Discover more from Arc Digital
Nicole Kidman Makes Movies Worse
AMC Theatres’ new ad campaign featuring the Australian actress sends the opposite message of the one it wishes to convey
Finally, there was a reason to go back to the movies.
For a couple of years, there hadn’t been. First, Covid shuttered theaters across the country. Then, after they reopened, there were no movies. With seating capacities limited and many of their patrons still too fearful to return because of the pandemic, studios postponed their highest profile releases, some more than once and for more than a year. With nothing to see and no one to see it, Hollywood suffered billions in losses.
Eager to recoup whatever they could, studios sold films to streaming services like Amazon Prime and Apple TV+. Those with their own streaming outlets placed their movies there to promote them and increase their subscriber bases. Disney made several movies available on its Disney+ service, some at no additional cost and some for an extra fee.
Warner Bros. decided to release all of its 2021 titles on HBO Max the same day they arrived in theaters. Cinema operators were aghast, seeing the policy as a threat to their survival. Some threatened to boycott movies from any studio that released its films online and theatrically at the same time.
Actors and filmmakers were no less outraged. Arrival director Denis Villeneuve (about whom more anon) lambasted the choice, accusing Warner Bros.’ corporate parent, AT&T, of “hijacking one of the most respectable and important studios in film history” and exhibiting “absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience.” The Dark Knight and Tenet director Christopher Nolan, who had been on the Warners lot for nearly two decades, opted to make his next film at Universal, his dissatisfaction over the HBO Max move playing no small role in his switch.
In some cases, the talent was so incensed it went to court. The most notable example was Scarlett Johansson. Her Marvel film Black Widow was one of those offered on Disney+ for an additional fee, and she sued the House of Mouse on the grounds that this violated her contract by depriving her of financial incentives tied to its box office performance. After considerable acrimony (including an unfathomably intemperate statement from Disney accusing her of “callous disregard” for Covid), the parties settled and announced that Johansson would continue working on a previously announced film.
Theaters were closed, so people couldn’t go to the movies. When they reopened, there were few new movies to see (though there were some older ones), so there was no reason to go back. Then when there were new ones, many of them could be seen in the comfort of one’s home. So there was still no reason to return.
Until, finally, a couple of weeks ago there was. After numerous delays that pushed its release from last Christmas to late October, the first installment of Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel, Dune, at last made its way to theaters – and all anyone could do was gush about how incredible, amazing, and spectacular it looked.
Though perhaps “incredible, amazing, and spectacular” don’t quite do it justice. So throw in magnificent, stupendous, glorious, transcendent. Pick whatever superlative you want, indeed pick apart a thesaurus, in terms of aesthetics and visual design, in its sheer monumental scale, it really is that good. Or as Hannah Grace Long put it, Dune is “beautiful.” It’s the kind of movie, in other words, for which the phrase “you have to see it in a theater” was invented. Truly, it’s the kind of movie for which theaters were invented.
Eternals and No Time to Die, the latest entries in the Marvel and James Bond franchises, respectively, were both fine moviegoing experiences. The latter especially made good use of the IMAX format. But no one said they had to be seen in a theater. Even the most recent Star Wars films didn’t rise to that standard, something it pains me as a lifelong fan of George Lucas’ creation to admit.
Dune, though, produced a spate of articles about how great it looked and why it had to be seen on a big screen. The better the bigger. Much of it was shot with IMAX cameras. Most people lack access to traditional IMAX theaters like those found in museums and science centers. Should they, then, see it in what detractors deride as “LieMAX,” the downsized version of IMAX available at the local multiplex? Absolutely, averred Sonny Bunch, culture critic for The Bulwark. “If you want to truly experience Dune in all its glory,” concurred Meghan O’Keefe of Decider, “you’re going to have to hie thee hither to your local IMAX. It’s just not the same in any other format.” Dune is arguably the ultimate ‘large format’ movie I’ve ever seen,” declared Forbes’ Benny Har-Even. It’s certainly how Villeneuve would like his film, which he characterized “as a tribute to the big-screen experience,” to be seen.
Moviegoers took the exhortations to heart. Half of the film’s opening weekend revenues came from premium formats like IMAX, a much larger share than usual. The average Joe or Jane doesn’t go to the movies much, but they do once in a while. Dune is a once in a while movie. And since the last while was before Covid, the time was right. So they got on Fandango, bought their tickets, and arrived at the local AMC for their 7:45 p.m. showtime.
Twenty minutes later, Joe’s looking at his phone double checking that 7:45 already came and went, while Jane is kicking herself for going to the bathroom already. Maybe it’s not too late to buy popcorn. But it probably is. It has been twenty minutes, after all. Are we in the right theater? This is the eighth trailer, there can’t be any left, right? Nope, there’s the AMC logo, no more trailers. The movie’s about to start. Finally!
Except it doesn’t. Instead, Joe and Jane see an AMC sign from a theater marquee reflecting in a puddle. A puddle through which splash legs sporting pinstripes and high heels. The camera then cuts to a woman in a hooded coat. She removes the hood, revealing herself to be Nicole Kidman, who proceeds over the next minute to extol the virtues of the movies, specifically, seeing movies at AMC.
Wait, Nicole Kidman? Yes, Nicole Kidman. AMC Theatres signed her for a $25 million promotional campaign. A minute-long version of the ad plays before movies at AMC locations, while shorter ones are airing on television, the first TV commercials in AMC’s history.
AMC’s logic is understandable. The movie business has taken a beating, and it will survive only if people are willing to return to theaters, something many still aren’t comfortable doing even though going to the movies is one of the safest indoor activities where Covid is concerned. But will they return to theaters if they know they’ll have to sit through nearly thirty minutes of trailers capped by a minute’s worth of Nicole Kidman telling them how great going to the movies is, something they presumably already know given that that’s what they’re doing?
There’s nothing particularly objectionable about Kidman’s ad, in which she earnestly lauds “that indescribable feeling we get when the lights begin to dim” while she watches clips from films including La La Land and Jurassic World. Nothing objectionable, that is, except the fact that AMC patrons have to see it whenever they enter one of its cinemas.
What makes the advert especially obnoxious is that it comes after moviegoers have been subjected to what seems like an interminable bombardment of trailers. Attendees have been complaining that trailers are too long and too many, not to mention that they give away plot twists (looking at you, Jurassic World: The Lost Kingdom), for years. But the phenomenon has gotten worse recently. What used to be a 10-15 minute window for trailers, then 15-17 minutes, hit 20-25 minutes before the pandemic and shows no signs of shrinking. The writer Katie Kilkenny characterized the phenomenon of “trailer fatigue” as long ago as 2014. Thanks to what might be called trailer inflation, nowadays it’s more like trailer exhaustion.
When I saw The Last Duel, its posted showtime was 4:45 PM. It started nearly thirty minutes later at 5:13 PM. IMAX and Dolby Cinema have their own trailers promoting their formats. Throw in Nicole Kidman (who, mercifully, doesn’t put in an appearance in IMAX), and if you showed up on time you’ll have been sitting in the auditorium for half an hour before the movie starts. No wonder the other day at Spencer, as what turned out to be the last trailer began, a voice in the back row muttered in exasperation, “Oh, come on!”
Go to the movies as frequently as I do and you’ll see the same trailers time and again. Some so often that you begin to hope the movie flops. Because of Covid postponements, some movies, like the new Bond flick, have had trailers playing for over a year, though it felt like five.
Truth be told, the abundance of trailers never really bothered me before. Perhaps it’s seeing so many of the same ones over and over because of the way Covid obliterated the studios’ release schedules. Maybe I just notice more because I see more movies in a month than most Americans do in a year thanks to AMC’s A-List program. Whatever the reason, it bugs me now. So much so that I’ve taken to arriving late in order to miss the first ten minutes of trailers. But not late enough to miss Kidman. Thus when she utters for the umpteenth time, “AMC Theatres: We make movies better,” it feels an especially perverse irony given that for the last dozen minutes they’ve been doing just the opposite.
People who are already in a movie theater don’t need to be told how great going to the movies is. They wouldn’t be there otherwise. That message is for everyone who isn’t there. Which is why the ad campaign is fine for TV but belongs nowhere on a movie screen. AMC Theatres may make movies better, but Nicole Kidman makes them worse.