Lessons learned from The Superman Project


15th June 2013

I've spent the last two years obsessively dodging any and all promotions of Man Of Steel, purely so I could see a blockbuster untainted by trailers, posters and news stories. Now, having seen - and enjoyed - Man Of Steel - I ask the question: what have I learned? How have I grown? And why did I start doing this again? Here are my findings.

It is impossible to completely avoid marketing

I tried my hardest to avoid all Man Of Steel promotional materials, but it turns out it's literally impossible to go completely off the grid. While my job as an online movies editor made it particularly difficult to avoid Man Of Steel stuff, Warner Bros' ad men invaded my personal life as well as my professional one. Billboards, tube posts, mag covers and bus stop ads can all be easily ignored, cinema trailers and TV spots require fingers in the ears but that's fine if you don't mind looking mental. But even beyond these normal advertising means, Superman was able to find me.

The most amazing example of this marketing reach came as I was in the gym (blasting my glutes, glasting my blutes etc) getting changed. Apparently they play movie trailers over the radio now. The sight of me all red-faced in my pants muttering to myself to muffle the voiceovers would have been priceless, if only for the fact it would be impossible to explain to anyone else in that changing room what the absolute fuck I was doing.
It genuinely made the film more enjoyable

Obviously it's impossible to say whether my liking Man Of Steel a whole star more than Matt liked Man Of Steel had anything to do with pre-conceived notions or hype or anything like that, but it certainly invites an interesting discussion. Without knowledge of the movie's plot, cast of characters or any of the major action sequences, watching Man Of Steel unfold in front of me became enjoyable in itself – a nice change from mentally ticking the boxes of scenes I've already seen in the trailers like some quality assurance pleb.

The simple pleasure of being surprised is not one that can be overstated, and Man Of Steel contained more than a few eye-popping moments - not 'shocking' twists, you understand, but the kind of big-budget money shots that inevitably find their way into the trailer. You see things like costume design, set design and shooting styles all for the first time. Seeing them for the first time in the moment makes for a genuinely refreshing viewing experience, almost to the point that I'd quite like to see it again, even though I wasn't all that taken with the finished product.
It exposes poor pacing

Not going in with a rough idea of the movie's plot - or major set-pieces - was a slightly unsettling experience. It's probably more down to the filmmaking style of Zack Snyder - who only has 'slo-mo' and 'breakneck' as alternating speeds - but I realised some way into Man Of Steel that I had no idea how far I was into the movie. A major action sequence around 90 minutes in would have been spectacular enough to be the finale in most movies. Not having a mental checklist of set-pieces still to come left me feeling a little uneasy. "If this is the end," I thought, "It wasn't very good."

As it happens, there was still just under an hour left. Oy.

Now that's just poor pacing on behalf of Snyder and David S Goyder, but nowadays trailers feel like complete mini-movies - complete with a general overview of the entire film. Viewing Man Of Steel without that blueprint only exposed the fact the narrative was a little uneven. It's not necessarily a bad thing I didn't know what was left in store, I just wasn't used to it.
In hindsight, the trailers are lovely

As nerds - and I think we're all nerds here today - we know trailers are not so much appreciated as they are voraciously consumed: they're watched, rewatched, pored over, broken down into screengrabs and analysed beyond rational explanation. They are fabulous marketing tools, but it is impossible to see them as anything other than a tease, a tickle, a taster of greater things to come.

When you remove the anticipation factor from the equation, say, by watching the trailer after you've seen the film, trailers can become viable art-forms in their own right. They'll still be marketing tools, but when you no longer feel like you're being sold something, you can concentrate on what wonderful creative expressions they are. I'm talking specifically about Man Of Steel, and specifically about this first teaser, but I'm sure it applies across the board.

It's not especially representative of the finished film, granted, but then it doesn't have to be - not before viewing and certainly not after.
Yeah, I'm probably not doing it again

Honestly? This was a pain in the arse. The fact the movie's release date got pushed back six months didn't help matters, and as if the gym thing wasn't bad enough, I almost walked in front of a bus trying to avoid a poster. Basically I gave myself a nervous disposition every time I opened the page of a magazine or turned on the TV, and I have a facial tic now that only twitches when I look at Henry Cavill.

I might do it again with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but that's just because I don't give a shit.

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