"Inception" is no dream for marketers

Fri Jul 9, 2010 9:27am EDT
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By Carl DiOrio

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Movie fans may wish more original films were wedged into the usual summer mix of remakes and sequels, but marketing executives know enough to be careful what they wish for.

Case in point: the Warner Bros. thriller "Inception," opening on July 16.

Directed by Christopher Nolan of "Dark Knight" fame, the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle has stimulated prerelease buzz simply on the basis of its A-list creatives. Which is fortunate, as the picture's cerebral mix of brain-teasing plot points and effects-driven fantasy defies easy characterization in a one-sheet tagline or even a trailer, judging from materials released to date. Its online campaign similarly is based more on tease than glimpses into the narrative.

Studio marketing always aims to raise pic awareness and stoke must-see interest among prospective patrons, goals most easily achieved when moviegoers have a sense of what to expect from a film. With early -- and solidly positive -- reviews of "Inception" trickling out, word has circulated that the movie has something to do with industrial espionage and the invasion of dreams. Well, that clears things up.

"I have heard everything from 'awesome' to 'a bit confusing' from those who went to the screening," one industryite said after a showing of the film at the recent Cinema Expo confab in Amsterdam.

In other words, the picture seemed to play well with the audience, but even the subsequent word-of-mouth tended to be vague, albeit positive. Even the movie's name fails to conjure anything specific.

"Nobody thinks it's a bad movie," an executive from a rival studio stressed. "The question is whether it's going to be the real breakout picture that everybody seems to think or just the darling of the East and West coasts and miss the rest of the country."

There lies the rub: how to entice Middle America without a lot of complicated explication? The Nolan and DiCaprio connections obviously help, not to mention a supporting cast including Michael Caine, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard. But what's a marketing challenge like this doing in the middle of popcorn-pic season?   Continued...