Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jumping the gun

Up until two days ago, I had never heard of a movie with the ungainly title Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. It's based on the first in a popular series of books by a gentleman named Rick Riordan, and it's directed by a gentleman named Chris Columbus. It also has a lot of well-known names in the cast: Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan, Rosario Dawson, Catherine Keener and Steve Coogan.

The fact that I wasn't aware of it isn't so unusual. After all, with everything that exists out there, there's an exact moment when you become aware of it, before which, you were not aware of it.

What's unusual is that it's coming out in February, and that the first place I ever heard of it was from a poster at a bus stop.

That's right -- movies coming out in February are now being advertised at bus stops in October. Coming out on President's Day, to be exact, which is what caught my eye as I was driving by. (Probably not exactly on President's Day, since movies only come out on a Monday if Christmas falls on a Monday, but that's what the poster said.)

That might not strike you as very strange. Trailers play in theaters sometimes as long as a year before a film is released, though we would more appropriately call those teasers rather than trailers. The Super Bowl frequently has ads for movies that aren't due out until August. And you sometimes see billboards hyping a film three, four months in advance. We never bat an eye at any of these. The earlier and more often you can get your product name out there, the better chance you have of raising awareness and lining yourself up for a big opening weekend. (To a point -- you also want to be careful about overkill, which can have the opposite economic effect).

But bus stops? Bus stops have usually been the site for more immediate concerns, for films coming out in the next month. If Percy Jackson were being advertised everywhere else, and also at bus stops, then that would just be a full-on media blitz, and I would understand it better. But I've seen nary a trailer, billboard nor TV ad for this film, and I tend to be more exposed to this stuff than the average person.

The actual location of the ad is not what strikes me as oddest, however, nor the exact number of months ahead of its release. It's which months those are, and how many other films are being released during that time. You've still got four major holidays to get through before then -- Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. You can also throw in Martin Luther King's birthday if you want another potential three-day weekend, which is when studios think they'll have a better chance at grabbing your disposable income.

Seeing the words "President's Day" on a movie poster right now creates some kind of mental disconnect. "President's Day?" you think. "Is that a mistake?" Or at least, that's what I thought.

Right now, even the Christmas releases don't have that much of an advertising presence. How many ads have you seen for Avatar, for example? The trailer plays in theaters, but there are few billboards up. No, right now, they're concentrating on Thanksgiving, on Old Dogs and Twilight: New Moon. The real Christmas blitz probably won't begin for a week or two.

And then there's also the idea of crossing that magical border into the year 2010. Part of the reason that's strange is that we typically don't think of movies coming out in the first few months of a calendar year as being very hype-worthy. It's true that big-budget releases are now starting to come out year-round, just as the TV networks can no longer really take the summer off. I'm already aware of two movies coming out in January 2010 that seem like they have massive budgets, which in the past would have meant they'd be released closer to the summer: Legion and The Book of Eli.

But making us think of next February, now, has the effect of hurrying us along through all we have to do in the next couple months -- the Halloween costumes we have to make, the Thanksgiving logistics we have to coordinate, the Christmas presents we have to buy, the New Year's plans we have to schedule.

After all that's done, then let us worry about Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief.

I don't know, maybe it's just me.

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