Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Marketing Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Movie Marketing Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

by Tony Dayoub

The Indiana Jones franchise, while loved by many, appeals to adults more than Star Wars (1977), which is a lot more kid-friendly on its face. Nineteen years since the last Indy film, all the kids that knew him have grown, and the character had dropped out of the public eye to a larger degree than Star Wars ever did. Many of them have started to share the first trilogy with their children, and George Lucas and company have helped merchandise Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to new heights by cashing in on both the generational nostalgia, and on educating kids specifically on who this adventurous archaeologist is.

Lucas pioneered movie merchandising when Star Wars debuted. It wasn't that the market hadn't been explored before. Movie serials and TV shows aimed at children in particular had always used cheaply produced tie-ins such as decoder rings and the like to promote themselves. But Lucas was smart enough to control the rights, likenesses, and require quality of said products. He realized that the right products, produced with care, could ultimately be as profitable, if not more so, than the actual movie it was tied to. And the release of such products, timed to the release of his films, would serve to market the film, as well as maximize revenue for those involved.

To that end, this new movie has seen marketing its take some curious forms. With licensing deals that include displaying Harrison Ford's likeness on everything from Kellogg's cereal boxes to Dr. Pepper cases, perhaps the most clever was when Blockbuster and Lucasfilm sponsored Marco Andretti in this year's Indy 500 (get it?) which was run the same week as the film's opening. Not only did the car have the Indiana Jones logo prominently displayed, but Andretti wore a race suit designed to mimic the archaeologist's now famous outfit.

Here are some notable products designed to appeal to the older crowd:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Soundtrack, by John Williams - If you want to relive the movie without actually going to see it again, or even if you didn't like the movie, but you love John Williams' music, one thing's hard to argue. This soundtrack is great. Not only does he revisit themes from previous movies like a revisit of the Raiders' "Ark" theme in "The Spell of the Skull", but he creates new ones like "Call of the Crystal" and "Irina's Theme". Just as Williams patterned the original trilogy's score on the old movie serials' scores that those films paid homage to, here he pays tribute to fifties movies by evoking one of that era's most prominent composers, Bernard Hermann. "Call of the Crystal" is a theme that recalls Hermann's opening theme for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. And Williams combines variations of "Crystal" and "Irina's Theme" to great effect in "Jungle Chase", elevating one of the weaker chase scenes in the film. Released by Concord Music Group, look for them to release a 4-disc set containing the original trilogy's long out-of-print soundtracks, just in time for Crystal Skull's DVD release, no doubt.

The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films, by J. W. Rinzler and Laurent Bouzereau - This 300 page trade paperback contains a wealth of information on the film series. With just about all the major cast and crew participating, it traces the series from its inception through its newest film. Rich with color photographs (including some spoilery ones of the latest film, so don't buy the book till you've seen it), it even covers some of the lesser known aspects of each film's production (the mine-car chase scene from Temple of Doom was actually a holdover stunt from Raiders). Rinzler is a historian at Lucasfilm, and Bouzereau is a documentarian primarily known for his making of featurettes on all of the DVDs of Steven Spielberg's films.

Products targeted specifically to kids include The Lost Journal of Indiana Jones (below, left), a book designed to acquaint kids with any adventures they may have missed, LEGO playsets capturing famous action setpieces from each film (center), and a new game by LucasArts entitled LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (right) for Nintendo DS, Wii, XBox 360, Playstation and PC.

Here are some other products designed for appeal to kids:

Indiana Jones Action Figures, by Hasbro - Designed to lure kids who are into Hasbro's popular Star Wars line, the detailed figures might instead spark a nostalgic interest from their dads. It certainly has with this dad. Having the original Raiders figure spec references at their disposal (Hasbro bought Kenner a while back), the line should fill the void left by Kenner who failed to capitalize on Raiders' appeal to kids. The original film wasn't designed to appeal to children, but became popular with them after their dads dragged them along to see it. And fill the void they have, already producing waves of figures based on Raiders, Last Crusade and Crystal Skull, with Temple of Doom just announced. Highly poseable for maximum play, but accurate in its likenesses with collectors in mind, this product should appeal to both parents and children. If the Star Wars line is any indication (with new figures still being released annually), the Indy line may be around for a while, too.

Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide, by DK Publishing - Older kids might be familiar with DK's Ultimate Guide line already. They get some well known character/s from pop culture and create an encyclopedia like reference book filled with the character's history, timelines, maps, and color art. Just like Superman, the X-Men and James Bond before him, Indiana Jones has finally got one as well. While a little light on info about the newest film, it covers everything you'd want to know about Henry Jones, Jr.'s life, from his birth, through his adventures in the Young Indiana Jones TV series, through the trilogy, and even beyond into graphic novels and books. For those looking to fill the gap between The Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this book's got the goods.

Skeptical of the current popularity of an action franchise that has been absent for close to two decades, naysayers underestimated the nostalgic allure of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With a current worldwide gross of over $700 million, against a budget estimated at $185 million, an estimated marketing budget of $150 million, plus the cut that exhibitors take for playing the movie in their theaters, only now is the film even close to breaking even for Paramount Pictures. But the ancillary deals have already started to pay off for Paramount, Lucas, Spielberg, and anyone else contractually in for a piece of the pie.

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