Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The most over-hyped movie in history

Public and/or marketing hype for a work of art is definitely a lot more common with video games, but movies also get their share from time to time, especially if it's a new movie for a popular franchise (and especially if it really is new, as in, the first one made for the franchise in a very long time).

What is the movie that was the most hyped, in the entirety of movie history? There are, of course, many candidates, but I would propose the Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace wins in that category.

The original Star Wars trilogy is, for one reason or another, one of the most influential set of movies in recent popular culture. Very few other movies or franchises parallel its success and pervasiveness. In the 80's and largely in the 90's Star Wars was everywhere, and everybody knew what it was. It was almost impossible not to. And the amount of fans was staggering.

However, the third movie in the trilogy, Return of the Jedi, was released in 1983. Since then a myriad of spinoff movies, TV series, comic books and so on were made, but nothing that continued the actual movie canon.

When it was announced that a new movie in the main canon franchise would be released in 1999, after a hiatus of a whopping 16 years, fans went absolutely crazy.

Perhaps no other sign of this is clearer than the fan reaction to the trailer of the upcoming movie. The trailer itself is, it must be said, a work of art in itself. It's pretty awesome all in itself, but especially so in 1999, from the perspective of the starving fans.

The trailer was, in fact, so popular that, and I kid you not, many people were buying movie tickets to other movies just to see the Phantom Menace trailer at the beginning, and then leaving after the trailer was over. (1999 was still by far pre-YouTube time, and even a time when the majority of people didn't even have an internet connection at all, much less one that allowed downloading huge video files, so the vast majority of people had no way to see the trailer anywhere else than at a movie theater.)

Fans camped outside of some movie theaters literally for weeks prior to the premiere of the movie, and these camping tent lines were astonishingly long. (While doing this was not unprecedented, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the largest such an event in movie history, in terms of the number of people in these lines, and how long they were there.) The first time the movie theater doors opened on the day when they started selling tickets for the movie was a spectacle in itself, and got news coverage (which in itself is quite rare).

Of course the movie itself turned out to be... somewhat mediocre in the end, and the reception to be lukewarm at best. As one critic put it years later, "it looks like Star Wars, it sounds like Star Wars... but it doesn't feel like Star Wars."

The reception was, of course, a bit more positive among the die-hard fans themselves, at least at first. Similar queuing lines happened at the premieres of the two other movies in the new trilogy, but they weren't even nearly as massive. (They still were quite massive, especially at the premiere of the second movie, but not as much.) I think that there was a kind of mentality where the die-hard fans were hoping that the two subsequent movies would be much better, and were at some level in denial about how mediocre the first movie was (perhaps because they didn't want to admit even to themselves how overly hyped they got for a movie that was somewhat of a disappointment in the end.)

Years later I don't think even many fans are considering the trilogy in general, and especially the first movie in particular, to be all that good. Quite a disappointment in the end.

But the pre-release hype surrounding the movie was, in my view, unprecedented, and so far unparalleled.

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