Saturday, October 6, 2012

Taken down

I've been passing the giant billboard for Taken 2 on my way in to work for about three weeks now.

It's been plastered to the side of a building right at the southbound exit for LAX off the 405, which I take to go to work (although I don't head toward the airport -- I continue to drive parallel to the freeway for another mile or so). I've written about movie billboards in this spot before, most recently in this post.

The massive display size of this spot has traditionally gotten me pumped for whatever movie they were advertising, or at least bestowed it with a certain sense of grandiosity. But the same cannot be said for Taken 2. The more I think about the original Taken, the more I do not like it. I'll get into those reasons later on.

So I had to laugh yesterday when I passed the billboard and saw that it was already coming down. A day before the movie was set to open.

At first I thought it might have been a mistake, an act of God or nature or poor execution that caused the upper left corner of the fabric to peel away from the face of the building. But on my way home I confirmed it, as I saw more work being done on the adjacent side of the building facing the freeway. This morning, all it said was KEN 2 -- perhaps a sequel to the ever-popular movie about Barbie's boyfriend.

There could be any number of reasons a billboard for a movie is taken down before it actually opens, such as a mistake in the length of the time the advertising space had been leased, or perhaps even marketing research that demonstrates a peak period when the human mind is most susceptible to advertisements for a new movie.

But the fact of the matter is, it seemed to me like some kind of defeat -- some kind of decision to cut and run on Taken 2 and move on to the next thing. And perhaps that's really true. Granted, I fast-forward through all commercials these days, but it still surprises me that I haven't been exposed to a single trailer for Taken 2. I should have gotten one somewhere. In fact, I had to read this poster just now to even know what the movie is about -- that it's not a second case of Maggie Grace getting kidnapped.

So now it's time to explain what irked me so much about the first Taken -- irked me more and more as the days and months passed since I saw it.

The xenophobia of that film is such that Liam Neeson's character begs and pleads with his daughter -- in as macho and domineering a way as possible -- not to go to France, because he's worried she'll be putting herself in danger. And she goes to France and immediately gets kidnapped.

Let's ponder that for a second. He didn't warn her against the dangers of El Salvador. He didn't say "Don't go to Thailand, someone will kidnap you and sell you into the sex industry." He didn't even steer her clear of the creepy Eastern European countries where Hostel takes place.

No, daddy knows best so well, that he is able to predict that she might get kidnapped in one of the world's most affluent and safest countries. Which is basically the same as saying "Don't leave the United States -- everyone who speaks a different language is inherently a threat."

Maybe that's why the first Taken was such a hit. It tapped into our latent fear of "other," which has been an unfortunate part of our national character ever since 9/11. While we might have told ourselves we just loved seeing Neeson issue ominous threats and kick butts, what we really loved was the movie's apparent proof of and justification of our fears that the outer world is poised to get us. Maybe the French were metaphorical Muslims, the sex trade standing in for the terrorists who might kidnap us and cut off our heads.

So yeah, I'd kind of like to see Taken 2 get taken down at the box office this weekend -- if only to prove that we aren't so easily suckered into that kind of jingoism that is based in hate.

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