It’s Monday and we’re nearing the end of Day 6 of WB’s marketing push for Legend of Tarzan. Here’s my imaginary report to Warner Brothers marketing, based on what I’ve seen thus far. Who knows, maybe somebody there will actually read it … although they’re doing a good job and, unlike a certain other studio who couldn’t figure out what to do with an Edgar Rice Burroughs literary property, they are handling it well and don’t really need inputs from me. Still . . . can’t resist doing a report.
The Trailer — 10M Views on WB’s YouTube Channel
As of the end of the workday Monday, Legend of Tarzan has reached 10 million views on WB’s YouTube Channel. In trying to place that in context — one piece of data that is very helpful is that LOT’s main competition on the July 1, 2016 release date is Steven Spielberg’s The BFG — and Disney, its distributor, just happened to release its teaser trailer on the same day as Legend of Tarzan. So these two films, trailer release and theatrical release on the same day, will be battling it out for the available audience. You can be assured that from now until next July, those involved in the marketing of the two films will be eyeing each other and attempting to assess each others’ relative position. We can do the same.
So — what did we learn?
Prior to the release of the trailers, WB had kept LOT in a virtual ‘cone of silence’ and as a result, there was very little public anticipation of the release. This translated into an exceptionally slow start for the trailer, as the chart below shows. The red figures represent the initial lead that BFG had over LOT, as LOT was just beginning to get noticed:
Both charts show that after a slow start, favorable word of mouth developed and drove LOT past BFG, and since passing the Spielberg film, it has continued to build on that lead, consistently outpacing BFG.
A key takeaway: because of the “zero buzz” going into the release and the demonstrably slow start, it’s fair to infer that LOT’s trailer view performance is driven by favorable reactions and favorable word of mouth — as opposed to advance hype. There was no advance hype. Further evidence of this is that at the end of the first day, when LOT had only been viewed an anemic 58,350 times — it already had 5,800 likes, for a phenomenal “Like Percentage” of almost 10%. For reference, even 1% is a very good “Like Percentage” (Likes/Views) . . . . This would drop, but it is further evidence that the earliest viewers were caught by surprise and responded with strongly favorable word of mouth.
A word of caution, however: Although LOT’s thumping of BFG can be nothing but good news for LOT fans and the WB marketing team — a word of warning: social media observers could argue, perhaps persuasively, that the nature of BFG — a Roald Dahl children’s story about a 10 year old girl and a “Big Friendly Giant” — places it a different enough category from LOT as to make it possible to “explain away” the surge and better numbers for LOT. Still, you can be sure that the folks at Dreamworks and Disney are not as happy as the folks at WB today.)
A third trailer was released on the same day — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, the sequel to the first TMNT film which did $191M domestically and $493M worldwide. TMNT was expected to far outdistance Tarzan; however as of Monday morning it’s at 12M views as LOT is approaching 10M views. Moreover, for days 4-5 LOT has been gradually gaining on TMNT. This is a good indicator of the “ballpark” in which LOT has landed.
Bottom line — Tarzan’s trailer release has gone about as well as can be expected in terms of views and viewer acceptance.
Skarsgard, Robbie, surge to #1 and #2 on IMDB Starmeter
The weekly Internet Movie Data Base Starmeter rankings released this morning have Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie at number 1 and 2 respectively. Skarsgard had previously been ranked 435 and Robbie, still riding the strength of her casting as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, was previously ranked 34. There is no way to classify this as anything other than good news. LOT’s direct competition, The BFG, did not achieve anything on this level and has no star ranked higher than 225 in the just released Starmeter rankings. Perhaps more interesting — Megan Fox, star of TMNT2, rose from 266 to 33. Robbie’s rise all the way to #2 looks all the more interesting in light of this.
Surge from Moviemeter Ranking of 973 to 5
It would be expected that LOT’s promotional would create a surge in the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) Starmeter and Moviemeter rankings. However, the surge has been somewhat greater than expected, as evidenced by figures just released this morning. First, the MovieMeter rankings for the film itself:
As the chart shows — the film moved up 968 pots from 973 to 5. This is a very strong. (By contrast, John Carter only rose to 67 after the main trailer release.) This compares favorably to TMNT2 which moved up 885 spots to from 889 to 4. And it is further illustrative of how LOT has outpaced its direct July 1, 2016 competitor The BFG — who ended up at Moviemeter Rank of 34.
Another word of caution: IMDB’s MovieMeter and StarMeter are little more than a simple straightforward measure of search activity. Rankings are fairly volatile, and will adjust dramatically in coming weeks. Still, if you’re at WB this Monday morning you’re smiling; if you’re at Disney or Dreamworks, you’re worried.
Influencer Media Reaction — Mixed to Favorable
Although consumer level reaction has skewed clearly favorable — blogger/journalist level reaction has been mixed – favorable. Most outlets simply reported the release, repeating the WB promotional material without additional comment — which is standard for a trailer release. Some articles voiced opinions. Following are the top 10 articles that come up on a Google News search as of this mornign, and which express an opinion:
USA Today: ‘Legend of Tarzan’ trailer looks absolutely bananas
CNET: Full of Action, Legend of Tarzan trailer still disappoints
The Verge: Watch Trailer for Unnecessary Blockbuster Legend of Tarzan
The A.V. Club: First Legend of Tarzan Trailer features abs and apes
/Film: This isn’t the King of the Jungle you remember
Cinemablend: The Legend of Tarzan Trailer is Gorgeous, Shows Plenty of Promise
The Mary Sue: Legend of Tarzan Trailer can’t hide its colonial roots
HitFix: First Legend of Tarzan Trailer is ambitious and full of eye candy
GQ: Legend of Tarzan trailer offers abs, Margot Robbie
Independent: Legend of Tarzan…goes all Dark Knight in First Trailer
Us Weekly: Alexander Skarsgard’s sculpted abs are on full display
Hollywood Life: Alexander Skarsgard is the Sexiest Tarzan
Mashable: Legend of Tarzan trailer has more to offer than perfect abs
Daily Mail: Shirtless Alexander Skarsgard Kisses Margot Robbie . . .
Telegraph: Watch Alexander Skarsgard Punch a Gorilla . . .
Games Radar: Go Ape for Legend of Tarzan Teaser Trailer
Details: Alexander Skarsgard’s abs are ridiculous in Legend of Tarzan . . .
Social Media Presence — Legend of Tarzan and the Competition
Here is the social media presence of LOT and the competition for next summer. I will update this from time to time. It’s generally self-explanatory.
Social Media Buzz — Analyzing the Themes
So what are people saying about Legend of Tarzan now that the lid’s off? First of all, commenting is strong, and positive negative ratio is good at 7/3 but it is significant to note that films with runaway buzz typically achieve 9/1 Positive/Negative ratio. Legend of Tarzan has good buzz, and this is especially significant since going into the launch had virtually no buzz at all — and the microbuzz it did have was skewing negative. So achieving a high volume of buzz (as evidenced, among other ways, by the IMDB Starmeter and MovieMeter rankings, and the 10M YouTube trailer views) is a significant achievement — and a 7/3 positive negative ratio is not bad. But there is room for improvement and there are some red flags that WB will need to be conscious of.
The buzz topics:
- Skarsgard’s Abs: It sounds silly, but then social media is sometimes silly, and WB’s ridiculous still of Skarsgard and his chiclet abs became the number one comment topic.
- Margot Robbie’s Hotness: This was much commented on, and is a continuation of her longterm trend line. It’s of some interest because her presentation in the trailer is rather subdued, but it didn’t seem to matter to her fans — again, the IMDB starmeter rankings are indicative.
- Fond Childhood Memories of Disney’s Tarzan: A theme that developed across multiple comment platforms and especially on YouTube trailer reaction videos was the warm spot that many millenials have for Disney’s 1999 animated Tarzan, and an openness to the WB Tarzan because of it.
Neutral Themes — or Themes That Can Skew Either Way
- Complete Lack of Knowledge of Tarzan History: Message boards and comment threads were loaded with comments that showed the commenter thought Tarzan originated with Disney in 1999. Replies quickly pointed out the long history. Interpreting this is a little difficult. The long history of Tarzan was much discussed by bloggers and journalists, many of whom (see negatives below) evinced a negative attitude toward the film on the grounds that Tarzan has been “done to death” over the years, etc. There appears to be a gap between the high awareness of the Tarzan cinematic history at the level of journalists and bloggers; and lack of awareness at the level of likely moviegoers.
- King Kong and Planet of the Apes References: Many reacted to the trailer by referencing King Kong and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
- The Loin Cloth Debate: Quite a few comments about Tarzan’s apparent lack of a loin cloth, and wearing of “cargo pants” instead. This tended toward the negative,but there was counter-commentary favoring it. Mostly neutral but a buzz topic for future reference.
Negatives to Watch Out For
- Too Much CGI or “CGI Sucks”: A certain category of “knowledgable” commenter surfaced and there were repeated critiques of the CGI, usually followed by “but they have time to fix that” . . . . It is difficult to tell whether this is a serious concern or not, as it is an “elite” type comment but one which can take root and multiply. Should be monitored closely, and countermeasures developed — such as selective release of clips where the CGI is complete and impeccable. Even then, a certain percentage of the CGI complaints will remain because some commenters hold the position that there is simply too much CGI in these kinds of movies, and whether it’s good or not is irrelevant. This is not a major issue but bears watching.
- White Savior Storyline; Racist/Imperialist Overtones: This is potentially a more serious issue that stems from the perception that the underlying source material — specifically the 1912 novel — contains racist elements and an imperialist and Social Darwinism agenda. This surfaced repeatedly and for a time dominated, for example, the Facebook trailer thread, holding the top spot in “top comments” with the OP drawing 457 “Likes” and hundreds of replies. This is a gnarly issue which WB needs to monitor closely and for which counter-arguments and other countermeasures need to be prepared.
Given the fact that what little buzz there was prior to the launch was negative, with predictions of a Pan-sized flop or worse, I can only give the launch a full A for successfully turning most of the negativity around and establishing a palpable positive vibe for the project as the promotion now rolls forward. There were a number of shrewd choices in this initial dump that all have contributed to achieving a “positive buzz” situation. Here are a few that come to mind:
The Teaser Trailer
The teaser trailer is a success and is the cornerstone of the campaign — as is the case with all movie campaigns. Other aspects can create awareness and interest — but the trailer is the typically the make-or-break component that either motivates audiences to get excited, or leaves them in “meh” land. The LOT trailer is very smartly put together on a number of levels. After displaying Skarsgard’s abs shamelessly (and effectively) in the first still released — the trailer never gives the audience enough of a view to annoy, which it would surely do if the abs had been showcased in the trailer as obviously as in the stills. Other smart decisions: Tarzan never speaks, and is repeatedly shown fleetingly or in long shot or in darkened images. A major decision that works brilliantly is the choice to feature Russel Crowe’s voice as narrator rather than use any of the standard “trailer narrator” voices. (That IS Russel Crowe, right? Someone commented that it isn’t.) He delivers the narration in a hushed, classical style, with killer gravitas that conveys mystery, intelligence, and credibility. The trailer script then makes use of Margot Robbie’s words as Jane, spoken in “around the campfire” tale-teller mode: “He is no normal man; he was thought to be an evil spirit; a ghost in the trees; no man ever started with less.” The script is good, and the voices (especially Crowe’s) are excellent, not generic — familiar yet unique.
Visually, the trailer also creates scope and scale with many shots empasizing depth of composition — the aerials of the river; a shot from over Tarzan’s shoulder from high, high in the trees; we repeately see horizons, aerial shots, or shots that otherwise convey scope and scale and epic feel. The actors are fine, and each has his moment (except, unfortunately, Djimon Hounsou who is there but not recognizable on computer screens, as evidenced by the failure of all of the YouTube trailer “reactors” to recognize him.)
Finally the music — excellent, boldly borrowed from the Halo 4 tie-in web series, driving and urgent, abstractly ethnic, and with a hint of James Horner/Avatar to it (maybe more than a hint) — pretty much “perfect pitch” for the movie, and clearly a success based on the social media commentary.
Overall — trailer is a success and gets a solid A.
The Key Messages
The key message pumped out by WB is that this is a “new take” on the Tarzan material which “tells the story in reverse” — starting from a point where Tarzan is living a gentrified life in England and taking him back to Africa. This message is embedded in the synopsis and other materials — and was reinforced with quotes from Yates and Skarsgard. To a large degree it seems to have worked, as this seems to have been at least provisionally accepted by bloggers and journalists as “something new” and serves as a defense against the “done to death” and “no one wants Tarzan in 2016” argument that hovers over the campaign and will continue to do so.
A secondary message that seems to be well-received is “there is a real historical backdrop” in that the film is situated in the Congo Free State under Leopold 2, and incorporates two interesting historical characters — George Washington Williams (played by Samuel Jackson) and Leopold Rom (played by Christoph Waltz). This message was only touched lightly,but appeared to have been well received and seen as a plus. It appears to be worth developing further in ensuring weeks and months.
From the director of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: This is embedded in the trailer and based on the comments has had favorable impact. David Yates is clearly an asset and more can and should be made of him as a promotional asset an way of building the reputation of the film in advance.
Pandora on Earth: This one was buried a little bit in a quote that didn’t make it into too many of the articles, but watch for it to return: ““A lot of movies, you have to go to the far reaches of the galaxy to find extraordinary beauty and amazing things,” Yates says. But, he adds, “they’re right here on the planet. They exist just a few thousand miles away.”
Avoiding the Pitfalls Going Forward
The two major negative themes identified above are the biggest buzz-threat — “crappy CGI” and “not another white savior pic” and variations thereof. As noted above, although there were many, many comments about the CGI, most were willing to give a temporary pass on this score, on the theory that with six months to go, the CGI can be improved. The quick willingness of commenters to critique the CGI is indicative of the degree to which audiences — particularly influencer/commenters — have become sensitized to this. Much of the comments addressed the apes — and Rise of the Planet of the Apes is clearly considered to be the gold standard. It is important that the ape CGI meet that standard — and that the promotion reinforce the fact that no stone is being left unturned in achieving that level. Other aspects of the CGI matter too — but the apes are key.
The other theme that may bedevil the project is resistance to what has become known as the “white savior” theme. We don’t know the plot yet — but judging from the trailer, it seems clear that Tarzan comes back to Africa and, aside from having to deal with Jane being abducted by Rom, has to deal in some fashion with depredations by the Europeans under Rom upon the land, the creatures, and presumably the black inhabitants as well. Quick shots of thousands of buffaloes rampaging through what appears to be a mining town, plus the shot of the apes charging, suggest a scene reminiscent of the animal attack in Avatar. (Actually, the whole setup sounds similar to Avatar — hopefully not uncomfortably so.) We also see Tarzan fighting Djimon Housou, but we don’t get a context. Presumably he defeats Houmsou, and in some fashion gains a position of honor an respect, if not leadership, with the Housou’s warriors. There are pitfalls in all of this — if it takes a white Englishman to organize and lead the resistance against the Belgian overlords, some will see that as perpetuating the white savior mythology that many find offensive — particularly so outside the US where the film is expected to do well. Hopefully WB marketing folks see this one coming and are preparing countermeasures.
If you’re still with me at the end of all this, thank you for hanging in there. I would imagine the audience for the full detail of this report is very small — but maybe there is someone in the mix who will find it helpful in some fashion to the actual campaign. My interest is in protecting the legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs — and helping in any way I can to introduce ERB to a new generation of fans. I’m deeply grateful to Warner Brothers for stepping up and investing the money it took to make this movie, and the additional money that it will take to market it. Anyone who follows the industry press knows how much second guessing WB has gotten for the decision to green light this project. I’m also grateful to David Yates and the late Jerry Weintraub for approaching this project with savvy and discipline that was lacking in the 2012 Edgar Rice Burroughs screen adventure. It’s far too early to know whether or not we have a hit on our hands — but I’m 100% confident that the prophets of doom (who have grown very quiet, by the way) were wrong; there is something of substance here, and the presentation of it in the marketplace is off to a good start.
(At the suggestion of someone who will remain nameless, I’m including a thumbnail bio and a link to the cautionary tale of what went wrong with John Carter that I wrote in the aftermath of that debacle. Truly hoping that if there is a book in this movie, it has a happy ending.)
Michael Sellers is an author and independent filmmaker and former distribution executive His filmography is available at his IMDB Profile. His 2012 book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood has been an Amazon bestseller for most of the last three years, and has been #1 in Business and Money/Sports and Entertainment as recently as November 2015.