Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Reel Facts & Opinions: CHAPPIE and the Deadly Product Placement

This past weekend, Niell Blomkamp’s highly-anticipated science-fiction film CHAPPIE was released in theatres, finishing No. 1 in the U.S. Box Office despite earning dismal reviews (read Real Speak’s review HERE). The film overall seemed to suffer from many bad or odd decisions in casting and storytelling, with a lot of attention being given to the casting of South African rap-group Die Antwood. 

In the film, Die Antwood members Yolandi Visser and Ninja (groan) play a pair of low-level thugs out to pull a heist to get themselves out of debt from a bigger and meaner low-level gangster. Aside from the acting from the pair being atrocious, the real issue is that no effort was made to separate the fictional characters from their real-life careers. In fact, every effort seemed to be made to do just the opposite. The film was front-loaded with Die Antwood’s music, Yolandi and Ninja wore their band’s merchandise, the walls of their hideout were slathered with their own promotional posters, and the fictional characters often listened to their own music in the background. It was enough to jar you out of the movie and basically became one of the most blatant and ill-conceived approaches to product placement this Blogger has ever seen. 

Product placement, which is the visual or audio reference to a product, service, or trademark…has been in the movies for a long, long time. The film WINGS (1927), which was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, contained a plug for Hershey’s Chocolate. The Marx Bros. classic HORSE FEATHERS (1932) had Marx’s character tossing a Life Savers candy in place of a life saver, and later, Marx Brother Harpo runs along rooftops in LOVE HAPPY (1949), which display many billboards. The practice of product placement was parodied in WAYNE’S WORLD (1992), and here in modern times…director Michael Bay is famous for sneaking in Victoria’s Secret billboards and ads, while Adam Sandler is notorious for accepting truckloads of cash from anyone seeking to display their logo in his films.

Sometimes these deals are made for cash to cover production costs, or done in trade, but can be a huge turnoff for movie viewers. Seeing a common logo on the big-screen can easily snap a person out of the movie; after all…people go to the movies to escape from real stuff and be away from advertising. Filmmakers can argue that the practice brings a sense of realism into the film, and it’s worth mentioning that any film we see with a car is automatically guilty of the practice. 

What it really comes down to is if the specific product placement serves the story or the overall movie experience, and in the case of CHAPPIE, it was a total distraction because there was too much of it. Having Die Antwood’s music in the soundtrack and the characters wear the merchandise and listen to their own music practically broke the Fourth Wall (the practice of the actors speaking to the audience) and was a complete distraction; imagine John Williams walking aboard the Death Star, wearing a STAR WARS t-shirt and humming The Imperial March. 

Blomkamp made some serious missteps in his handling of Die Antwood in his film, and we have to hope that future filmmakers will take CHAPPIE as an example of what not to do. But with so many original indie films struggling to make it to the big screen, more of this is bound to happen; hopefully with a lot more finesse and discipline than CHAPPIE had.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.