What is Disney thinking? In the age of news at your fingertips, when the news cycle can come and go in the blink of an eye and buzz can make or break your movie, backwards-thinking studios still occasionally try to turn back the clock and take control of the information to insulate their films and control the spin. But usually this happens when a studio wants to saturate the public with advertisements while preventing critics from spreading the word about their impending turdtastic box office turkey. You certainly wouldn’t want to keep good buzz away from the world, would you? So why is it that Disney, of all studios, is suddenly clamping down on early reviews of their soon-to-be summer blockbuster Toy Story 3?
Press embargos are nothing new. They’ve existed for a long time. But only a few studios ever really bother to enforce them anymore. Even when they do, one of the big papers, like the Hollywood Reporter or Variety, jumps the gun anyway and releases its review, and dozens upon dozens of other Web sites follow suit (our glowing review is here), creating a torrent of reviews that the studio can’t really admonish everyone for at once.
Once upon a time, embargos served a purpose. Without the snazzy little thing called the Internet, it was nearly impossible for the average moviegoer to know anything about upcoming films. Trailers were something you saw only in front of movies, and while films were often advertised on television, the 30-second format (if they could afford that long) was very hard to sell much of the concept of the film to get audiences in theaters. So people turned to the Friday edition of their local newspaper. The big movie of the week often got a plug in the upper corner of the front page and a bulk of the lifestyle/arts section was dedicated to covering the films of the week. (This was why reviews had to include a synopsis of the film – something many critics carry over in their style today – to fill people in on what the movie was even about.) Meanwhile, with very large, highly anticipated films, magazines were often granted special early access to a film to help promote it – given their review was approved by the studio for release, meaning it had to be positive.
But those days are over. You want to see a trailer to a film? Google it. Wanna get a synopsis – with or without spoilers? Google it. Wanna find out if it is any good? Once again, the Internet is there for you. And the people who read movie-news Web sites, people called Alpha Filmgoers (psst, that’s you), don’t make their decisions on Friday morning; they’ve made their decisions long before that. So there are only two reasons a studio would want to enforce an embargo in this day and age: 1) The movie is terrible and they are praying that enough people buy tickets before hearing how bad it is, and 2) they believe that a last-minute surge of coverage by every Web site and newspaper at the same exact moment will encourage people to rush out and see the film.
So when Disney sent out its invitations to Toy Story 3, what did it include? “NOTE: All reviews and opinions which read as reviews are under embargo until the film opens on 6/18. This also includes Twitter and Facebook, all reviews of any kind must be held until opening day.” Twitter? Facebook? Really? At this point, I’m not even sure I’m allowed to tell you whether or not I’ve even seen the film. I’m not certain what the logic of a last-minute blitz like this is, but I hope it works out for Disney. Toy Story 3 is the studio's summer tentpole, and while its financial future isn’t in doubt, regardless of reviews (just check out the numbers for Shrek the Third), it would be a strange thing indeed to see it only narrowly eclipse something like The Karate Kid – which audiences are talking about nonstop.
Toy Story 3 opens tomorrow, at which point I believe I may be allowed to begin tweeting about it.