes – one basically frankensteined together from the corpses of familiar, in fact. It makes sense that more people have heard of it, that’s its entire reason for being.
And how good is this for Adam Sandler? Someone spends $200 mil on a movie about giant robots punching each other, with all the months of storyboarding and character design and props and CGI that go into it, and all Sandler has to do to compete is call up his buddies and have someone film it while they screw around next to a lake. How lazy is Grown Ups 2? The trailer actually reuses the entire “I wanna get chocolate wasted!” scene from the first movie, a line which couldn’t have taken more than 35 seconds to write in the first place. The lazier he gets, the more money he makes. Adam Sandler’s very existence spits in the face of the free market.