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May 14, 2008

Has Paramount Botched The Indiana Jones 4 Marketing?

— Posted by John Campea

Classic and timeless films are extremely rare. What’s even more rare, are classic and timeless franchises. Oh there are some good ones out there, but very few that can fit into that definition of legendary or worthy of the phrase “all time great”. Obviously there is the the greatest of them all, the original Star Wars trilogy. In more recent history a place at the table has to be kept for the Lord of the Ring trilogy and of course the Godfather trilogy (the only trilogies in film history where all 3 films were at least nominated for Best Picture at the academy awards).

Another trilogy belongs up among the company of the mighty… the Indiana Jones trilogy. Arguably the single greatest adventurer in the history of film. Like Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films helped define the pop culture of its time, and captivated a lot of imaginations… helping to perhaps even define our childhoods (at least for those of us old enough). Hell, I still remember going out into the local fields near our neighborhood and digging through the dirt with a gardening spade I took from my dad’s shed looking for ancient relics while pretending I was Indy himself.

The point here is, good movies come and go… the classics are immortal. Indiana Jones is immortal, and as such is more than just another movie or another movie franchise (I mean on a cultural level. Last I checked, watching an Indiana Jones film still doesn’t cure cancer). It’s a part of our cultural fabric. It’s a part of our childhoods. It’s a significant part of what we defined as our imaginations. It is classic.

For that very reason people around the world have waited patiently for years to see some of that immortality on the screen again. The on again / off again nature of a possible fourth Indiana Jones film disillusioned some fanatical fans (like myself) into ultimately believing a 4th Indy adventure would never actually happen. But here we are… less than 10 days away from Indiana Jones hitting the big screen once again. A film that fans and people all over the world have waited nearly 20 years to see. The greatest adventurer of all time is back. Regardless of how good or bad the film ultimately turns out to be… his return to the silver screen is something to be celebrated by not only fans, but by Hollywood itself. Indy picking up the whip once again is an event… it should be (in the immortal words of Darth Vader) a day long remembered.

But hold the phone. If you were 25 or younger… never having seen the original Indiana Jones trilogy (and there are a lot of you out there… you don’t know what you’re missing) and all you had to go by was the marketing for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that Paramount has been putting out… you’d think that just another action/adventure summer film was opening on the 22nd. Just another movie. Just another film. Because when I see all the marketing for Indiana Jones 4, I get no sense of it being an event, no sense of history, no sense of significance… no sense that we are seeing the return of the greatest adventurer of all time. All I’d be seeing is a bunch of trailers for an adventure movie staring an old guy with a hat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the trailers for Indiana Jones 4 have been “bad”. I’ve actually liked them. But all they’ve done is to show me that they’ve got a new movie coming out amongst 40+ other movies also coming out this summer.

I remember when Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith was getting ready to come out. Not only were the trailers amazing… the marketing for that movie was very specifically geared towards giving the public a sense of an event. WE WERE ABOUT TO SEE THE BIRTH OF DARTH VADER! That was the message in almost everything from trailers to poster to commercials to cereal boxes. It wasn’t just the MOVIE being promoted…. it was the EVENT that was being celebrated and we (as movie goers) didn’t feel like we were being pitched too…. we felt like we were being given personal invitations to attend the event! Sure the movie itself may have disappointed a lot of people, but before it opened, it was marketed as an event that shouldn’t be missed (and with $850 million world wide at the box office, not many people missed it).

With Indiana Jones 4, it shouldn’t have been any different. This should have been an event! The marketing for this film should have focused a lot more on the history, the cultural relevance, the legend and the legacy of Indiana Jones and the celebration of his triumphant return! Instead, we’ve got the marketing for just another (although good looking) action movie with Cate Blanchett sporting a Russian accent.

So what has the marketing department at Paramount done wrong here? I think a couple of things:

1) I think (please be clear that this is my own speculation) Paramount presumed that EVERYONE was lining up and dying to see Indiana Jones 4 regardless of how well or poor the marketing was.
They could be forgiven for believing that to a degree since it’s true for many people. But that thinking fails to recognize just how many in the movie going audience have never seen Indiana Jones in action before. It doesn’t take into account those who have, but are now disillusioned with George Lucas after the failings of the most recent Star Wars trilogy. As a political analogy, it’s almost like Paramount thought EVERYONE was going to vote for them in the election anyway, so they didn’t campaign properly…. I think they’re going to discover that was a mistake.

2) They failed to address how today’s audience may have a hard time with an action star that is 66 years old.
Marketing Indiana Jones as “just another action film” in a summer FILLED with great looking action films leaves the age thing open to being a problem. I’ve heard a lot of people 25 or under reference this very fact. Marketing Indiana Jones as a classic, an institution, a legend would have done a lot to counteract that. Indiana Jones is immortal, a character that defies time… it isn’t the PERSON of Indiana Jones you’re going to see… it’s the LEGEND. Age suddenly becomes a non-factor.

3) Forget Cate and Shia, everything should be focused on Indy.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Cate Blanchett and I really like Shia LaBeouf… but I think even casting them in this film was a mistake. The more you bring other big names and big stars into the mix, Indiana Jones 4 becomes more and more “just another action movie”. Anything that takes the focus off Indy (other than a great villain) weakens the “event” feel of the movie in my opinion. Big stars and big names are GREAT in almost any other summer blockbuster… but Indiana Jones should be putting as much of the spotlight on Indiana Jones as possible to highlight the uniqueness of the film as an INDIANA JONES film and not “just another action film”. The marketing should have been keeping that in mind.

There was a time not long ago (just weeks ago really) that I was 100% convinced that Indiana Jones 4 would be the #1 box office movie of 2008. However, I also believed at that time that Paramount would start promoting Indy 4 as the cultural event that it should be instead of just putting in a half assed effort and making it look like just another action film. Now I’m not so sure. I’d still probably bet on it ending up as #1, but my 100% conviction on the matter has dwindled to about 70% certainty.

Now keep in mind, I still think Indiana Jones will be a great movie. This post isn’t about how good or bad i think the movie itself will be… just on how I think the marketing has been mismanaged.

So what do you think? Has Paramount botched the Indiana Jones 4 marketing, do you think it’s been perfect as it is or do you think it’s somewhere in between? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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  • http://adamcohen.typepad.com Adam Cohen

    I think you are spot on. I also think the marketing to kids crosses the line and wrote a blog post about it…Raiders is my favorite movie of all time, no exaggeration. But I don’t want my 4 year old running around the house with a whip and I’m not going to have my 7 year old see any of the films. The original was R-rated for crying out loud.

  • J Maurice

    Great article and I wish more people would take notice. The biggest difference between my childhood and now is the marketing. Where are the great movie trailers? Great movie posters? Great music album covers? They don’t exist and thus most people don’t get excited about movies or music today. The movie and music industry can just suck it up! The little chump change they make today is because the faithful like myself who love movies continue to go to the theater. Give it 10 more years and the only revenue stream will be DVD movies and iTunes!

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