Junior Mad Scientist – Lab Notes

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Sell-Outs

April 25th, 2008 by Weber


(click here for larger)

Anybody who’s talked to me for more than 45 seconds will tell you that I can be a pretty harsh critic. This is especially true of comic books and movies. Bring up either topic and settle in for some serious un-varnished truthifying about the sorry state of mainstream storytelling in both industries.

For years, these two have been traveling hand-in-hand down the deeply rutted road to Stupidsville, riding first-class atop bales of crisp cash, picked fresh and green from consumer pockets.

The stories these clowns have been feeding the public are tantamount to narrative fast food — a steady diet high in saturated schmaltz and saccharine full of empty promises, wasted time, and perfect for replacing mental muscle with synaptic flab.

The last mainstream comic I bought was not for me but for my kid: DC’s Tiny Titans by Art Balthazar and Franco (Awwww, yeah!).

And I can’t remember a recent film that was worth sneaking into, let alone the price of admission.

(I was forced to refresh my memory over at Dark Horizons’ list of release dates for 2007 and 2008. From everything in theaters over the last sixteen months, there were only eight that were worth my time and money. Eight!)

Now, today, we are entering 2008’s onslaught of cinematic mummery. Just like Christmas, the summer movie season arrives earlier every year. It’s started already and it’s not pretty.

Exhibit 1: the lunatic, non-sequitur appearance of Indiana Jones on a box of Kellogg’s Corn Pops. (????!?!!?) The pictures on the back are even worse. Shia LaBeouf looks like one of those wild-haired troll and Cate Blanchette looks like Moe Howard’s sister. Harrison Ford looks like he needs a nap.

The simple fact that Lucasfilms and Paramount Pictures, the masterminds behind the Indiana Jones franchise, are pimping-out Indy this early in the year does little to instill confidence that IJ4 is going to be any good. Combine that with all the sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing propagated by the studios’ army of e-shills, and you’ve got a recipe for suckiness.

(To be fair, the Iron Man movie has it’s share of on-line fluffers, though I have yet to see Ol’ Shell Head shaking his crimson can on a box of cereal.)

For many years, I’ve been working on a theorem to describe, and possibly predict, how bad a movie is going to be:

The quality of a film is inversely proportional to the amount of advance advertising


Q = k/$

(It’s been a while since I’ve had to do any serious math, so the above representation might be off. Anybody that can help on this, please jump right in.)

Important to note is the inclusion of shameless and nonsensical cross-merchandising, though I suppose the studios are being paid for having Indy’s face plastered on boxes of cereal instead of them paying for the space.

To date, all of my evidence remains observational (i.e., the crap seen lining store shelves, the movies seen in theaters). I have yet to compile any hard numbers to back this up, so the formula remains unproven. But, a data little mining at IMDB and RottenTomatoes, should provide plenty of numbers to play with.

Anyone with suggestions for films to test the formula on, please reply in comments. Good movies, bad movies — whatever. They should be fairly recent, say within the last twelve years or so.

Stay tuned for results and thanks.

Posted in Editorials, Movies | 8 Comments »

8 Responses

  1. Onlythor Says:

    Brad one could argue that the movie business has been in a decline for the last 30 years. As far as all of the forms of advertising it’s to help off set the huge cost of the movies. Since the advent of watching movies at your house the whole movie business has been turned on its ear. Where before video or now DVD a variety of different movies were put out good to bad to really bad. Now it seems we have just really bad or good. All of the rest go straight to DVD. The only thing to stop the madness it to not go to the movies at all and enjoy all of your old favorite movies and TV shows on Netflix.

  2. bweber Says:

    Using the technology argument, the decline of the movie industry has really been going on since the advent of television. It’s fair to say that the boob-tube has had more impact on Hollywood than anything else that’s come along, more so than VTR/VCR/DVD and digital delivery technology. In the 1950s people were, for the first time, able to stay home for their entertainment. TV closed countless movie houses and (I would argue) was responsible for the death of the studio system.

    The points I was driving at are: 1) the vast majority of output from mainstream movies and mainstream comics are more concerned with being products than stories, and 2) the amount of advance merchandising/hype is a barometer for the over-all quality of that product.

    It’s understood that making movies is an expensive proposition; I never claimed otherwise or argued against product placement (because that’s a whole other topic).

    You are right, though: the only thing that will stop the madness is to stay home. That is, stop going to bad movies; stop buying Marvel and DC comics.

    By paying to witness the spectacular crapfests shoveled out to us every year, we are rewarding people who produce bad movies and bad comics. Because they keep making money despite turning out what they know to be shitty products, they will keep turning out those same products.

    We get what we pay for; we get what we deserve.

    (speaking of product placement, check out this fine example. This isn’t too far from where movies are headed. Television, comics, books, and music, too. Eat Twix.)

  3. Onlythor Says:

    Brad, I would say that your focus is to narrow. The book industry, TV and Live Stage shows have also shoveled out a lot of crap. How many bestsellers, great TV shows and Rock Concerts in the last 20 years have just been a vehicle to sell products and personal agendas to the masses? I think what you are forgetting is that all of these items are just products that companies are trying to sell and nothing more.

  4. bweber Says:

    “How many bestsellers, great TV shows and Rock Concerts in the last 20 years have just been a vehicle to sell products and personal agendas to the masses?”

    How many? One? Ten? All of them? I don’t know and won’t even guess. Throwing a question out like that without any examples doesn’t support your position.

    But taking your point, why not go even farther? Everything is a product.

    Think of anything, anything at all, however abstract or outlandish. Then think about how it is somehow being packaged and sold to us every day. War, politicians, education, fear, disease, nature — even thought as been productized. Anything on the news becomes a product because the news itself is being sold to us.

    Can you come up with any counter-examples, anything that hasn’t been the subject of some kind of advertising campaign? I can’t, not at the moment.

    The focus of the piece was movies and comics because of their recent cross-pollination and apparent adoption of each other’s marketing models.

    Have publisher’s been pimping Vonnegut on cereal boxes? Chevy trucks on potato chip bags? Are Rolling Stones concerts sponsored by Geritol? They should be by now. (OK, that was a cheap and easy shot, unworthy of my fine writing skills, but you get my point.)

    The only musical act that might have shown up on a cereal box is Hannah Montana, maybe the Wiggles. They don’t count, in my opinion, as they are owned by DisneyCorp, who is already in bed with the fast food and breakfast industries, so they’re exploiting existing marketing methods.

    As far as entertainment being products companies are trying to sell, no, that hasn’t been forgotten. In fact, that is reinforced every time X character is plastered on the front of Y box of cereal — especially when there is no reason for that to happen other than pure pimpage.

    Look, it’s not about selling something or making money — I’m all for making a buck. I’m all for spending a buck, too, but what I’m buying better be worth my money and time.

    What this is about — what it’s always been about — is what I can only call non-sequitur merchandising and its correlation to a movie’s suckiness. To restate: the number and diversity of products tied to a movie before it hits theaters, the worse the movie will be.

    However, this doesn’t mean the movie won’t make money or otherwise be considered a box office hit (Transformers, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Shrek 3, Happy Feet, Jurassic Park 3).

    That’s all generally speaking. Having yet to run actual numbers on this leaves this in the realm of hypothesis.

    Thanks for the comments and ongoing discussion. Good stuff.

  5. deg Says:

    Where can I buy some of that crispy *POP*-ey action-packed Indy (“The dog’s name was Indiana.”) 18% more goodness? I want a whole three bowls to fu*kin’ amp my ass up just before going to the premiere.

    BTW, does it come with cake?


  6. deg Says:

    BTW, Gene Roddenberry was one of the first to start marketing “product” on his show.

    He came up with a Vulcan medal called the IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) and wanted Nimoy to wear it on the show so fans would buy it up. If I recall, Nimoy refused, and Gene had some other way of getting it on the show, can’t recall how or which eps.

    However, I do know the Nimoy did end up wearing it in the eps., Is There No Truth In Beauty. Fitting title.

    Man, I wish I had onea those IDIC medals…


  7. Jeff Says:

    Hmmmmm, reading about all this commercialism and yummy products being placed in these craptacular movies makes me hungry! I’m going to go find myself something to eat. Preferably in a .38 caliber.

  8. bweber Says:

    Wait! — better make sure the bullets have a movie tie-in, too. Special edition S&W ammo with Stark Industries labeling?

    Some kind of cross-promotion between Grand Theft Auto, Ruger weapons and Dum-Dum lollipops seems like a natural, though I can’t suss out the package designs or what grocery isle they’d go in.

Custom design: www.sitebymike.com | See more of Brad's work at: www.fineartsguild.com