Brad Pitt Movie 'Sneaks' Into Theaters?
May 17, 2011-The Tree of Life—starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn—is PG-13 rated family drama that seems to be sneaking into theaters. It opens in U.S. theaters May 27 via Fox Searchlight but is only now getting limited attention.
Other than reports from its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Tree of Life is barely making a ripple in the U.S. The website and ads are a bit of blur. The movie’s first poster is a mosaic that didn’t catch the eye graphically and barely communicated the star power with the names of Pitt and Penn. Their names are hard to read. Another poster with a dominant image of a tree is better graphically and presents the stars’ names in large type.
Still, the film has a surprisingly low profile just 10 days before theatrical premiere. A Wall Street Journal article by John Jurgensen notes the film “boasts surreal visual effects and has the Internet buzzing in anticipation” because of the cult following of the film’s reclusive director Terrence Malick.
Fox Searchlight isn’t commenting, though the indie arm of major studio 20th Century Fox has a track record of art-buster hits including Black Swan, Little Miss Sunshine and Slumdog Millionaire. Fox Searchlight also made British sci-fi disaster import 28 Days Later a minor hit on the strength of an online campaign, which is a rare feat in film marketing. But it’s hard to see how Tree of Life can connect as a broad hit.
“Distributor Fox Searchlight has released scant details about the movie,” notes the WSJ. “In April the company launched a website, TwoWaysThroughLife.com, which offered bits of footage matched with cryptic descriptions, including an allusion to ‘the ascent of Life.’ Such glimpses—a boy swimming underwater, an asteroid smacking into Earth—suggest a film that draws connections between the human experience and something more cosmic.”
Marketing to Moviegoers author Robert Marich is quoted in the article saying such a “mood” sell by the website without strong story communications is odd for a film so close to theatrical premiere.
Reviews at the Cannes film festival were mixed, with a press screening punctuated by a mix of boos and cheers when the film ended. Some reviewers said the film is provocative – while adding it is flawed -- while others felt it was completely unmoving. Reading between the lines, the Malick cult will be pleased but broader acceptance looks iffy for the film that is described as a cosmic head trip.
Fox Searchlight is starting with a limited U.S. theatrical release, which is a standard strategy to build on critical buzz. Based on the reception in Cannes, where tastes run elitist, it’s not clear if that buzz will occur. The Malick aficionados are not enough to make Tree of Life a hit.
Fox Searchlight isn’t getting much help from Malick or Penn, neither of which showed up at a Cannes fest press conference that would be a vehicle to jump-start publicity, according to a Los Angeles Times article by Steven Zeitchik. Malick is notoriously secretive and press shy.
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