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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The New Movie Community...Netflix Guilt...Reptiles on a Jumbo Jet

- I went to see `Pirates 2' last night, in the middle of its second week of release, and had the distinct feeling that I was catching up on something. Seeing a big movie during its opening weekend seems to be the new imperative, if you want to keep up with the watercooler conversation (and blog commentary). For those in the movie industry, being able to mention that you saw the movie weeks or months in advance of its release is the coin of the realm. No one except total unhipsters like me wants to be there in Week Two, though there was a decent crowd for `Pirates' at San Francisco's Metreon theater downtown.

This marketing campaign from Lionsgate for the forthcoming horror thriller `The Descent' seems to acknowledge this new dynamic: increasingly, people want to be insiders -- part of a community that sees things first, and tells their friends whether those things are hits or duds.

Lionsgate is putting on a sneak preview that audience members will pay to be part of (many sneaks are free), nine days in advance of `The Descent''s release. But they'll also get to see some extra behind-the-scenes footage -- the sort of stuff that will eventually show up on the DVD, I'd bet.

My guess is that savvy movie marketers will do more of this, trying to create a community for new movies, and generate a desire to be part of that early bunch of taste-makers. And increasingly, the decision about how to see a movie will be binary: either early (sneak preview or first week of release), or on DVD/Internet download/cable TV. There won't be a second or third or fourth week of theatrical release for many movies. So, do I see it first, or do I wait?

- Speaking of waiting, the Wall Street Journal has a fun piece about what I think of as Netflix guilt -- letting certain movies languish atop the TV for weeks or months. (They even mention `Hotel Rwanda,' one of the longest occupants of that spot in my living room.) Matt Phillips writes:

    Netflix Inc., which boasts nearly five million members, often trumpets how its all-you-can-eat rental model is changing the way people are watching movies. But Netflix may also be changing the way people don't watch them. Through its Web site, Netflix makes it easy to comb through a massive catalog of 60,000 films. It offers access to everything from Charlie Chaplin's 1921 silent tramp movie "The Kid" to recent Academy Award-winners like "Crash." And some members admit that when browsing the Netflix backlog, they overestimate their appetite for off-the-beaten-track films. The result: Sometimes DVDs languish for months without being watched...

    ...The result can be a type of guilt-fueled Netflix bottleneck for users, who may not feel like watching a film but are also loathe to return it, said Mike Kaltschnee, who writes a popular blog called HackingNetflix. He's experienced the sensation himself. He twice rented Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," kept it for weeks, only to send it back unwatched. He cites his Catholic upbringing for his inability to watch the sometimes-brutal depiction of Christ's last days. "It's childish almost. It's just a movie. But I could not put it in the DVD player," he said. "And I know I'm not alone."

- Aemelia Scott writes in about the `Snakes on a Plane' phenomenon, focusing mostly on the title:

    ..."Snakes on a Plane" is more than just a title and more than just a cult movie. It's an exposure of the inner workings of Hollywood. It's an admission on the part of movie writers, directors, producers and distributors that this movie is, as Samuel L. Jackson has put it, "Motherfucking Snakes on a Motherfucking Plane!" Through a tiny crack in the fa├žade of the movie industry, moviegoers saw that the industry itself doesn't believe in its own magic. It's not just that the emperor wears no clothes when he parades through the streets; it's that everyone inside the palace freely admits that he's naked.


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