When Hollywood hypes a movie, video games often win the most

My nephew excitedly phoned around Thanksgiving to tell me that the new "King Kong" was in stores.

My nephew excitedly phoned around Thanksgiving to tell me that the new "King Kong" was in stores.

My nephew excitedly phoned around Thanksgiving to tell me that the new "King Kong" was in stores.

How can that be? The film hadn't hit theaters yet. Turns out it was the computer game, not the feature film, that sparked his enthusiasm. The pre-teen set lives in the world of games, not movies. Computer games generate three times more revenue than movie exhibitions and rentals. For Hollywood studios, ancillary interactivity products are a necessary means of sustaining economic models. One executive tells me, "Publicity campaigns for theatrical exhibition increasingly serve as mere platforms for video games, DVD releases, and Academy Award-stumping. The theatrical release is a means to an end, not the end in itself."

An exaggeration, certainly, but there's truth to it. Like Paris Hilton, film-release campaigns still hog disproportionate media space and mainstream attention, which is why lame ducks like Aeon Flux get ten times the ink of a typical computer game issue- even though the latter makes substantially more money. The adult public's fancy remains fixated on well-known Hollywood types, reflected by titles like Time and Entertainment Weekly, which devoted cover stories to Peter Jackson's remake of the aforementioned King Kong and Steven Spielberg's Munich. Spielberg burned holes on the red carpet promoting his noisy and disappointing remake of War of the Worlds, but is smartly staying away from the press prior to Munich's release, the Time story being an exclusive.

I stopped by the set of Munich this summer, and found it to be the quietest and seemingly best organized production I'd seen. I'm sure there was plenty of shooting days when loud action stunts echoed down the streets, but on this particular evening it was library still. Not too hard to imagine that even as the movie was still being made a few filmmakers were fantasizing about their Oscar acceptance speeches.

The publicity campaign for Kong, on the other hand, is purely carnival-like, "see the great ape" hype. Product tie-ins, cross-promotions, and tons of ads are being tossed into the mix, and anything less than a $500 million worldwide gross will be considered disappointing. Indeed, some are even whispering that James Cameron is about to be supplanted by a hairy new King of Hollywood. One that, though much bigger and more menacing, is rumored to be easier to deal with.

Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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