February 6, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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In these heady moments after the NY Giants’ triumphant victory over the New England Patriots (I’d say “Sorry, New England fans,” but I wouldn’t mean it), let’s take a moment to look at the other major event of the evening:  the ads for upcoming movies.  (Mitch Metcalf will offer a separate take on NBC’s use of its promo time during the broadcast, which somewhat surprisingly wasn’t as Smash-intensive as one might have expected.)

The average cost of a 30-second ad on the Super Bowl is $3.5M, so this isn’t where you’ll see promotion for the latest Sundance sensation.  With just a couple of exceptions, the ads were almost all for big-budget action extravaganzas, split between movies opening in the next few weeks and summer tentpoles looking to generate some buzz.
They were also, without any exception at all, unimpressive–basically lazy cut-down versions of trailers that have already been running for weeks if not months.  
Actually, the most interesting movie-ish ads of the night were the ones that weren’t for movies at all, but which used motifs and stars from Hollywood.  These included an Audi ad inspired by Twilight and its young vampires (are bright headlights really such a selling point that it was worth $3.5M to plug them?), a follow-up to last year’s VW ad that featured Star Wars characters–including a junior Darth Vader–in an outer-space caintina, a Hyundai piece in which all the employees sang the theme from Rocky (way to be topical, Hyundai!), the much-hyped Honda ad that riffed off Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (but disappointingly featured only Matthew Broderick from the original cast).  Most notable of all was probably an ad for Dodge that didn’t relate back to any specific movie, but which by using Clint Eastwood as its gnarled, spirit-of-America spokesman seemed like Hollywood history personified.  (It also resembled a Presidential campaign spot so closely that you half-expected it to end with “My name is Clint Eastwood and I approved this ad.”)
Anyway, here were the movie spots themselves.  Note that this list covers the Super Bowl telecast itself (including the pre-kickoff half hour) and not the pre- or post- shows.  Lionsgate, for one, saved a few bucks by airing its Hunger Games ad during the pre-show.  For whatever reason, the movie commercials were mostly crammed into the game’s 2d quarter.
SAFE HOUSE (Universal) – 30 seconds pre-kickoff:  One of the many trailer cut-downs, for a movie opening next Friday.  Mostly a quick-cut montage of things blowing up, interspersed with Denzel Washington looking intense and Ryan Reynolds looking clueless.  (As it happens, that’s a fairly accurate summary of the movie.)
THE DICTATOR (Paramount) – 30 seconds pre-kickoff:  This spot for the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy opening in May at least put in a little effort by including an NBC gag (albeit a lame one).  After that, it recycled what appear to be the movie’s 2 big jokes:  Megan Fox playing herself for a Kardashian gag (ha ha, they’re hairier than she is) and the track race where Cohen’s dictator shoots all his competitors.
BATTLESHIP (Universal) – 60 seconds 2d Quarter:  Universal spent $7M on this spot to tell us 2 things:  whatever the title says, Battleship is really Transformers 4, and please forget about the “battleship” part.  There were far more shots of round fiery alien things (which seem to have borrowed Mickey Rourke’s laser whip from Iron Man 2), jet planes, and buildings blowing up than there were shot of the title boat.  Also, Liam Neeson is stalwart and Taylor Kitsch is heroic, which could conveniently be compared to–
JOHN CARTER (Disney) – 30 seconds 2d Quarter:  Another Kitsch vehicle (in this one he’s shirtless), and the worst ad of the evening, thanks to an amateurish looking visual concept that had the footage from the movie receding until it was tiny and fading into a mosaic of the movie’s title, made up of even tinier footage.  It made the Disney marketing department look like they’d all just gotten their first iPad app.  The footage itself continues to make the incredibly expensive Carter, which opens in just a month, seem like Dances With Wolves set on a planet full of Jar-Jar Binks lookalikes. 
THE LORAX (Universal) – 30 seconds 2d Quarter:  The oddest choice for a Super Bowl ad (one has to wonder whether the preponderance of Universal titles indicates a cut rate for NBC’s home studio), this animated Dr. Seuss comedy opens next month.  The promo itself was mostly footage from the trailer, and continues to push hard on the Danny DeVito “That’s a woman?!?” line. 
STAR WARS EPISODE 1:  THE PHANTOM MENANCE (20th/Lucasfilm): Thinking of Jar-Jar Binks… in case you didn’t know, this ad told you it’s back this Friday, and in 3D.  Jake Lloyd fans, order your tickets now.  
THE AVENGERS (Paramount/Disney) – 30 seconds 2d Quarter (the 2-minute warning slot):  This is the kickoff movie to the summer movie season, and it used its 30 seconds unimaginatively but effectively.  The whole spot was basically summed up in its final shot, which circled around for a roll-call of all the familiar characters who will appear in the movie:  Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Scarlett Johansson as whoever she played in Iron Man 2, etc.
G.I. JOE – RETALIATION (Paramount) – 30 seconds 2d Quarter:  Um, where exactly was G.I. Joe in this?  We saw plenty of The Rock, and the spot made clear that Bruce Willis (playing Joe Sr) is in the house, but there wasn’t a clear shot of Channing Tatum in the whole thing.  The result just looked like a generic boom-boom movie (maybe The Expendables 2?), although it did try to establish how cool it’s going to be by citing Jay Z.  The movie doesn’t open until late June, and should use the time to work on its message.
ACT OF VALOR (Relativity) – 30 seconds 4th Quarter:  The gimmick of this picture is that the cast is made up of actual Navy Seals who are on active duty (don’t they have other things to do?), and Relativity accomplished what was no doubt its goal:  show things blowing up and make it look like this relatively low-budgeted flick is as filled with high-velocity action as the epics surrounding it.  Apart from that, the movie remains a mystery.
That was it:  nothing from the upcoming Sony (Men In Black 3, The Amazing Spider-Man), Fox (Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter) or Warners (The Dark Knight Rises) blockbusters, those studios having decided that their millions could be better spent when their movies are closer to launch. 
By the way, the best ad of the night in any genre?  The Doritos bit with the homicidal but very clever dog. 

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."