Guest writer Michael Glass on film. Catch this article in the latest issue of TBB.
Product placement isn’t something a filmmaker wants to do. It’s forced upon them, and men in suits need it to pay for their movies. And we all hate the men in suits, right? Yeah, those men are evil. They don’t understand creativity. They just want to make money.
Poor product placement removes you from the reality of a film. Strategically framed shots make James Bond look very cool indeed in his Aston Martins and Jaguars, checking into hotels with his Samsonite briefcase in hand, impatiently checking his Omega watch. Will Smith looks decidedly less cool in I, Robot as, in the midst of pootling about in Audis, arguing with FedEx robots and listening to his JVC hi-fi, he opens the most exciting box of his life: a shoebox. So enraptured is he by their arrival that he’s unable to resist showing them off to a relative, saying, ‘Converse, vintage 2004’ – truly a line for the ages. Never does he explain that these is particularly appropriate footwear for beating up robots and saving the world. He just likes his brand new shoes that, incidentally you can buy.
It used to be valid to complain about product placement. But these days, you have to be thankful for product lines just to have any films to go and complain about.
Hollywood’s struggle for ideas isn’t new. Purchasing the rights to books and plays has been a reliable way to generate new films for many years (not to mention Oscars). Then they started adapting comic books and videogames. You’re less likely to win awards, but you can spin out nice big franchises with them. And then Hollywood jumped the shark.
You might think I’m talking about Transformers, but you’d be wrong. Depite being the least inspired film of all time (a reboot of a 1986 animated film, itself a spin-off from a TV series, which in turn only existed to sell Hasbro toys), you can at least, at a stretch, consider it a remake or adaptation. I’m talking about Pirates of the Caribbean.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a theme park ride. A famous one in which you slowly float past animatronic pirates repeating two-stage motion cycles of heavy drinking, knife fights and casual rape. Its relationship to the film series is in nothing more than name. This truly marks the moment when Hollywood ran out of ideas. When the men in suits (bastards!) literally flicked through a magazine and made a film of the first thing they landed on. There was ample opportunity to create tie-in products, though. Pirates-themed plastic rubbish can found in every aisle of Toys “R” Us. This year saw the release of a film without even that level of substance.
Battleship is another Hasbro property (they are literally one of the most powerful companies in film now). Until it finally came out I was convinced that it had to be a joke. This game doesn’t even have dolls or animatronics to turn into characters. There is no story. It can be played with pen and paper. And crucially, it’s impossible to imagine anybody buying the Battleship board game because of the film. You’re no longer being sold anything but the film; there’s simply nothing else you could buy even if you wanted to. The things we used to be sold are now being shaken dry by panicked men in suits (bastards!) who desperately need a new franchise. Toy and ride connections are no longer about sales; they’re about people rapidly running out of inspiration.
This is an era of cinematic indolence and duplication that we’ll simply have to live through until, following the release of Scrabble vs Upwords 3D, the men in suits (bastards though they are) finally find that they’ve adapted and remade everything that exists, look around the abandoned wasteland of vacuity they’ve created, huddle together for warmth, and slowly but surely expire, allowing civilisation to at last rebuild.
...Anyway, that’s a while off. And really, the only reason I wrote this whole article is in the hope that desperate old Hollywood picks it up, spins it off into a lovely big franchise, and I can go to sleep knowing that I’ve helped the world become a little bit worse. Ker-ching!
This level of product placement has provoked some pretty good responses from the creative community on the web, and the deep, deep love we have for Tetris here at LIFB makes this our favourite: