There are two things you can count on when it comes to movies. First, the best movies of the year will come out between Thanksgiving and the weekend after Christmas. The big names, the Oscar contenders, the historical dramas…theaters will be inundated with the “gotta see ums” in the last month of the year. The second thing you can count on: some of the worst movies of the year will come out in January.
This is a very calculated strategy on the part of movie studios. The big awards shows in January, February and March give statues to movies released within the previous calendar year. The later in the year you open your movie, the more buzz surrounding it during nomination and voting periods. Sometimes it might feel like that “big movie” didn’t come out until the middle of January (like “American Sniper” this year) but I guarantee you it played somewhere before December 31st. It has to play in one theater and sell one ticket before the end of the year in order to be considered “released.”
But I don’t want to talk about the hits. Everybody’s talking the current “best ofs.” I want to talk about the horrendous garbage the studios are dumping on us in January and February. That’s their term: the worst movies get “dumped” in first quarter.
I’ve been seeing a promo for a comedy with a somewhat high profile star set to open in mid January. You can tell from the thirty second trailer this is a horrendous movie. It earned its dump site. The full two and a half minute trailer is even worse. I mean this movie is so obviously horrible I can’t imagine anyone taking the time to pirate the thing, let alone actually paying ten bucks to see it. Although, you’d never know from the ads. Sure, they have to say nice things about it…but how can they slobber over this thing with a straight face? Right there in the promo are quotes like “Sure to be an Instant Classic,” “Laugh Out Loud Funny” and “Hilarious!” WITH the exclamation point.
This happens so often, it’s become a cliche…movie studios find somebody to drool over even the worst movies. How is this possible? I had to know, who would blurt out a quote like “Awesome” for a movie that so very obviously isn’t.
Back in 2001 Sony created a guy. They made up their own quotes and attributed them to a fictional reviewer. Once they were caught it was all very embarrassing and they vowed to never do anything like that again. Although, their shame didn’t stop them from putting out “The Interview” so it’s possible we didn’t punish them enough. Other studios shook accusing fingers in Sony’s direction and claimed their undying devotion to truthful reviews.
So, short of flat out lying, how are studios getting these quotes? After a bit of research, I discovered “the junketeer.”
Notice this next time you see an over the top quote in a movie trailer: how small is the attribution? Check out the little “quoted by” line underneath the big, breathless kudo. If the commenter is from “Rolling Stone” or “The Wall Street Journal” or “TIME Magazine” you will be able to see their name … easily. If “Entertainment Weekly” loved your movie, the voiceover guy will probably mention them by name. As the quality of the movie decreases, so will the size of the name of the reviewer. The names of the commenters in the movie trailer I saw for this January comedy were so small I couldn’t read them. I couldn’t read them in a freeze frame, in HD, or on a big screen TV. These are the names of the junketeers.
If you work at a small to mid-sized newspaper, getting a call from a studio to attend a press junket and movie premiere is a big deal. If a movie studio knows they have a stinker in the can, they will offer up a free junket excursion to the movie reviewer from the “Hoboken News Gazette and Shopper” (not a real paper … but you get the idea). I’ve read ‘blogs’ from junketeers. They happily brag about first class airfare and lavish $500 a night Beverly Hills hotel suites paid for by the studios. They are given hotel expense accounts and Town Cars with drivers. They dine at sumptuous buffets then meet the stars of the stinker they just screened. How could you be treated so nicely by these wonderful people then say something bad about their movie?
If you are the reviewer from the “Omaha Times-Gazette” or the “Belleville Breeze-Journal” (again, not real papers) you can’t bring yourself to speak the truth. If you say something unpleasant in your review, you might not be invited back for another weekend of Hollywood extravagance and excess. Some studios have been known to shamelessly provide these reviewers with pre-written quotes: “In your sure to be positive review of our horrible movie do you think you are more likely to say ‘Awesome,’ ‘Phenomenal’ or ‘Better than Citizen Kane’?” The reviewer selects their favorite pre-written quote. The quote then appears in the next breathless trailer with an attribution so tiny not even the reviewer’s mother can make it out.
This has gotten so bad that one small town reviewer has had the same quote appear in three different trailers for three different movies from the same studio. The reviewer okayed the quotes, so it’s not like it’s a lie or anything. And, no, there was never a worry about any of these movies winning a Golden Globe.
So as we wind our way through the first quarter “dump zone” take care before investing 38 bucks on a ticket, popcorn and a 1.5 gallon soda. Ignore the hype and look at the content of a movie trailer. Check out “Rotten Tomatoes” reviews. If anything catches your eye, resist the urge. You’ll probably be better off waiting for it to show up in your Netflix queue or in the cutout DVD bin at Wal-mart.
Or, better yet, catch up on those leftovers from December. When is “American Sniper” going to get here?
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