Tolkien – Marketing Recap

tolkien poster 3Two years ago there seemed to be an unusual wave of movies telling stories of famous author’s early days, capturing the moments that inspired their most well-known literary works and offering insights into their personal as well as professional lives. This week another entry in that subgenre hits theaters in the form of Tolkien, turning the spotlight on the author of The Lord of The Rings and other fantasy stories.

Nicholas Hoult stars as the title author in a story that follows him from his days at university through his experiences during World War I, his courtship of Edith (Lily Collins) and the various ways he would wind up telling the epic yet very personal stories he’d become famous for. That includes a focus on the passion he had not only for telling stories but developing fully-formed languages, something that would play heavily in his work.

The Posters

A teaser poster released late last year shows the title treatment with the “O” of his name glimmering like a ring and highlighting a page of elaborately handwritten text in the background. That same background is used on the second poster but this time we see Hoult as Tolkien staring out at the audience, two riders facing off against each other in the foreground in very dramatic fashion.

Edith is added to the theatrical poster along with the men who become Tolkien’s university friends and who form the real life “fellowship” with the writer. All three posters sport the copy “A story of love, courage and friendship” to explain the various aspects of the movie’s story. They also all feature a green and yellow color scheme that’s in keeping with the branding of the books and even the movies based on his work.

The Trailers

The first brief teaser doesn’t show much, but does work hard to draw the thematic connections between Tolkien’s own life and the stories he would become most famous for telling.

The full trailer, introduced by Hoult and Collins, introduces us to Tolkien and his passion for both languages and telling stories. Those stories we see are metaphors for the violence and terror of war as well as the brotherhoods and fellowships formed during such conflicts. It used sweeping, dramatic music to help underscore the story, but in doing so it presents it as a large story when in fact the main focus is decidedly personal. In short it tries too hard to be LOTR, not a biopic of a buttoned-down English professor and author.

Online and Social

Fox Searchlight’s official website for the movie features most all the usual content such sites usually sports, including information on the cast and director along with “Videos” and ticket-buying prompts along with links to profiles on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The teaser was used in a promoted post shortly after it was released to get more people’s attention. The full trailer was similarly promoted after it came out.

A number of TV spots began appearing in late April, beginning with one emphasizing the journeys taken and followed by commercials showing how Tolkien wanted to change the world, the real life fellowship formed between him and his friends, his desire to create a legend of his own and more.

Media and Publicity

EW shared the first look at Hoult in character in late January.

A couple months later the cast and crew appeared in a featurette where they talked about the influence of Tolkien’s work on their own lives and more. The first clip came out a bit later showing Edith encouraging Tolkien to come up with a story and tell it to her, meant to reinforce that he’s a natural storyteller.

Hoult talked about playing someone who so fully realized the worlds he was creating and the responsibility of portraying a real person. Collins was interviewed about how she wants to show the role Edith played in Tolkien’s life and his creative process. The two stars appeared together on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie with LOTR super-fan Stephen Colbert.

A minor speed bump emerged when the Tolkien family released a statement last month saying they did not endorse the movie, making it clear they had not seen it and so couldn’t speak to any particular scene or story element but simply didn’t approve of any biopic. Director Dome Karukoski responded not long after saying working with the estate would have created more problems than it solved since it would have lead to a compromised vision in some manner.

A featurette from late April emphasized the love story at the heart of the movie that compliments Tolkien’s creation of his fantasy worlds. Another explained why the filmmakers chose the parts of the writer’s life they did and how they wanted to change the perception of who he was.

Another clip showed Tolkien flummoxing his professor with his audacity in creating new languages to tell the stories he wanted to.

The Montclair Film Festival held in New Jersey last week hosted an advance screening of the movie with Colbert acting as master of ceremonies, interviewing the cast and talking about his own fandom for the author’s works.

Just before the movie hit theaters another featurette was released showing the cast talking about what a legend Tolkien was while a final clip featured him in conversation with his university friends.

Overall

The campaign doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from those for the movies mentioned in my article linked at the top. It shows all the usual beats, from him seeking comrades who understand him to being traumatized in some manner to finding the love of his life, someone who will support him in his work. The branding of the title treatment and other imagery works hard to build the connection between this and Tolkien’s work, which is understandable even if it comes off as a bit heavy handed at times.

Aside from that, Hoult and Collins seem to be doing good work here, though the latter’s role seems to be more or less thankless as many similar parts do. Still, it’s a nicely dramatic story being sold in a marketing campaign that likely won’t break through the full-scale barrages of Avengers and Aladdin.

Picking Up the Spare

There were more profiles of Hoult as well as a joint interview with him and Collins on the making of the movie. 

Darkest Hour – Marketing Recap

darkest hour poster 3Winston Churchill is having his moment in the spotlight. His presence was felt, though not seen, in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk earlier this year and has appeared in a couple different TV shows recently, including Netflix’s “The Crown.” Now an integral part of Churchill’s life is coming to the big screen as he’s played by Gary Oldman in director Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour.

The movie follows Churchill in the time immediately before and after he becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain. That’s the same time Nazi Germany is rolling across Europe, a fate some in British government wish to avoid by signing a peace treaty. Having seen how Hitler has honored other treaties, Churchill insists on rejecting that approach and instead using the military to stand against encroaching fascism. To do so he’ll have to rally not only the government but the nation.

The Posters

“Never never never surrender” is the copy on the U.S. one-sheet, with that copy laid over a red-tinted photo of Oldman as Churchill. That’s a powerful message, especially in today’s political climate. The message at the top makes it clear that this comes from the director of Atonement, which should help draw in the fans of that movie.

Another handful of posters came later. One proclaimed Churchill as “A man with the heart of a nation” as it showed Oldman in character, his face largely obscured by a huge trail of smoke emanating from his cigar. Another showed only the bottom of his face and used the copy “Never give up. Never give in.” A third showed more of the man himself, with similar copy used. All make sure you know this comes from the director of Atonement.

The Trailers

As the trailer starts we hear how those in power don’t really care for Churchill or his policies or politics. Still, he’s been selected and he immediately inherits a calamitous situation in the war. While those around him are talking peace and negotiations, he pushes for continued resolve to avoid a fate worse than defeat.

It’s all very tense, a feeling that’s aided by the mounting music. These are moments anyone who’s paid attention in high school social studies class should recognize and Oldman brings them to life wonderfully. Wright’s usual cinematic flair is also on display here and that’s a substantial draw.

Another short trailer shows the obstacles, especially those internally, Churchill faced as he assumed power. It’s meant to be very tense, with the tick-tock beat and the constant cutting away from his political machinations and footage from the war he was trying to win.

Online and Social

The primary trailer opens the official website. Close that and you’re taken to a landing page featuring full-screen video clips in the background, promos to buy tickets or subscribe to the Focus Features newsletter as fellas links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feed.

Scroll down the page and you see the standard Focus site template. Content starts with an “About” synopsis and cast list but then photos, social updates, videos, review quotes and other material is mixed together in the usual style. Many of the behind-the-scenes production photos are presented in black-and-white, giving them the appearance of being historical, or at least showing them in a way that evokes the history being told.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There are a few online ads I’ve seen that have used variations on the key art as well as a handful of social ads that repurposed the trailers. No TV spots appear to have been run, or if they did they’re not being made available online.

Media and Publicity

The first look at the movie presented an almost-unrecognizable Oldman in character as Churchill. The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as at Telluride.

The movie’s appearance at Telluride resulted in generally positive reviews and praise for Oldman’s performance as Churchill, which was pegged as a potential awards contender. While at TIFF, Thomas spoke extensively about the research she did into who Clementine was and the relationship she and her husband had, as well as how the production reignited her desire to work in films again. Both Oldman and Thomas also talked about the intimidation they felt taking on two such powerful historical figures.

In conjunction with some efforts by Focus Features to actively involve them, descendants of the Churchills, as well as experts in the history of the period, endorsed the film as largely accurate, giving it their seal of approval.

Writer/author Anthony McCarten addressed the reality that there’s a wave of Churchill projects in popular culture right now, something he attributed to nostalgia for the days when leaders took decisive and defiant stances, not walking back statements when they turn out to be less popular than intended.

Oldman did some media appearances, as did Thomas, showing up on late night talk shows to promote the movie and engage in hijinks with the hosts. He also continued talking about how difficult the role was physically, both from a makeup point of view and just the effort to embody Churchill and his mannerisms.

There was also a profile of Lily James, who plays Churchill’s loyal secretary in the movie, where she talked about researching the real person, working with Oldman and more. Thomas talked about doing the same sort of research into Clementine Churchill as well as her insistence that the character in the story be just as fully fleshed-out and integral as the woman was in real life. Wright also spoke about the challenges of production, including sometimes showing Churchill to be less than perfect.

Overall

You can argue that the last thing the world needs is an overwrought period drama. Some people in our current surreal political world may even argue that there were fine people on both sides and that glorifying Churchill means discounting the viewpoints of those on the other side of…World War II. I’m struck, though, by the comments made by McCarten when he mentions that the world is lacking decisive leaders willing to take a stand for what they know to be right for everyone, not just themselves.

That message is there in the campaign, even if it’s not at the forefront. Watch the trailer and you hear Churchill’s critics deride him as being interested only in self-aggrandizement. He’s not afraid to take on the burden of making the hard calls and ruffling the feathers of anyone who would try to lead him down a more cautious path. If the audience isn’t too busy seeking fluffy entertainment that distracts them from the problems of the world this weekend, it might just find inspiration in this story.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.