I went out to the movies last weekend. You may have noticed I do that occasionally. I went and saw the new Disney thing, Mulan. It's pretty good, but I hated the songs. And the portrayal of Huns is rather one-sided and unsympathetic, so anyone with pro-Hun leanings may be offended.
But that's not my point. While I was wandering from one cinema to the next, deciding on what to spend my hard-earned money and precious time watching, I happened across a large display poster for the new Mel Gibson vehicle, Lethal Weapon 4. Hard to believe, I know. I thought they were stretching it a bit with the third one - a film that broke new ground by dispensing with such cliched cinematic baggage as plot. I also thought Gibbo was above and beyond the old action movie gig these days, what with an Oscar for the blue-face flick. Oh well, I suppose if they offered me $US20 million to do another Lethal Weapon movie, I'd be tempted too. And somewhat perplexed.
But that's not my point. The slogan on the poster, promoting the film, read as follows: "The faces you know. The action you expect". The images on the poster are of Gibbo, Danny Glover ("Glovo"?), Rene Russo ("Russo", I guess), Joe Pesci (why does he do these things?), Chris Rock and Jet Li. I don't know about you, but I've never seen nor heard of Chris Rock and Jet Li. Hardly what I would call "faces I know". Anyone know what the rules are about false advertising on cinema posters? Before you write in, I have looked these actors up on the Internet Movie Database and it does appear I've seen them in one or two things. Chris Rock played "parking valet" in Beverly Hills Cop II, and Jet Li was in all those "Once Upon A Time In China" movies. What I'm getting at is that they are anything but familiar to me. Sheesh.
A bit jaded
But that's not my point. I know the cinema-going public has become a bit jaded of late with sequelae and related Hollywood detritus such as "follow-ups". But I didn't think we'd reached the point yet where having nothing new to offer is considered a positive selling point. Why didn't the promoters simply say "Lethal Weapon 4: Same old rubbish, but you liked it last time", or "We know you don't like surprises"?
My mind immediately raced to other imminent films where this kind of "don't expect too much" promotion might be effective: "Free Willy 4: how many times can you milk a whale?" and "Halloween 7: nine out of 10 fans can't tell the difference". It occurs to me that this is a fantastic approach to selling a sequel.
No one's going to believe you if you say it will be unexpected and vastly different to its predecessors - you might as well be saying John Howard is telling the truth this time round. The smart thing is to keep expectations low. No one who didn't see the first three is going to hop in for the fourth, so just keep a reasonable number of your existing fans coming back, and the box office will ring happily.
Then, if there actually is something worth watching, you're on a winner with repeat business.
But that's not my point. The Lethal Weapon poster reminded me of a story in last week's ARN (actually, it was on the front page), about Microsoft hosing down expectations of Windows NT 5. Apparently, the company is telling its sales force to tell users that the OS starts up more slowly than it really does, so that they'll be pleasantly surprised when it's quicker than expected. Microsoft has bet its rather large farm on NT 5, but this was only one of many examples of the way in which it's talking the product down. It's a different sort of approach: tell people they can't have a product, and even when they get it they really won't like it, and they'll want it all the more. You have to admire the chutzpah.
Ultimately, my intention is to see Lethal Weapon 4. I did indeed like the first three, although I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which was which. The dearth of good action movies on the market recently means I'm a little hungry for something even vaguely entertaining, and I expect Gibbo will be watchable at the very least. Likewise, Windows NT 5 has no significant competition. No one seems to expect it will be great, but it will at the very least be a usable enterprise operating system. So expect gazillions of people to buy it when it hits the streets. Even if it isn't very good, it will probably be better than Microsoft is letting on, and therefore wildly successful.
And that, I suppose, is my point.