The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest satirical comedy joins a long list of movies that didn’t get a press screening. But why do some films not get previews in the first place?
You’d think that any publicity would be good publicity right? Well certain film distributors don’t think so. The Saw franchise has long been a series which critics are used to not getting screenings for and for good reason – there’s nothing a critic could say about them which would persuade or dissuade someone from going to see them. By this stage in the game (Saw VI by last count), everyone going to see it, already knows what they’re getting and no amount of praise or damnation is going to change that.
But when a film is largely unknown, surely any kind of publicity is desirable? The lack of press screenings is something that frequently happens to horror movies (Apollo 18, Devil and Piranha 3DD are all horrors that weren’t blessed with previews) and with no advanced word of mouth, you’re relying on your marketing budget to do the talking.
Granted screening films is expensive – you’ve got cinema hire and catering to figure in, plus security if it’s a large release. In today’s belt-tightening times, fewer press screenings are only to be expected. But if you have any faith at all in your movie, surely you’d want others to write about it?
Usually the line we’re fed about not getting a press screening is that they’re trying to preserve the twist ending (a reason which doesn’t hold water because it pre-supposes that critics can’t keep a secret).
In fact, critics have a vested interest in keeping plot twists under wraps for the very good reason that their readers often don’t want their movies spoiled and will stop reading reviews by that author if that happens. Thus, The Cabin In The Woods which is one of the best films of the year became quite tricky to review because the less you know about it the better. Even those reviewers who decided to reveal the twists labelled their reviews with spoilers. Critics are movie fans too; we do understand the desire not to have a film’s reveal ruined.
Critics automatically get suspicious when a film is only given one preview the week of release (as was the case with Dark Shadows last week), as it usually indicates that a studio wants to bury a bad film and any advanced reviews will negatively impact on marketing.
That I suppose is fair enough but no screening at all means that a few dedicated critics will pay to see the movie and will automatically be in a bad mood – it’ll be in the morning, with no one they know, possibly with a hangover- rather than in the evening where the edge of a bad film can be taken off with good company and a few beers.
So, it’s alarming that The Dictator – which looked pretty funny in all the trailers – wasn’t given a press preview, especially considering the number of clips that were released prior to its premiere. Already, alarm bells start ringing and thoughts turn to “what are they trying to hide?” particularly with a well-known lead and a comedy film, a genre often vastly improved by a larger audience. So while the jury’s still out on The Dictator (in fact, we’ve got a dedicated scribe going to see it tonight, so we’ll have a review by the end of the week), my money’s going to be on “rather weak”