synthetic zero

December 26th, 2010

Back from Christmas dinner with the relatives!

Peter Merholz opined on Twitter today that the reason Scott Pilgrim didn’t do well at the box office was because it was a “movie for mid-30s folks starring early-20s folks.” I’m not so sure his explanation is right, for some interesting reasons — for one thing I think Generations X and Y aren’t really that different. I know a number of 20-somethings who adored the film: for example, my friend, early-twentysomething T. loved it, calling it the “coolest shit ever” (admittedly she’s from Toronto so perhaps biased), but also my 27-year-old friends Katharine and Jennifer Rimm thought it was genius, to name a few. One review I read suggested it was perfect for late-twentysomethings, but less so for early-twentysomethings, who wouldn’t be familiar with the specific video game conceits in the film; I’m not so sure — I’m trying to get a New York-based 22-year-old friend of mine to see it to test that theory.

There is a generational issue with the film, however; one of my later-40’s friends told me she had hated the film with a passion, couldn’t relate to it, thought it was terrible on every level; pretty much the exact opposite reaction of most everyone I know who is 45 and under. I asked her if she’d played video games at home, as a kid — she hadn’t, and obviously that’s a big generation gap right there. I’ve often suspected that one of the main things separating Generations X and Y from earlier generations is video games (seriously), and that Gen X and Y are more similar than different, perhaps for that reason. Nearly all Gen X and Gen Y people I know (at least those who are sort of identifiable as being in those cultural groups, not necessarily exactly divided by age) grew up with video games at home from a young age. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it was an Atari 2600 or a Nintendo. I don’t really have a theory or any evidence here; it’s just a hunch that video games and computers at home have had a major, even perhaps defining, cultural effect on our generation(s).

If I’m right, and the film had fairly broad appeal, then the explanation for its poor box office would have to lie elsewhere: I think it was in the marketing. I think the people doing the marketing were trying to appeal to folks who like Michael Cera films. But that just doesn’t work: the trailer just made the movie look dumb: fight the evil exes! There was very little hint (just really brief, hardly-visible blips) that the film was actually a visually spectacular, absurdist, action-packed, brilliantly shot and edited, surreal comedy. Had the previews pushed that take on the film (far more representative) rather than spending so much time harping on the plot (who cares?) I think it might well have become a minor hit.

I mean: did you expect the film to be what it was, after seeing the previews and/or commercials? I certainly didn’t, and neither did most of my friends who saw the film. They were (almost) all very pleasantly surprised. And in fact, the few people who actually saw the film loved it; most critics also liked it, though some disagreed (not sure if generational factors were involved).

Here’s another extreme example of the power, for good and evil, of the misleading preview: the trailer for The American makes it look like a suspense thriller with George Clooney:

In fact, I was expecting exactly that, a standard thriller. What it actually was blew me away: a brooding, slow-paced, difficult, and beautiful work. It was an art house film, not a film really suitable for wide release. I kept thinking, most of the other people in this theater are probably hating this, and sure enough, most viewers hated it. But the marketing was so successful (and misleading) it actually was the number 1 film in its opening weekend! Many hapless moviegoers were bored out of their minds by a film that they had essentially been tricked into seeing. For both of these films, the fault/credit lies with the misleading trailer.

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one response to this post:
  1. Gubatron says:

    In my case the film was better than expected.
    I’m from 79 and I enjoyed each and every video game homage in the film. Loved the characters and loved how the story was told. Watched it with a 12 year old how had no clue of many of the video game references and she also enjoyed it very much.

    January 21st, 2011 at 9:10 am

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