(Printed in OC WEEKLY, August 4, 2005)
You arrive at the theater a few minutes after the movie’s scheduled start time, hoping to miss some of the endless ads before the show. But no such luck: First, there are the previews for a bunch of crappy-looking movies. (Ashton Kutcher, Bernie Mac, etc.) Then there’s the ad where they try to convince you to visit the theater’s snack counter and buy some Raisinettes. Then some more previews for some more crappy-looking movies. (Kate Hudson, Jimmy Fallon, etc.) Then there are the commercials for SUVs or Tartar Control Crest or whatever. Then the plug for the LA Times. Then some more previews, for another bunch of crappy-looking movies. (Martin Lawrence, Paris Hilton, etc.) And then, about 20 minutes after the movie was supposed to start and just when you’re ready to fling your Raisinettes at the screen, the movie begins at last. You lean back in your seat and heave a great sigh of relief: all that advertising is finally over!
Except, it’s not. Because now there are ads in the movie, too. The film’s plot is constantly grinding to a dead stop while the characters prattle on about their favorite sneakers or fast food. The camera zooms in for lingering, loving close-ups of their Apple computers, their Gillette razors, their Discover credit cards. You’re watching a scene where the hero speeds through the rain-slicked streets of the city in his flashy car, and you feel an overpowering sense of deja-vu: then you realize that you’ve already seen this exact sequence half a dozen times on TV, recycled into a BMW commercial. (“When you’re the world’s greatest secret agent, you can’t drive just any car . . .”) You can’t hit the fast-forward button on your TiVo remote, and you can’t change the channel. Hell, you’ve paid nine bucks to see these ads on the big screen.
Why have product placements become so appallingly commonplace at the movies? Well, you could say it’s all Steven Spielberg’s fault. In 1982, when Spielberg was directing E.T., the original plan was for Elliot to lure E.T. out of hiding with a trail of M&Ms. It was just a minor plot detail, hardly intended as a plug for the candy. But when the M&Ms people balked at their product appearing onscreen, the candy was changed to the less popular Reese’s Pieces. That short scene turned Reese’s Pieces into a sensational hit, a lesson that was not lost on corporate America. After that, companies began to sneak more product placements into the movies, becoming more brazen over the years until we eventually reached the current situation, where many movies are basically a long series of commercials with the “plot” (such as it is) serving as the grout that holds the whole lopsided mess together.
Of course it’s annoying that movie product placements exist at all, but it’s even more annoying that most of them are so random and inept. Herbie: Fully Loaded, for instance, was a kid’s picture loaded to the bursting point with plugs for such kid-friendly products as Dupont, Nextel and Viagra. (Heh. “Poor Herbie wasn’t feeling so fully loaded, until his doctor told him about a little blue pill . . .”) Companies scheme up ways to force their products into the most seemingly unlikely movies, whether they’re set in the distant past (check out the big NBC logo on the ringside announcer’s microphone in Cinderella Man), the future (such as the endless tennis shoe plugs in I, Robot) or even, as was the case with The Longest Yard remake, in prison. The producers of that film ingeniously managed to work seven mentions of McDonalds into the script—a feat which is the one and only time that the word “ingenious” could possibly be used in connection to The Longest Yard.
What is to be done about this deplorable practice? Well, you could write outraged letters to Hollywood producers, letters that will meet a receptive audience in the studio’s mailroom interns, who will read them aloud to each other in funny voices. Or you could protest by not going to the movies anymore. But then what are you supposed to do, spend the rest of the summer at home with your sweaty ass stuck to your recliner? No, there’s really not much that you can do, you poor, anonymous troglodyte, you. But as a member of the media, I plan to get in on some of this product placement action, myself.
So the next time you’re disgusted by the wretched state of modern movie-going, don’t fling just any candy at the screen: fling Raisinettes! Delicious, milk chocolate covered raisins, low in carbs and with no artificial ingredients! At home or at the movies, nothing beats Raisinettes for ridding your mouth of that acrid taste of bile.