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Well, somebody finally did it. An enterprising Spider-man fan named Louis Plamondon edited together all the footage from all the different trailers and commercials and other previews for "The Amazing Spider-man" into a 25-minute short version of the movie. This was to prove the point that marketing for blockbusters has gotten out of hand, and the studios are releasing way too much spoiler-laden footage in advance that ends up negatively impacting the actual experience of watching the film. I haven't seen the video myself, as Sony was quick to quash most of the copies online, and I actually would like to be able to watch "The Amazing Spider-man" with some of the mystery intact.

However, as reported by Variety, Plamodon's mini-epic contained about ten minutes of the finished film according to Sony (Note that only ten minutes or ten percent of the running time of a film, whichever is shorter, is the maximum allowed to be shown in a nontheatrical medium prior to the film’s theatrical release under Academy Award eligibility rules). The rest is a mix of unfinished scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, b-roll, repeated footage, and padding. Still, the fact that you could piece together a coherent narrative out of all the released clips is pretty telling. It's not just not the amount of footage that we're seeing, but so many of the best shots and sequences, repeated ad nauseum in so many different bits of promotional material. This is going to be a great discussion piece for copyright law classes for years, as the message of the video is inextricably tied to its length and the amount and variety of footage it contains.

Of course spoilerific trailers detailing exactly what happens in a movie have been around forever, and I understand why the marketers frequently want to oversell movies so zealously. I've mentioned before that my significant other responded very poorly to the first "Amazing Spider-Man" trailer from last year, but after seeing a couple of the subsequent ones and the commercials, he's slowly come around. A Spider-man reboot has been a very hard sell for many viewers, me included, who think that Sony should have waited a couple more years for the memory of the Sam Raimi "Spider-man" films with Toby Maguire to fade a little more. In such cases, showing off the good parts can make a difference in the mind of a doubtful moviegoer. However, when you've already been convinced to see a movie, and you're actually anticipating it, oversaturation can have very negative effects.

It was only after I saw "Prometheus" that I finally went and watched some of those later trailers. I'm glad I kept my distance, because they do show a little too much. A lot of the film's best shots and sequences work so much better if you don't have any foreknowledge of them, and I can see how some elements may have misled viewers to expect something different from what the movie actually delivered. Of course all advertisements deal in false hype to some extent, but "Prometheus" was one of those cases where I think they went too far. Some "Alien" fanboys got worked up into such a lather, and were then so disappointed when they got to the theaters, it "Prometheus" helped become one of the most divisive and polarizing films of the summer. Good grief, does anyone else remember when the "Alien" movies were just big dumb action/horror flicks?

And then of course, there's "The Dark Knight Rises" coming up. I have this growing dread that the film is not going to live up to these crazy expectations that some fans have for it, and the fallout is going to get ugly, maybe even worse than saw for "Prometheus." "Dark Knight Rises" doesn't even need all the trailers and the marketing, which there's plenty of, in order to reach saturation levels. The fans are doing it by themselves. I've come across multiple articles making the case that one of the new characters is secretly Robin, even though director Christopher Nolan has stated repeatedly that Robin won't appear in his Batman universe. Like with "Prometheus," there are fans who are doggedly trying to piece all the details of the plot together from previews and interviews. Reams of analysis are being written about bits of footage totally without context. It's getting a little scary, to be honest.

It's nice to know that there are other fans out there who have had enough, who don't want to be inundated by all this information, and are getting fed up with the over-aggressive sales pitches and having to hide from marketing campaigns. The irony is that I love trailers. I thought the first "Prometheus" teaser was brilliant, but I didn't watch any of the others for fear of ruining the movie for myself. And I've been sitting through many previews lately with my eyes screwed shut, thinking back to the days when I used to look forward to the coming attractions.
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A few months ago, the part that every young actress in Hollywood was salivating over was Lisbeth Salander, the hacker heroine at the center of David Fincher's remake of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Rooney Mara, most recently seen in "The Social Network," has emerged the winner. Then speculation turned to who would fill the lead role in Alphonse Cuaron's new science fiction thriller, "Gravity," which has yet to be resolved, but Natalie Portman is rumored to be in talks. So what's next? Over the past few days, the spotlight has turned to the part of Mary Jane Watson in the reboot of "Spider-Man." Emma Stone, hot off the success of "Easy A," was erroneously reported to have been offered Mary Jane a few days ago. However, the news emerged yesterday that she'll be playing one of Peter Parker's other love interests, Gwen Stacy.

Let's be honest. Playing Mary Jane Watson would help to raise the profile of a young actress, but it's a boring, lousy role that completely wasted Kirsten Dunst in the first set of "Spider-Man" movies, and I don't see that changing with the reboot. The fact that so much attention is being focused on who will be the new Mary Jane, or that anyone considers it the "new hot female role for young actresses" of the moment, just strikes me as depressing. Romantic comedies are struggling and, midrange pictures are scarce, so there are hardly any "hot" film roles for middle aged and older actresses. Right now, I'm sad to say, Mary Jane, the classic damsel in distress, is being billed as the best any actress in Tinseltown can hope for.

Of course, in reality the better female roles are rarely the ones that come with much hype and anticipation. Nobody was fighting over the part of Leigh Ann Tuohy, the heroine of "The Blind Side" that netted Sandra Bullock an Oscar. Movie projects are tailored to be vehicles for specific stars all the time, and arrive in the public consciousness with their leading actors or actresses firmly in place. It's only the already familiar, big brand characters like Superman, James Bond, and Harry Potter that attract this kind of casting speculation. Occasionally chatter develops when an actor or actress drops out of a big role or turns down a project they were expected to take, creating a gap to be filled. The fuss over "Gravity" emerged when Angelina Jolie reportedly turned the starring role down twice, possibly endangering the entire production.

So why worry about Mary Jane Watson? Because the massive amount of attention inevitably makes bad roles seem like a plum ones, especially when playing the sexy girlfriend is often the only way for actresses to have any sort of presence in the big summer action blockbusters that the studios reap the bulk of their profits from. Too many of our better young actresses keep having to take these thankless girlfriend roles in order to keep their cachet with the Hollywood establishment, when their time that could be better spent on more interesting fare. Natalie Portman is being courted for "Gravity" in the wake of "The Black Swan," which she'll almost certainly get an Academy Award nomination for, but first we'll see her next year in "Thor" as the main character's love interest.

I wouldn't mind so much if these roles were better written and better regarded. But for every Pepper Potts from "Iron Man" or Uhura from "Star Trek," there are a dozen lousy, vapid, cardboard females, who are instantly forgotten once the film is over. Think of poor Jessica Biel in "The A-Team" or Teresa Palmer in "Sorcerer's Apprentice." It takes a minute or two to remember they even appeared in the films. Now quick, name all the actresses who played Bruce Wayne's girlfriend in the live-action "Batman" films since 1990. The only one who left much of an impression was Michelle Pfeiffer, and that's because she doubled as a villain, Catwoman. Complaints by actresses about the sexist Hollywood culture responsible for this imbalance are ignored, garner catcalls and patronizing lectures, or result in being fired by Michael Bay in favor of an underwear model.

I'm hopeful that things may be changing, even if it's only slowly. We are getting a new Lisbeth Salander. And if Warner Brothers doesn't muck things up with Alphonso Cuaron, we are getting "Gravity" with a female lead. But for now, these roles are still the exception to the rule and there are still too many Mary Janes. However, I am happy that Kirsten Dunst can finally leave Peter Parker's girlfriend behind her and move on to better things. And that Emma Stone didn't end up stuck with the job.
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I feel the need to clarify my position on franchise films, after the the post on my misgivings toward "The Avengers" the other day. I love good franchise films, but I think they're hard to pull off and the handling of some of the more popular ones frustrates me to no end. By franchise, I mean films that are about the same major characters, your "Spiderman," "Planet of the Apes," and "Star Wars," films. The actors are not necessarily the same, and the individual entries don't always progress in a linear fashion from picture to picture, but the audience knows that they're getting the same universe with certain common rules and tropes. There are so many variations and incarnations of the oldest franchises like "Sherlock Holmes" and "Tarzan," we don't even think of them as franchises anymore.

Arguably the most successful modern one is "James Bond," a great perennial that's survived multiple decades and six actors in the title role. It was announced at the beginning of the week that the latest film, the twenty-third, was being put on indefinite hold while the financial woes of MGM get sorted out. A frustrating development, perhaps, but where this could spell the doom of other properties like Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" films, "James Bond" has survived far worse - the six-year gap between "Licence to Kill" and "GoldenEye," the fickle whims of George Lazenby, dueling official and unofficial "Bond" films in 1983, and several subpar outings like the bizarre "Die Another Day." Even if MGM's death throes go on for years, it won't kill the franchise. "Bond" is practically bullet-proof.

Not every franchise follows the "James Bond" template, though many of them try. "Harry Potter," by contrast, is a rare, wonderful example of a film series with a single story that has progressed in sequence over the course of six films to date with two more on the way. Maintaining consistency by retaining nearly all of its core actors, and rarely straying far from its source material, the "Potter" films make up a remarkably cohesive whole. Similar to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, the franchise is finite by design, though Warner Brothers did manage to squeeze out an extension by splitting the last film into two installments.

But what would have happened if the first "Harry Potter" film stumbled out of the gate? Or the fourth? In Hollywood a director is only as good as his or her last picture, and the same holds true for franchise films. It seems like the instant a big corporate-branded picture runs into trouble these days, the studio executives run for the reboot or spinoff buttons. In some cases franchises do run their course, like the "Star Trek" films in the late 90s that saw interest and quality drop off over successive films. After a much needed break, it rebooted last summer into one of the biggest hits of the year.

Increasingly though, there are cases like "Spiderman." Everyone seems to agree that the latest film was a misstep, though it made millions at the box office and certainly has enough goodwill in reserve to carry on for another picture or two. But FOX, deciding the damage was done, scrapped the entire existing series, including three potential future films. Their plan is to start over with a reboot in 2012, a scant five years after "Spiderman 3" and barely a decade after the first "Spiderman." There have been reboots of flops before, like the "Hulk" and "Punisher" films, but to remake a massively successful film series while it's still fresh in the public consciousness is tantamount to self-cannibalism.

The reason why franchises are so prevalent right now is because they're stable brands for film companies, easily marketable and predictable performers. It's easier to sell a familiar superhero like "Batman" than it is to sell a crime thriller starring an A-lister now, so the drive to sustain and make use of high-profile franchises is a high priority. Unfortunately the alchemy is never as easy as it looks. Tales of the multiple attempts to relaunch "Superman" as a franchise have been far more entertaining than the films themselves. The itch to continuously capitalize on the proven successes like "Spiderman," however, has lead to troubling decisions like rushing into the planned reboot. With so much on the line financially, it's no wonder why execs get nervous at the first sign of failure and try to cut their losses and move on in a different direction. Of course reboots aren't the only option these days. "X-Men" spun-off "Wolverine," "Terminator" and "Star Wars" explored prequels, and there's the massive Marvel Films crossover experiment in the works.

In most cases, I think the best antidote to a bad franchise film is time. Sony has just announced a new sequel to the 1996 film "Men in Black," which spawned the awful "Men in Black II" in 2002. After eight years, the embarrassing particulars of the second film have mostly faded, though the original film remains popular enough that viewers are still familiar with the property. A new film after all this time is a gamble, but it's worked before for "Indiana Jones" and "James Bond." Even dear old "Rocky" had a great last hurrah. I wish the execs would keep that in mind, since I think the Sam Raimi "Spiderman" films and an awful lot of other stymied franchises out there still have a lot of mileage left in them.
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I mentioned in the previous post that I really enjoyed "Spider-Man 2" and only marginally liked the original "Spider-Man." I'd put "Spider-Man 3" somewhere between the two. On the one hand it's technically impeccable, nicely acted, and does a great job of delivering action sequences that don't feel labored or repetitious. But on the other hand, I don't think I've seen a movie that had so much and so little happening at the same time.

There have been countless dissertations on the failings of "Spider-Man 3," written by every disappointed comics-literate geek with access to a computer, so I'm just going to focus on the two major elements that I thought caused the most problems: 1) The story was too ambitious, and 2) They made Peter Parker unlikable. The first is easily forgivable, but the second is harder to ignore, and both issues are pretty intimately connected.

I like that Ramis and his collaborators tried to include a variety of different sources of conflict for our hero: a new supervillain, a new rival, ongoing issues in old relationships, and the hidden pitfalls of his own success. What sets Peter Parker apart from his costumed brothers-in-arms is that he's young, has limited resources, and juggles a complicated life that never seems to give him a break. Anyone who is struggling to hold down a job or make time for loved ones can relate to him, because Peter's troubles are so wonderfully normal.

But while the previous films let myriad problems compound on top of each other, the ones in "Spider-Man 3" end up pulling Peter Parker in too many different directions. The Sandman brings out Peter's vengeful side, the alien symbiote turns him into an over-confident jerk, the Eddie Brock and Harry Osbourne storylines need him to be a straight-arrow good guy deserving of our sympathy, and his relationship troubles with Mary Jane require a lot of self-centered cluelessness. It doesn't feel like the same person is showing up from scene to scene.

The inconsistencies don't end there. Despite being well over two hours long, the movie often feels like it's missing scenes, rushing to deliver exposition but rarely lingering long enough to fill out its characters. The villains suffer the most here - Sandman only seems to show up for action sequences, and Harry Osbourne's personality veers wildly between vicious and friendly depending on what the plot needs him to do at the time. Eddie Brock comes out about right, but only because he's the shallowest character. Ultimately none of the bad guys get a full-fledged story the way Goblin and Dr. Octopus did, not even poor Harry.

Peter Parker and his multiple personalities get the bulk of the film's screentime, and they need it. The script forces the character to go through so many painful contortions, it's a wonder Tobey Maguire didn't throw out his back. One of the major themes of "Spider-Man 3" is Peter discovering his dark side, which manifests in some bizarre ways. The famously mocked dance sequence wasn't as bad as I was led to believe, but I thought a later scene did far more damage to the character: the club sequence with Gwen Stacy.

"Spider-Man 2" drove the message home that the hero wasn't the suit, but the kid who wore it. Peter Parker might have a bumpy life, but at the core of his character was that wonderful moral center that kept him going. Even when faced with horribly unfair or unreasonable situations in his normal life, Peter didn't whine, didn't retaliate, and didn't stop doing things the hard way. He persevered, because that's what heroes do, and deviations from that standard always came with consequences.

So to see Peter throw all caution to the wind, mercilessly sabotage Eddie, disfigure Harry, and then deliberately humiliate Mary Jane - it was crossing way too far over the line. Acting like a dorky bad-boy version of himself was silly, but fairly harmless. Watching him deliberately hurt the girl he loved in an act of utter petulance was another matter entirely. The film almost lost me completely at that point, and the subsequent lack of any truly serious negative consequences from his behavior still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

All in all I do like the film. There are lots of wonderful little moments in it that belong in a much better story, and every time the suit comes on, all the other problems seem to melt away. I think my favorite bit in the whole thing was during the climatic fight scene where we see Spider-Man trying to web-sling his way out of a fall, only to run out of space and end up slamming himself into a roof. He does that move so often, so perfectly, we don't expect him to crash until it happens. And then all you can do is wince.

But you know he'll pick himself up and try again. Heroes do that.
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So I finally saw "Spider-Man 3" for the first time last night. Before you point out that the title of this post is seriously misleading, consider this - why did it take a self-declared movie geek with a yen for superhero films nearly three years to see this one?

These days if you really want to see a movie, it's fairly easy to find a way to see it, and if you really don't want to see a movie, it's not difficult to avoid it. But when you're ambivalent toward a film, that's where things get interesting. I'm one of those people who ends up seeing a lot of movies that I don't have strong feelings towards one way or the other. I see them in theaters with friends or relatives on social outings. I see them on DVD when I hang out with people casually. And of course, I run across plenty of them while channel surfing. To give you an example, I've paid to see three films in theaters in the past two months that I had no real interest in seeing - "Avatar," "When in Rome," and "Up in the Air" - two with dates, one with family. They outnumber the films I saw that I actually wanted to see over the same time period, "Sherlock Holmes" and "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."

When "Spider-Man 3" came out, it was impossible to avoid the hype leading up the May 2007 release date. It did amazing business and currently ranks fifteenth on the list of the highest grossing films of all time at the North American Box Office (unadjusted). But for my part, once I had a look at the reviews, I decided that I didn't need to see it in theaters. I wouldn't have said no if a friend or relative asked me to go with them, but I didn't think it was worth the money to specifically seek it out on my own. For the record I liked "Spider-Man 2" and thought the first "Spider-Man" was passable, but I didn't have a very strong attachment to either, making me pretty hype-proof.

The theatrical release came and went, and the next round of the marketing blitz came around with the "Spider-Man 3" DVD release in September. I seriously considered renting it, but money was tight and I had a big list of films that I wanted to catch up on from earlier in the year. I was alsopretty sure I'd see the film eventually on cable and didn't mind waiting. Mainstream films, especially the blockbusters, have a far higher profile on television than the little indies and foreign films that can only be found through rentals. So I let it go, and for a long time after that, I totally forgot about "Spider-Man 3."

Then came April of 2009, when I got my first taste of Netflix. It was love at first sight. I filled my queue out to ridiculous lengths and and devoured the free online catalog. I watched war documentaries, old Bing Crosby musicals, and lots of other titles I never would have picked up in a hundred years if they weren't so conveniently available whenever I wanted them. And what was sitting on top of the list of free Starz Cable films when I logged on the first day? "Spider-Man 3." I happily made plans to watch it over the weekend, but alas it was not to be. Cut to a few days later, when I discovered that it had been dropped from the catalog to make way for newer titles. Curses, foiled again.

From that point on it turned into a game, and I started consciously keeping track of where the film was popping up in the distribution stream. How long would it take me to see "Spider-man 3" without consciously making any effort to do it? I had just missed the end of the premium cable "window" for the film. How far down the media food chain would it go before I ran into it again? I'll stress now that at no point did I lose my ambivalence toward seeing the film - I could have added "Spider-Man 3" to my online rental queue or gone right out to the nearest Blockbuster and picked up a copy at any time. I saw plenty of other movies while this was going on, and my lukewarm initial impression of "Spider-Man 3" never changed.

After the theatrical, rental, and premium cable distribution windows comes basic cable. (For a great breakdown of these "windows of exploitation," see this lovely article here: http://www.publetariat.com/sell/long-detailed-look-distribution-windows) "Spider-Man 3" had its premiere on FX in December, 2009 and has been making frequent appearances on its schedule ever since. Unfortunately, I liked Netflix so much and was getting so much more out of it than my overpriced TV cable service, I went ahead and dropped the cable during the digital TV transition over the summer. Another chance to see the movie squashed.

A very near miss occurred over the Christmas break when I went to visit the folks for the holiday. They have satellite - and got the deal that gave them the basic tier channels plus a bunch of premium movie channels for a couple of months. And since they're early sleepers, there wasn't much to do for many of those nights except watch movies with the siblings. A lot of these were 2007-2008 titles I'd put into the ambivalent category - "Eagle Eye," "I Am Legend," "Beowulf, "Body of Lies," and the most recent "Die Hard" movie. "Spider-Man 3" would have fit right in.

After realizing I'd missed the cable premiere, I figured that "Spider-Man 3" would probably be airing over the Christmas weekend when lots of movies fill out the schedules, and I was right. It was on slated to be on FX on Saturday the 26th. But my parents' satellite service didn't carry FX or any of the other FOX/Newscorp channels on the basic tier. Apparently FOX's carrier fees are much higher than most other channels. My cable company sucked it up and paid, but the satellite carrier bumped those channels up to a secondary tier that required extra charges. No FX, no "Spider-Man 3." So I watched "Stardust" again.

Ironically on the way home from that trip, I took Jet Blue, which had an in-flight TV service that carried nearly all the FOX channels, including FX, and a bunch of other second-tier cable channels like BBC America and Boomerang and Discovery Health. I wonder if the airline got some sort of special rate to pad the number of subscribers to these channels. Anyway, FX was showing "Spider-Man 3" during the flight, but since the trip was short and the movie was already well into the second hour by the time I stumbled across it, I didn't bother trying to watch.

Now, two months later, I've finally seen "Spider-Man 3." I didn't pay for a movie ticket, or a rental fee, or a pay-per-view fee, or a premium cable subscription, or even a basic cable subscription. And no, I didn't pirate it. And no, there hasn't been a showing on one of the national networks yet - that probably won't happen until this fall at the earliest. No, what happened was that a couple of the DVDs turned up at my local library. Probably old rental copies or overstock from somewhere that were donated.

You can blame shrinking windows and you can blame too much mediocre product out there, but movies don't seem to be worth as much as they used to be, even with all the insane profit from the highest performers. I can't help but find it funny and sad that while movies themselves may last forever, the business of movies has become so terribly time sensitive, a single viewing of a film loses nearly all of its commercial value over the span of just three years. Anyone with a little patience can wait it out like I did - anyone who's figured out that new isn't always better and films don't actually have expiration dates.

So what did I think of "Spider-Man 3"? That's a post for another time.

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