Armchair Mogul
The (backseat) driving force behind Hollywood. Way behind.

S.O.S. part one – HEX OFFENDER

$5 million.  That’s what Jonah Hex made at the BO opening weekend.

Iron Man 2, while kinda fun I guess, may as well not exist since we’ve all forgotten about it already. Sorcerer’s Apprentice is tanking even as we speak. Disney’s previous Bruckheimer flick Prince of Persia underperformed as well…So what’s the deal here?

Right now nervous producers sit at their desks, minds racing for a blame-deflecting spin on why the film they championed – the one that looked SO good on paper – is bleeding out like a wrestler’s forehead, while studio heads and their marketing minions sit in their cold offices, scratching their heads, wondering what went wrong…

But don’t worry, Hollywood. Once again the Armchair is here fix your problems for you. You wanna know why no one saw your movie? Here’s why, courtesy of someone who knows best – a movie buff who DIDN’T see your movie, but rather saw the trailers you hoped would wrangle audiences in.

This week:

Hey, I love a good western. AND, I love a good ghost story. Hell, I even love a good revenge story. And Jonah Hex is all three! So why didn’t I saddle up and see the thing? Well, let’s take a look at their marketing material:

Wow. I feel nothing after seeing that. Do you? Of course not. But let’s examine why.

First off, there was nothing likeable about any of the characters as portrayed in the trailer. Jonah, while his back-story seems tragic enough, is completely devoid of any personality. Ya see, an interesting look and a series of one-liners don’t make up for having some likeable quality or at least a clear mission the audience would like to see unfold. 

Secondly, his powers – a draw for any comic book-based movie – are too much of a mystery and don’t seem to help his quest in any way. The trailer even flat out tells you his powers can’t be explained. I can’t help wonder if that was an inside joke at WB’s marketing department.

The whole trailer is an incoherent mess. There are too many elements at play and none of them work together or hook the audience in any way. If you look at the trailer as a snapshot of the movie, here’s what you get: A guy loses his family and good looks to ruffians, then meets a woman who seems intent on showing off her front teeth, then kills anyone who makes fun of his face. Where’s his mission? Where’s the urgency?

Now take a look at a similarly-structured trailer for the similarly-themed supernatural revenge flick The Crow:

See the difference? Why would you much rather see Eric Draven exact his bloody revenge than Jonah Hex?

Both have bad guys that like to blow things up. Both have a supernatural protagonist with links to the afterlife. Both heroes had their families violently taken from them by the bad guys.

But The Crow has a few things going for it that Jonah doesn’t. For one, we actually see Eric Draven do something heroic – he rescues a little girl. The shot is less than a second long but goes a long way toward making you care about the hero. We also get to see Eric Draven BEFORE he went all ghostface killah on us – we see him as a regular guy, passionately in love with his fiancée.  This gives us something to relate to and a strong urge to see justice meted out to the guilty. 

They also spend the whole first 30 seconds of the piece explaining the magic to us, making sure we get the basic concept before showing us what we’re in for once we buy that magic.

And maybe most importantly of all, even though it’s a flat out revenge movie, they make sure you walk away from that trailer thinking it’s a love story at its heart. Sure we go to the movies to escape, sure we sometimes go to indulge in a dark fantasy or two…but even in that darkened room, where you can sit in relative anonymity, secretly reveling at whatever horrors are being projected on that screen, the audience still needs to feel it’s all in some way justified.  We crave justice. We seek answers. We don’t go to the movies to experience unexplained violence and undeserved pain. We go there to escape it.

In Jonah Hex, you don’t know if they’re hunting him or if he’s hunting them. Is there a love story brewing between him and that girl whose lips don’t reach each other? Who’s the bad guy and what makes him so bad? How will Jonah’s “unexplained” powers help him beat the bad guys? How are they even useful? Why the hell is Will Arnett in there??

I mentioned personality earlier, specifically how Jonah Hex doesn’t have one. You may notice that Eric Draven doesn’t have any lines at all in his trailer. But that’s the point of his character – he’s DEAD. He doesn’t need clever one-liners and snappy comebacks because he’s beyond all that. You get the impression in the Crow trailer that Eric Draven is barely a man. Hell, he isn’t even given a name!

Jonah Hex’s unfocused and inhuman trailer makes us think we’re in for an unfocused and inhuman movie.  In Jonah Hex, there’s no one to root for and there is no clear reason why I’d want to join Mr. Hex on his long ride into nowhere. So I didn’t.

And neither did anyone else.

Next time: Prince of Persia

Chine in, Moguls! Did you see Jonah Hex? Did the trailer do a good job repping its client? Or did you pass on the movie like me? And if so, why?

5 Responses to “S.O.S. part one – HEX OFFENDER”

  1. I didn’t see Hex, but it’s maybe a little easy to blame the marketing on a movie that really didn’t have the goods to draw an audience anyway. Brilliant comparison to “The Crow” btw. I feel like it was more of a product of its time, fascinating to the moviegoing generation of 18-35 year olds of 1994. Hex doesn’t seem to be appealing to anyone in particular.

    I dunno, maybe I’ll see it on cable at some point, and perhaps I’ll be surprised that it’s actually good.


  2. You might be right. For all I know, the actual movie’s just fine. Like I said, I like all the ingredients that went in.

    But as far as marketing goes, I feel they can’t have it both ways. Nowadays a script won’t even be bought unless the marketing department signs off on it – let alone the movie itself being made. That’s a lot of power. And with great power, yadda yadda yadda.

    So when a movie doesn’t even get people into the theatre, I think there’s plenty of blame to go around. Besides, how many times have you seen a spectacular trailer for a mediocre movie? It can be done!

  3. It’s ALL tone, man.

    It FEELS like Hex could have been pretty badass if it was done in a gritty and dark way. I can’t imagine that anyone at DC felt like they “owed their fanbase” anything as far as making it “comic booky” or smart allecky. Tombstone had all of the elements involved almost, including smart ass characters, but the tone still fit.
    You can add scary and mythological in a Old West setting. Especially if you bring in the Native American, kinda paranormal aspect.

    This really isn’t related, but remember how scary that scene is in Tombstone with the lightning and stuff, where Bill Paxton gets it?

    Someone saw that and said “No…no, we need to have Megan Fox say something sexy here.”

  4. There are so many ways this whole thing could have been handled better or just differently. I could devote paragraphs to how terrible the graphic design on the film’s title is alone.
    Why not add some old-school Sergio Leone spaghetti Western flair? You don’t have to go completely grindhouse on it, but a little retro-sleaze and grime would have punched this thing up a notch or two on everybody’s radar.
    And while we’re talking influence, why not draw from the best? Splash a little Deadwood on there, a dash of The Unforgiven and a side order of The Wild Bunch. You’ve got Brolin and Malkovich fer fuck’s sake! Give them some rope, let them do the hanging for you.
    Much of the modern Jonah Hex comic draws from these sources anyway.
    The Wild West was never slick or noir, so why does this movie seem to be trying to pull that off? Give me some dirt, some blood, put Hex’s tortured soul up front and center. He’s not a fucking superhero, horse-mounted Gatlin guns or otherwise. He’s a pissed-off half-dead haunted and cursed piece of carrion walking the Earth in search of bloody fucking revenge.
    How do you fuck that up?

  5. Not that this was my kind of movie anyway, but I thought the trailers made the movie seem silly, not edgy in any way. I’m not a fan of Meagan Fox anyway, but I just could not stomach that many one-liners in a trailer. It reminded me of a Nicholas Cage movie or something. I had NO desire whatsoever to see this film. I completely agree that the marketing did this movie in, whether or not there was any real material to work with anyway.

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