Superb product integration from Hamilton Watches in Chris Nolan’s Interstellar

Watching Chris Nolan’s Interstellar yesterday, I noted the key role played in the story by a pair of watches – one worn by Mathew McConaughey’s character Coop and the other gifted by him to his daughter ‘Murph’, just before he leaves on his journey to the stars.

The camera focuses on the watches several times and one can clearly see that they are two different types of Hamilton watches. Coop wears a Hamilton Khaki Pilot Day Date watch, whereas the one he gives Murph is actually a piece custom built for the movie.

In fact, this is not just a simple one-dimensional product placement exercise, but a full-fledged, multi-media product integration by Hamilton, in much the same vein as Under Armor’s integration with Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier this year.  Hamilton started off with a slightly customized version of the Interstellar trailer (a bit disappointing, as the only customization is the top-and-tail branding, with no clips of the actual watch scene from the movie.

They simultaneously launched a contest to win one of the watches featured in the movie. The contest website also features the movie trailer and a nice bit of interactivity where you can custom design your own watch; here’s the one I put together.

I have no doubt that Hamilton is going to get a lot of buzz and sales as a result of this superb bit of product integration.

I also recalled the Hamilton watches featured in the Men In Black movies over the years, with the last movie MiB3 featuring a pair of really cool new versions of the Ventura models that have featured in the previous movies.

The Hamilton website has a detailed list of Hollywood films over the years in which Hamilton have got the film’s stars to wear their watches, going all the way back to Robert Wagner wearing one in The Frogmen (1951), Elvis Presley wearing a Ventura model in Blue Hawaii (1961) and the astronaut characters wearing custom designed watches in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which is the movie most closely associated with the meditative tone of Interstellar.

Product integration like this really works; I’ve never given a thought to Hamilton as a ‘watch brand for me’ in the past, but having been exposed to the brand like this through an awesome movie experience, I’m sure I’ll be keeping an eye out for a Hamilton the next time I walk by a watch store!


Man of Steel flies high!

In the first act of Man of Steel, the actors wear the elaborate costumes of a Greek tragedy and enact a plot from a Shakespearean one. There is a military uprising, talk of treason, a blasphemous act and a Brutal slaying. (yes, there is a reason the ‘B’ is in caps). The actors delivering the stoic lines are certainly well chosen for it – Russell Crowe appears very stately as Jor-El and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (who had quite a good role in the 2008 thriller Vantage Point) who plays his wife Lara lives through the loss of child, husband and world with an impressive degree of forbearance. The actors who play the misguided Krypton council have been cast for their strong facial bone structure. And of course, there is the star of the show – Michael Shannon, playing General Zod, manages to impress as a villain in spite of his strong American accent (all the best villains usually have British or European accents, don’t they?). First of all, kudos to screenwriter David Goyer and producer Chris Nolan for having the smarts to take one of the most iconic villainous roles in the DC movie universe and insert it into the retelling of the origin story (I could not have put up with another helping of a cinematic Lex Luthor, after Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey). Second, kudos to whoever picked Oscar-nominated character actor Michael Shannon to play Zod; I had never imagined that anyone could top Terrence Stamp’s performance in Superman II (1980). But Shannon is the real deal. The man has played some disturbing characters in the past 4 years including his breakout performance in Revolutionary Road in 2008. Michael Shannon brings a level of physicality and menace to the character of Zod that is truly frightening, all the more so because unlike Gen. Zod from Superman II who was just a megalomaniac, this Zod actually believes he is the true Son of Krypton and Superman is the traitor to the cause.

And ultimately, this movie is about each man (oh that’s right, they’re aliens) having to decide where his moral center lies.

But before we get to that point, there’s a whole lot of story to cover.

We get to see a beautifully visualized Krypton (with an interesting insectoid design sensibility), falling to its inevitable apocalypse while the spacecraft carrying Kal-El wormholes its way towards Earth. We then cut to the present day where a grown-up Clark Kent playing a strong/ silent worker on a fishing trawler finds himself part of a spectacular set-piece where he puts some of his powers into play.

Director Zack Snyder plays liberally with flashbacks and that’s where we are introduced to Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent respectively. I am a fan of both actors and very much enjoyed their grounded interpretation of these important roles. Costner has relatively little to play with, but there is a very memorable and poignant moment at the end of the tornado scene that will stay flash-frozen in my memory. Some of Clark Kent’s most ‘human’ moments came – not surprisingly – with his mother Martha Kent and these moments interspersed across the runtime of the film give it some much-needed breathing space. I think Russell Crowe, inclusive of his post-corporeal existence, eventually gets more screen time than Kevin Costner, but I don’t think there was really much chemistry in those scenes with his son (and why should there be, you may ask, when the son is talking to an image, projected by an Artificial Intelligence filtered through the consciousness of the father he never knew!).

Amy Adams is a pleasant surprise as Lois Lane. Margot Kidder was absolutely irritating in the Christopher Reeve films and Kate Bosworth didn’t even register in Superman Returns (2006). I was worried that Amy Adams would go the Margot Kidder way, as she eminently is capable of playing irritating and neurotic characters. But she was surprisingly ‘normal’ and sensible in this movie and I’m not sure if the credit for that goes to director Snyder or screenwriter David Goyer (neither of whom I would credit that degree of sensitivity) or to Amy Adams herself.

And so of course, we get to the 2nd half of the movie which features some seriously impressive action on a scale that we have perhaps never seen in a superhero movie – and by that, I include even Marvel’s The Avengers from last year. At some point, I found myself wondering how Superman could really claim to be protecting the Earth when he was partly responsible for all that destruction. Because of the almost total absence of humor, this will never be as beloved a superhero film as the Iron Man films or The Avengers. But, it is certainly an entertaining and suitably contemporary reincarnation of one of the most often-told stories in comic book lore. It won’t take long before Warner Bros. greenlights the sequel and while Henry Cavill will never be the equal of Christopher Reeve in this role, I think he will grow into it quite well if given the chance over the course of a sequel or three.

Answers to my questions on The Dark Knight Rises (SPOILERS HERE)

On July 1st, in anticipation of watching TDKR, I had posed 5 questions (actually 4…I didn’t have a 5th!). Well, I watched the movie yesterday afternoon and I am pretty happy that the answers either matched my expectations or where they didn’t, it was a good outcome all the same.

  1. Will Bane break The Bat? Yes, Bane did break The Bat. But at a different point in the movie compared to what I was expecting. And the infamous, but iconic moment came and went rather quickly. I think he missed an opportunity to replicate the impact from the Knightfall story arc. And I thought it was a bit too easy for Bruce Wayne to recover in 3 months when it took him 8 years to recover from the Two-Face incident (he only started walking straight at the beginning of this movie, using the exo-skeleton for his left leg). Of course, one could argue that the impact of the combined losses of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes made it tougher for Bruce Wayne to recover, whereas on this occasion he was motivated by the need to save Gotham.
  2. Can Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman outshine Michelle Pfeiffer and Julie Newmar? I have to admit, Anne Hathaway’s rendition of Catwoman was uniquely her own…and certainly the classiest one till date. All the others have been enjoyable and memorable, but keeping with the realistic tone of Nolan’s interpretation, Hathaway played it straight without any meows or purrs…choosing to portray the character as a cat burglar without any of the feline backstory or mythology.
  3. Will there be easter eggs or cameos? Well there were none, although a lot of people at the theater waited back in the hope of a post-credits scene. But my guess was right about the significance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake character. Although this particular turn of the story is unlikely to be accepted as ‘Batman canon’, Nolan has given Warner Bros. license to spin-off a Robin TV show or movie…although it is unlikely I think that Joseph Gordon-Levitt will himself sign on to play Robin in the future.
  4. How much will the movie make at the box office? Well, when the movie finished, for perhaps the first time in my experience, the audience applauded. That’s a good sign! I personally don’t rate it as among my top superhero films…it was more of a high quality techno-thriller, but then that non-superhero-ness of the previous entry The Dark Knight is the reason it crossed over to such a wide audience and became a big hit. TDKR does the same and in fact demystifies and deconstructs the superhero even more, so it will similarly have a very wide audience. However, I believe the movies have progressively become more complex and the plots tougher to follow and this may show up in the word-of-mouth. Also, the reason The Avengers was such a big hit was the fun experience, which kept people coming back for a 2nd or 3d viewing. TDKR is a lot of things, but it is not fun…and that will limit repeat viewings. Overall, I think I will stick to my predictions of a USD 175 mn opening leading to a USD 500 mn (up to 550 mn) final gross in the US and a USD 1.25 bn global gross.
  5. Since I didn’t have a 5th question, I thought I would talk about that other Nolan product which came out this weekend…the first teaser trailer for the Nolan-produced, Zack Snyder-directed Superman reboot, Man of Steel, starring British actor Henry Cavill. First of all, what is it with British actors playing iconic American superheros? Christian Bale, Henry Cavill, Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man), Ian McKellan (Magneto), Michael Fassbender (young Magneto), Patrick Stewart (Prof. Xavier), James McAvoy (young Xavier), Hugh Jackman…ok he’s Australian, but you get the point! Anyway, getting back to the trailer, it is an interesting trailer, immediately bringing to mind the tone from the last scene of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator…very dreamlike, or from Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life…very ’60s American. Definitely, with a combination of Nolan and Snyder, both film makers with their unique styles, it promises to be something different. And the closing shot of the trailer is fantastic…I don’t think we have ever seen a sonic boom/ shock wave on Superman before. Got to wait till June 2013 for that one.

5 questions about The Dark Knight Rises…and the possible answers

  1. Will Bane break The Bat?
    1. Yes, I think he will. I remember the visceral shock from seeing the cover of the Knightfall comic series in 1993.
  2. Can Anne Hathaway as Catwoman outshine Michelle Pfeiffer and Julie Newmar?
    1. I don’t think so. Michelle Pfeiffer’s performances as Sukie Ridgemont in The Witches of Eastwick and Madame de Tourvel in Dangerous Liaisons made it clear that she could play twisted. Haven’t seen anything like that from Anne Hathaway…and I thought her performance in Rachel Getting Married was overhyped.
  3. Will there be easter eggs or cameos?
    1. Unlikely. Chris Nolan doesn’t strike me as the sort of director who ‘plays around’ with his material. And Warner Bros. has so far done a terrible job of connecting the dots of their DC Universe, even though they have the advantage of producing all the DC Comics movies, unlike the Marvel guys who have had to work through studios. It would be really nice to see a set up for Azrael or Robin. And, I wonder if there is more to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake character than just being a Gotham City cop.
  4. How much will it bring in at the box office compared to The Dark Knight and Batman Begins?
    1. Batman Begins made USD 372 million globally (USD 205 mn in the US) in 2005. The Dark Knight became a global phenomenon in 2008, grossing USD 1 billion globally (of which USD 533 million was in the US).  TDKR will probably open to about USD 175 mn in the US and will probably end its run with about USD 500 mn. It will make a bit more than that overseas, so will definitely end its run with the highest global gross in the series, probably USD 1.25 billion
  5. Ok, I don’t really have a 5th question!

Looking forward to the 19th of July.

Chris Nolan’s DGA interview: the film vs. video argument and much more.

Ahead of the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Chris Nolan talks to the Directors Guild of America on a variety of topics. Here’s the full interview transcript from the DGA site.

I loved reading that Mr. Nolan prefers using film to digital video. This is music to my ears; in recent times I have been quite disappointed with the look of movies shot on digital video, such as Michael Mann’s Public Enemies and Collateral. Of course, I can understand that with much of Collateral having been shot at night time, the video format gave Michael Mann a lot more flexibility than film would have.

But for me, the possibilities of film were best illustrated in Saving Private Ryan. Here, Spielberg and his DP Janusz Kaminski (who won an Oscar for his work) use different types of film stock, different film speeds and different levels of color saturation to heighten the intensity of the battle scenes. It’s no surprise that Mr. Spielberg is another director, like Chris Nolan, who continues to use film stock rather than video.

My own dislike for the video format stems from way back to the analog days of 1986 when the Indian partition-era epic drama series Buniyaad  suddenly switched from film to video after the first few episodes. Of course, in the case of a TV show, it is the done thing to shoot in video so in fact, it was the film stock used for the first few episodes which was the exception. Nevertheless, the switch served to highlight the differences between the two formats and instilled in me an enduring dislike for the look and feel of video.

Of course, today when we say ‘video’ in the context of a feature film, we no longer refer to the old analog video format, but instead the digital video format which is far more flexible and can indeed be made to mimic the look of film stock, if put through enough post-production processes. Here is a link to an interesting article on this subject.

But, as Chris Nolan says, why go to all the cost and trouble of making video look like film, when you can just shoot with film? This is the same thought that runs through my mind when I see animation filmmakers trying to make animated characters look as photo-real as possible…why not just shoot a live action film then?

Chris Nolan also talks about his preference for physical special effects, enhanced by CGI rather than pure CGI. Again, I couldn’t agree more. I was so disappointed with the flat video game look of the 2nd Star Wars trilogy or Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. Contrast that with solidity of visuals in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element or Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 or Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Indeed, Nolan’s the man! The Dark Knight Rises releases in theatres in the 3rd week of July. After that, the next time we will see his name in the credits is when the new Superman movie Man of Steel  releases in June 2013 – Mr. Nolan has a co-writing credit on the story.