Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I've seen the large advertisement for Sleep Dealer enough times on my way home from work that I thought it was time I finally wrote something about it.

The little indie first caught my attention because of the rather arresting image you see to the right, which not so subliminally calls to mind a little 1999 film by Larry and Andy Wachowski. There's a sizeable billboard for Sleep Dealer perched about a quarter-of-a-mile from my house, and it's not the only one I've seen around town.

It's one of those movies you look at and can't quite comprehend, because you haven't heard of it, but it also sort of looks like it has a budget. Every time I'd sit at the traffic light contemplating it, I'd tell myself I had to look it up on IMDB when I got home. On about the sixth time I actually remembered to do it.

It turns out Sleep Dealer was at Sundance in 2008, and true to its appearance from the poster, features some kind of future-world big-brother network of computers as one of its main plot elements. I'm always curious about science fiction, since it's such a hard genre to do well. But I was even more curious about this particular movie, because I'd squinted to see the names listed in the billboard credits, and hadn't recognized any of them. In fact, most of them seemed to end in the letter A.

Yep, here was a large billboard in the middle of the city for a movie made in Mexico, by a Mexican, and starring Mexicans. LA's definitely the right city if you're trying to get Mexican viewers, but that's simply not something anyone tries to do here, at least not with movies. TV and radio shows, yes, but not movies. Mexicans aren't seen as a viable market. Maybe the studios just don't think they like movies.

But more generally ... when I thought about it, I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen a billboard for any movie that wasn't one of the two or three studio offerings that come out each week. I have plenty of other ways to be aware of those other movies, to be sure, but it's not because they're advertised. Especially not advertised on billboards.

I don't know the actual costs of these things, but to me, an outdoor campaign usually seems a more expensive advertising endeavor than TV. It seems to be the greater indication that you're fully committed to the movie. So I expected to see a TV campaign for Sleep Dealer accompany its arresting billboard. But the movie comes out on Friday, and I still haven't seen it.

Then I finally got it.

On that billboard, they can make people think they'll be seeing the next Matrix. But if they played moving images ... well, then the jig would be up, wouldn't it?

So Sleep Dealer appears to be the rare movie that benefits more from a single image than a number of them in sequence -- as movies are actually made. Then again, maybe it's not so rare. Every straight-to-video movie in the video store tries to grab you with a false promise of seeming coolness. Why should Sleep Dealer be any different?

Well, because it's actually going to theaters, that's why. That one picture of Matrix-like plugs going into Matrix-like outlets on the Matrix-like back of a Matrix-like guy with a Matrix-like shaved head seems quite a gamble for a movie getting released in theaters, especially one that may not be able to back it up.

To confirm my theory, I just went online to check out the trailer. Yep. I can hardly believe it's getting a theatrical release, and these C-grade images would shut down the core Matrix audience in no time flat.

Hey, I'm not saying it will be bad. I'm just saying that movies like this don't get theatrical releases anymore. They don't even get the chance to be good.

For their sake, let's just hope appropriating the image of Keanu Reeves for their advertising campaign gives them that opportunity.

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