LOOPER TEASER: Or What do you have to do to get a great opening weekend?

Box Office Mojo had this to say about Looper’s opening weekend gross of $21M:
“Looper’s good-not-great opening inforces [sic?] the challenges inherent in selling an original, R-rated sci-fi movie. Previews were jam-packed with quality information: they clearly articulated the movie’s unique premise, showed off a few high-profile cast members, and even threw in some action as well [emphasis, mine]. Anyone on the fence after that should have been pushed over thanks to the outstanding reviews (93 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and insane buzz on social media. To only make it to $21.2 million (again, that’s good, not great) with all of those positives illustrates just how difficult it is to get the key older male demographic excited about rushing out on opening weekend for something completely new.

As expected, the audience skewed male (59 percent) and older (70 percent were 25 years of age and up). They weren’t quite as fond of the movie as critics were, as it only received a “B” CinemaScore (“B+” among men).

It’s also worth briefly noting that Looper is projected to earn between $23 and $25 million this weekend in China, which would make it the first international movie to open higher in China than anywhere else in the world (with the exception of re-release Titanic 3D). More information will be available in the Around-the-World Roundup on Tuesday.”

B.O. MOjo’s comment about the previews was rather longer and more specific than ordinary, prompting me to watch the trailer and teaser. I’ve chosen to write about the teaser because its structure is clearer (to me at least) and its craft superior. (It also doesn’t re-use the music cue from the recent Total Recall remake trailer!)

At 1:40, the teaser features more than 100 edit choices. The shots themselves are “sweetened” and processed (oversaturated, filtered, etc.) and the transitions make liberal use of pops, flashes, analogue distortion, grainy/damaged film stock, flickering and stuttering (repeated) frames, all of which gives it a post-industrial and futuristic grittiness.

The trailer opens with narration by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, explaining the situation (context), his character and his conflict, a conflict that involves his assignment (per his criminal paymasters) to kill his older self (played by Bruce Willis), sent back from 30 years in the future in order to be disposed of by his younger self, effectively closing the assassin’s “loop” and removing incriminatory evidence.

Gordon-Levitt says about the situation, “Time travel has not yet been invented. But 30 years from now, it will have been,” a sentences whose grammar and verb tense perform a rhetorical loop in imitation of the story’s premise. A loop, of course, describes a recursive action or event, and the shots and scenes of the teaser enact that spacial and logical movement as well.

After JGL’s explanation of the premise, he encounters his older self, but fails, contrary to the law of the Looper, to complete his mission and kill his target. Willis fights back, and soon JGL is on the defensive, defiantly insisting that “I’m gonna find him, I’m gonna fix it, I’m gonna kill him,” as the quick-cut, high-energy loud and busy 3rd act action sequence unspools. But instead of going out with a bang, the teaser eddyies into a fourth act cast run (JGL, Willis & Emily Blunt), introduced by the ostensibly sympathetic remark by JGL’s criminal boss (Jeff Daniels) that “this time travel crap fries yr brain like an egg.”

In the teaser, stars, spectacle and story (premise) are proposed to the audience for their attention and appeal. This is an original work of fiction and an original film, so there is no source material on which to rely nor a built-in fan base to mobilize.

As Box Office Mojo points out, the critical reception was excellent, the audience response strong, the marketing materials impressive and yet the B.O. was only good. The stars were more or less aligned, but older men, the demographic required by a film like this, have too many other options and demand, it appears, known and certain entertainments, rather than promises of unknown albeit promising cinematic pleasures.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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