A Universally Unlucky Friday the 13th

MoviesLooks like Universal is in serious spin-control mode. You know it’s a bad sign when a studio has to issue press releases saying, in effect, “Contrary to what you may have heard, this movie does not suck.” Couple that with an ad campaign that stresses the positive comments of reviewers who’ve seen the picture — reviewers who, strangely enough, we’ve never heard of — and the savvy moviegoer is, at the least, going to be a tad skeptical (to be fair, The Washington Post is now running an with a positive Newsweek review, so we’re starting to get a little more credible).

Let me offer a little qualification: I have not seen the pirate copy of Hulk that’s been floating amidst the less-than-licit ’net community. (And is it just Hulk or The Hulk? Depends on which marketing material you see, I suppose.) I am personally undecided about the film — I’m excited about the idea of the film, but I suspect they may have taken a few too many liberties with the character’s comic-book origin story. As for the much-talked-about visual effects, I go back and forth in my assessment; I was notably underwhelmed by the first trailer, but my assessment went up with the second. After the disaster that was Jar-Jar Binks — even in Episode II, when they’d had three years to improve things — I think ILM is past its prime. Any comparison between Weta Digital’s Gollum and, say, the newly-digital Yoda will certainly support that assertion. But again, I’m willing to wait and see.

Universal’s seriously worried about their “tent pole” summer offering, and justifiably so, given the amount of money they’ve spent on this project. And they’re throwing around statements to the effect that the unnamed “website” where the pirated picture is being discussed has destroyed movies before. The allusion is, of course, to Ain’t-It-Cool News and the box-office fiasco that was Warner BrothersBatman and Robin. Now I can’t blame Universal for doing what they can to control the damage, but let’s put things into perspective. Yes, Harry Knowles did see an advance screening of that picture, and he did blast it — mercilessly — on his site. But what Warner Brothers didn’t seem to grasp then — and Universal is struggling with now — was that Batman and Robin sucked. It was some of the worst tripe ever put on celluloid. Joel Schumacher succeeded where the Joker never could: He killed Batman! Frankly, Schumacher’s previous entry, Batman Forever, nearly did, but with the box-office draws of Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones, nobody paid attention to its creative bankruptcy. Ain’t-It-Cool got blamed for the picture’s poor performance, but anybody who actually saw the film (and I only did because I had a pair of free screening passes) knows where the blame truly lies. Ain’t-It-Cool was a hell of a lot more influential then than it is now (see my earlier post for a brief expansion of my thoughts on that), but even so, it wasn’t nearly as powerful as the picture was putrescent.

Now Universal may be accurate in its warnings that the pirated version is only an initial cut, with unfinished effects and a lot of work still to do. And they’re perfectly right to pursue whomever leaked the version to the pirates — that much is abundantly clear. But the truth that — at least right now — they seem unwilling to accept is that maybe, just maybe, the film does suck. I certainly hope not — as I said, I’d like to see and enjoy it — but if it does, then no amount of finger-pointing is going to hide the reality for long. Eventually, folks are going to actually notice that the emperor is really just some nut running across a soccer field buck naked.


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