Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, February 14, 2011

When Trailers...and Posters...and Taglines Reveal Too Much: Miracle Mile (1988)

dir. Steve De Jarnatt

[SPOILER ALERT: As is probably ridiculously obvious, given the name of this feature, this write-up contains lots of spoilers.]

Some movies are just plain unmarketable. Although I generally use this feature (I've had more than one entry in this feature, so I can use the phrase "generally use") to bash the wrongheaded marketing decisions of clueless studio execs, I honestly don't know what I would have done were I in their place, trying to sell Steve De Jarnatt's late eighties, bugfuck, goofy romantic comedy/paranoid nuclear-scare thriller/mass hysteria horror film. Who do you market this to? What do you market it as? What do you say about the plot? What do you say about anything? Who are we? Why...whoops, sorry about that.

For reals, though, how the fuck do you market a movie like Miracle Mile? I was lucky enough when I first saw it half a decade ago that I didn't know anything about the movie. A coworker at Movie Place gave me the disc, told me to watch it, said nothing more. Actually, that's not entirely true; I knew a little bit about the movie. You see, the DVD's title menu did have a mushroom cloud, so I knew the movie would involve something mushroom cloudy. (Wow, I just contradicted myself from a few sentences ago. I'm not very trustworthy. [Side note: I should've named this piece "When Trailers...and Posters...and Taglines...and DVD Title Menus Reveal Too Much".]) Of course, given the mushroom cloudiness I thought would pervade the movie, I was in for a shock when the first third or so of the movie took the form of a goofy romantic comedy. 'Wow,' I thought, 'did they put the wrong title menu on this disc? That's awesome.'

Anyway, I guess the point is that it's damn near impossible to go into a movie completely fresh. It would certainly be an interesting way to market a film, though. "Alright, let's give multiple copies of the film to movie nerds who will hand these copies to their friends, never saying anything about the movie. Their friends will repeat the pattern. Everyone along the chain will be sworn to secrecy. Everyone will know about it; no one will know anything about it."

"What should we put on the title menu?"

"Nothing...and everything."

"So reviews?"

"No one will review it. Ever. For the rest of time. It will be unknowable. It will be a movie that is but isn't."

As is obvious—and as I'm pretty sure I've stated elsewhere on my blog—addressing the whole spoiler issue in movie reviews is always tricky. How long do you wait after a film's release before revealing major plot details? Does the quality of the movie factor into this? What kind of plot details are ok to reveal? I don't know. I used to obsess over this shit—making damn sure not a single sentence revealing anything close to a spoiler was posted. No matter how old, shitty, or inconsequential the flick, I could rest assured that none of my readers would have a movie ruined. My spoiler rule now, however, can be summed up with two words: fuck it. I just put that warning at the top and then go to town with spoiler shit wherever in the review I damn well please—the lazy man's route.

Of course, a trailer revealing too much is a different beast entirely. That shit's just uncalled for. Don't spoil the movie before anyone's had a chance to see it. It's unsportsmanlike. And yet, as I stated earlier, I don't know how much differently I would have done things were I in charge of the marketing of Miracle Mile.

I suppose it would probably help at this point to give you guys an at least cursory rundown of Miracle Mile's plot.

[Side note: I haven't seen Miracle Mile in about five years, so my recap will be based on memories of the movie. I know I probably should have rewatched the flick for this blog entry but I had more important shit to do. And by "more important shit to do," I mean I didn't have a chance to watch any movies this week. And by "I didn't have a chance to watch any movies this week," I mean damn you, Cliff for getting me hooked on Marc Maron's podcast. [Second side note: Damn you, Marc Maron for producing such a listenable, revelatory podcast. Hey readers, you should go listen to his interview with Dave Foley. [Third side note: Why aren't you listening to his Dave Foley interview right now? You should go do that.]]]

Nebbish musician Harry Washello (Anthony Edwards) falls for Julie Peters (Mare Winningham) after a chance meeting. The two get they courtin' on and plan a date at a diner on Los Angeles' Miracle Mile (hey, that's the name of the movie). After the power goes out in his building, causing his alarm clock to not alarm, Harry misses his date. Hoping to catch Julie, he speeds to the diner where he is met by a ringing telephone just outside the establishment. "Hey, maybe that's her," he thinks. Wrong. It's just a wrong number from a guy in the defense department screaming that nuclear war has accidentally started. Whoops. Or is it a prank call? Harry isn't sure but he soon takes to panicking. He tells the other patrons in the diner and they similarly panic. Word spreads throughout the city; the whole thing mushrooms with the chaotic mob destruction of Los Angeles as people fight to leave. Harry finds Julie and attempts to find a helicopter that will take the two of them away to the safety of a science lab in Antarctica. We never know whether the nuclear threat is real or a hoax until the end of the film when [SPOILER ALERT] nuclear missiles strike the city. Everyone dies. The end.

[Artist's depiction of Anthony Edwards.]

I know I've already said it a few times before but I feel it bears repeating; how the fuck do you market a movie like this? It's designed to appeal to as few people as possible. Sure, I really dig the movie but I can't imagine many others (you know, aside from the cult following Miracle Mile now has) would get a kick out of this dick-punch of a film. I can only imagine the pitch meeting for this picture. "Ok, it's An Affair to Remember meets After Hours meets The Day After, with a little rioting thrown in for good measure.

"Here's a big bag o' cash."

"Really? Are you sure you don't wanna-"

"Just make that movie."

One of Miracle Mile's biggest strengths is that it's unknowable. Just when you think it's going to zig, it does an eight ball and punches a cop. When making a trailer for it, it'd be best not to mention the dark turn it takes. Then again, if you market it as a romantic comedy, you're gonna get a lot of pissed-off people. (Actually, that would be a pretty funny prank. If only they'd made a version of Just Go with It in which everyone was killed by nuclear weapons.) Of course, this movie isn't about tricking people. The fact that it takes such an abrupt tonal, thematic, and plotic (fuck you, spell-check, I'm making that a word) detour speaks to its effectiveness as a horror film. We don't live in constant horror/thriller scenarios. When bad shit happens to us, one of the reasons it sucks so much is that it usually abruptly fucks up our regular day-to-day shit.

Again, taking all of that into account, I don't know how I would have marketed this movie. The trailer for Miracle Mile, which you can watch below, is basically just a capsule of the movie—explaining everything that happens. It runs the total tonal gamut of the film. Like I said, Miracle Mile packs more of a punch if you don't know what's coming, but I suppose some people would like to have an inkling as to the kind of movie they're parting cash with to see. I honestly don't know how much it ruins the film to know all this. I think I'd still have dug it the first time had I gone into it knowing everything. It has such a weird mix of tones that it's impossible not to be affected by it.

That being said, the mushroom cloud in the poster (shown above) and the tagline (There are 70 minutes to the end of the world. Where can you hide?) are just plain dickish. "Hey folks, there's gonna be 'splosions." Sure, you can tell potential viewers that this will be a dark movie, but you don't need to tell them that nuclear weapons will destroy everything. Most of the tension in Miracle Mile stems from not knowing whether the nuclear threat is real. Hell, even the poster's pull-quote ("Be prepared to be blown through the back of the theatre!"), drives home the nuclear-'splosions-are-gonna-happen plot point. Incidentally, here are some other taglines Miracle Mile's marketing department produced:

The Crying Game: She's got a penis!

The Usual Suspects: Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze!

The Happening: The plants are...ah, who gives a shit!

This is the last sentence.

[The trailer:]


FeverDog said...

No trailer spoiled more than "Cast Away" - I had been planning on seeing it until the trailer showed Hanks knocking on Hunt's door. What the cuss.

One TV commercial made me want to see Miracle Mile so much when it came out but it played in only one theater nearby, in the city where my 14-year-old suburban self couldn't get to...and if i could, it was playing at an AMC, a chain that carded me for R movies in the past (denied "The Fly" and "Reform School Girls"!), so even if I did get downtown, what if I was denied?

Anyway, caught it on video and I was obsessed with it; I still play the soundtrack.

Dave Enkosky said...

You know, I don't think I ever saw a trailer for Cast Away. I was in college at the time and didn't really go to the movies or have a TV.

Yeah, Miracle Mile's soundtrack is awesome. I still play it a lot when I write.