June 18, 2002

Minority Debauchery: Saw th...

Minority Debauchery: Saw that Minority Report last night. Pretty durned interesting, especially the way it looked. It's definitely tthe trouble to declare your Artistic Intent, only to debauch the whole somber exercise by inserting blatant and jarring product placements? Here we are, sucked into the alluring vision of 2054 Washington, D.C., and then BAMMO! -- a big old meaningless ad for ... wait for it ... Aquafina. Aqua-fookin-fina? Everyone will comment on the Lexuses everywhere, but USA Today must have ponied up some serious cash to become the future's newspaper of choice for subway riders, and to have had a secretary character say: "The reporter for USA Today is here." (There was a newspaper thrown on a lawn near the beginning, but I didn't notice the title ... because the spell hadn't been broken yet.) The effect was to snap your head back into the present, into the movie theater, into the vagaries of film-industry financing. Spielberg's clearly gunning for his place in motion picture history, but I'd predict that when they watch this one at the American Cinematheque in 2054, they'll wonder why such a respected director was willing to befoul his own creation for a few million dollars.

Posted by at June 18, 2002 02:13 PM
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Maybe he was trying to be clever like ... ah, what's that movie, with Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bollocks in the future? The only restaurants are Taco Bell, and they're real fancy joints. It's the scary consumer franchise world so many NYT writers are worried about.

I haven't seen the Minority Report thing -- might see it if it's at the Vista down the street, maybe -- but the choice of USA Today as the only paper is pretty funny. Why would there be more than one paper in 2054? And what paper would it be if not USA Today?

And one of the goofiest consumer trends (big NYT mag story on this last month) is plain old water sold by soft-drink giants. It seems stupid now, but those branded water drinks are the only growing part of the non-booze beverage market. It's an easy joke to make brand-name water the national soft drink -- selling nothing, get it?

Making a sci-fi future movie is always a crap shoot, especially if it's supposed to be in the near future. Remember that Kubrick (Speilberg's hero and AI partner) used PanAm as the passenger transport to outer space. One of the reasons I can't appreciate that movie today is the PanAm stuff ... makes it so obviously a 1960s movies. That, and the goofy idea that a computer would be a hundred feet long and speak like a 1992 Mac.

Went to see the new Star Wars again on Sunday (Laura wanted to see it), and was struck by a few things. This is the first Star Wars to have advertising. The big city is full of Blade-Runner-esque moving billboards (like the ones on Sunset Strip today).

(And it's just filled with floating things. Yoda floats around on a little chair, Vader's stepdad is in a floating wheelchair, etc. Why would you invest all that technology into making some things float, while having the robot waitress in the diner roll around on a unicycle-wheel? And why the hell does R2D2 waste so much time climbing steps when it turns out he can fly?)

Anyway, it seemed like Lucas finally realized if he was going to waste so much time with trade federations, he better allow for advertising.

Posted by: Layne at June 18, 2002 02:58 PM

Layne sez:

And one of the goofiest consumer trends ... is plain old water sold by soft-drink giants. It seems stupid now, but those branded water drinks are the only growing part of the non-booze beverage market.

It's really very logical: Coke and Pepsi have enormous beverage delivery networks. They were actually very late into the business when you consider what an obvious move it is for them.

Posted by: alkali at June 18, 2002 03:45 PM

There's a good chance many of the product placements in movies won't even be noticed far into the future. The other day I borrowed the 6th Day (an Arnold science fiction movie from 2000, I think) from the library, and the opening scene featured an XFL game.

I bet 10 years from now, no one will remember what the XFL was. Okay, it was pretty bad, but it was still better than soccer.

Posted by: Jeremy at June 18, 2002 03:50 PM

Ken -- It just didn't feel clever or plausible, somehow (though wait till you get a load of what the Newspaper of the Future will do). The only product that felt either seamless or just funny was Guiness (and there's a good gimmick about how ads are delivered to consumers....). If I remember Blade Runner right, which is improbable, the ads were for logical things like Coke, and crap that hadn't been invented yet.

Anyone ever see that pretty bad Harrison Ford/Kristin Scott Thomas movie about widows of people who died in a plane crash? There's a bizarre little moment at someone's cabin where she asks "hey, what're you drinking?" And he says, while holding the can's label prominently, "Heineken. I really like Heineken." Again, this is from memory, so it's all probably warped....

Posted by: Matt Welch at June 18, 2002 04:30 PM

I wouldn't worry about how silly and out-of-date the product placement will look in 2054. Every 20 years Spielberg can just have new companies pay him to digitally re-insert new products and newspapers.

I can not decide whether or not that would be a good thing, but it is what I suspect will happen.

Posted by: Timothy Roscoe Carter at June 18, 2002 06:53 PM

I want to go back to Logan's Run and digitally insert Mr. Pibb into several scenes. No: Tab.

Posted by: lileks at June 18, 2002 09:32 PM

_Castaway_ was basically a FedEx commercial. Not what I wanted to see for $7.

Posted by: s at June 18, 2002 11:14 PM

There's nothing inherently wrong with science fiction feeling dated over time. It pretty much always does, since science fiction is usually really about the time when it's written. The movie has a problem, though, when it already feels dated the moment it first shows up on the screen.

By the way, those Taco Bell sequences in _Demolition Man_ were a paid product placement! Taco Bell was proud of them and built a whole promotional campaign around them, even though Stallone's character clearly hates their food. I always thought they got completely screwed. I remember hearing somewhere that it was digitally changed to Pizza Hut for some video release, so they could badly promote *two* subsidiaries of the same octopus; I don't know whether this was true or not.

That's not the worst product placement I've seen. The worst one was the appearance of the A&W root beer logo on the T-shirt of a rapist played by Matt Frewer in _Supergirl_. I like Matt Frewer, on the rare occasions when he's not in total crap, but, man, that's some kind of world record for shafting your advertiser. Having the product appear in _Supergirl_ at all would be bad enough.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin at June 19, 2002 07:12 PM

"I remember hearing somewhere that it was digitally changed to Pizza Hut for some video release"
That's correct. In the theatre release in France the winner of the "franchise war" was Pizza Hut. It made sense as Taco Bell is unknown here. A lot of references to american consumer-world had to be edited in that way (all those radio commercials for instance). I remember seeing it in english with subtitles and the distorsion was quite funny.
But I don't know if there was a special product placement agreement for Europe.

"Every 20 years Spielberg can just have new companies pay him to digitally re-insert new products and newspapers" He's probably already considering this, doesn't he?

"And it's just filled with floating things...while having the robot waitress in the diner roll around on a unicycle-wheel?" Anakin and padme's suitcases didn't even had wheels ! Star wars technological inconsistancies are endless but part of the fun.

Posted by: philippe at June 20, 2002 01:36 AM

Rob Walker picks up the Minority Report product placement story in Slate today.

Posted by: Charlie Murtaugh at June 24, 2002 02:52 PM
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The movie has a problem, though, when it already feels dated the moment it first shows up on the screen.

By the way, those Taco Bell sequences in _Demolition Man_ were a paid product placement! Taco Bell was proud of them and built a whole promotional campaign around them, even though Stallone's character clearly hates their food. I always thought they got completely screwed. I remember hearing somewhere that it was digitally changed to Pizza Hut for some video release, so they could badly promote *two* subsidiaries of the same octopus; I don't know whether this was true or not.

That's not the worst product placement I've seen. The worst one was the appearance of the A&W root beer logo on the T-shirt of a rapist played by Matt Frewer in _Supergirl_. I like Matt Frewer, on the rare occasions when he's not in total crap, but, man, that's some kind of world record for shafting your advertiser. Having the product appear in _Supergirl_ at all would be bad enough.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin at June 19, 2002 07:12 PM

"I remember hearing somewhere that it was digitally changed to Pizza Hut for some video release"
That's correct. In the theatre release in France the winner of the "franchise war" was Pizza Hut. It made sense as Taco Bell is unknown here. A lot of references to american consumer-world had to be edited in that way (all those radio commercials for instance). I remember seeing it in english with subtitles and the distorsion was quite funny.
But I don't know if there was a special product placement agreement for Europe.

"Every 20 years Spielberg can just have new companies pay him to digitally re-insert new products and newspapers" He's probably already considering this, doesn't he?

"And it's just filled with floating things...while having the robot waitress in the diner roll around on a unicycle-wheel?" Anakin and padme's suitcases didn't even had wheels ! Star wars technological inconsistancies are endless but part of the fun.

Posted by: philippe at June 20, 2002 01:36 AM

Rob Walker picks up the Minority Report product placement story in Slate today.

Posted by: Charlie Murtaugh at June 24, 2002 02:52 PM
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