Yesterday DreamWorks and the quintessential nerd-be-cool team of Steven Spielberg and Joseph Gordon-Levitt seemed to have broken new ground when they released the trailer for Lincoln on Google hangout. I suspect the idea was to have a purely interactive experience, to reach out to an audience who might otherwise miss the stuffy, Oscar-bait that is Lincoln, and say, “No, this film actually means something to YOU.”
A release of the trailer alone would be enough to set off the movie hounds on the internet, eagerly awaiting Daniel Day-Lewis’ transformation and the Speilbergian take on America’s most revered President. What Dreamworks intelligently identified is that appealing only to the film-snob masses would alienate the gads of suburban youth with money to burn from the 7-Eleven jobs they hold down on the weekend. For me, this felt like a desperate coup that spelled two very distinct realities, a) Spielberg is no longer the household name he once was and he’s insecure about it and b) major companies have officially submitted to the idea that appealing to the democratized taste of the internet might be the only way to salvage an extra $200 million in the box office.
Not too long ago just having Spielberg’s name on a marquee was enough to get the kids into the seats. An uneven aesthetic with efforts to both expand his oeuvre and maintain a profiteering middle ground have muddled a great deal of what once made Spielberg’s occasionally excellent movies tick. Now he must sit with hipster-pop extraordinaire, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, not even one of the two major leads (those would be the far older Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field) in Lincoln. There’s something a bit sad about how expressly money-oriented the entire approach felt. Sure it will be cradled in the notion that Lincoln, like Spielberg himself, is just a visionary experiencing “embracing” new ways of reaching a global audience. But don’t be fooled. This is a long time coming and it’s just a thinly veiled way of getting young money back into the media mogul’s pocket.
From an Oscar perspective, this effort might have been Dreamworks’ drawing first blood on something we’ve known for a while. Internet Oscar buzz is absolutely directly affecting the races. People who vote, people who affect voters, critics who vote in precursor awards, and fans are all scouring Oscar websites. What people write about being the “frontrunners” now has a clear effect on those who actually have a legitimate vote on these films. The internet is no longer a partisan observer, but now a link that stirs the pot. Every year, the “Oscar movies” get identified earlier and earlier. Pundits are actually swaying the votes, just as they do in American politics. War Horse didn’t gain traction with the tech-savvy internet folks who might otherwise have been able to help the film a great deal in terms of promotion. Spielberg et al. was loath to ever let such a thing slip through their fingers again. That is why Lincoln, Spielberg, and Gordon-Levitt hung out on Google yesterday.
As for the trailer itself, it was neither here nor there, about what one should realistically expect from an aging filmmaker, well past his energetic prime. Even Day-Lewis doesn’t look all that impressive. Not that his performance can be discerned or really judged yet. I always get the impression that Spielberg could pull another striking film like Minority Report out of his hat, but, in reality, his movies over the past decades have been far more misses than hits (since Schindler’s List, I’d say only Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, and A.I. are of any interest). Lincoln looks like the same onslaught of glutenous, digitally enhanced reflections, wide + low angles, stunning exposure, skillful choreography, John Williams score overload, and on-the-nose emotions that leave little to be decided once the credits start to roll. It’s almost obnoxious to even mention all these tropes since they’ve been discussed ad nauseum, but Spielberg really does play them into the ground.
Watch the Lincoln trailer again, it’s every Spielbergian stereotype all wrapped up in another lamely edited – fade to black after fade to black, really? – 2 minutes and twenty-one seconds.
Compare, for instance, the subtle “differences” between Lincoln and War Horse: