With Neil Blomkamp’s newest film Chappie now in theaters we decided to take a look back at how the focus of its advertising shifted leading up to its release.
Starting from the beginning–a logical choice–let’s take a look at the first trailer.
The initial ad for this is a two-minute invitation to “meet Chappie.” The titular robot is openly referred to as a “child” in this trailer, and early on people are shown interacting with him as though he were a lost puppy. He’s shown learning his name, learning what art is, learning what consciousness is. The action is saved for the end, and kept to a relative minimum, and even in the midst of scenes of gunfire and explosions we have Chappie declaring that he is “alive.” The first trailer is about 90% heart, 10% thrills and excitement, and ends with Chappie triumphantly jumping toward nothing in particular while calmly, confidently re-stating his name.
The second trailer takes an immediate turn toward action. The music is more fiery and rousing this time around, and the trailer starts off by establishing the conflict and spotlighting the villain, Vincent Moore, portrayed by Hugh Jackman. Nonetheless, even with more gunplay and fireballs on display, we still have Chappie’s creator calling his sentient robot “special,” and Chappie stating outright that he has a will to live, further humanizing him. The fighting is shown as necessary for Chappie’s survival, while the villain is shown taunting Chappie for not being, “real.” So we still have that Pinocchio “real boy” theme front and center here, just with a more exciting presentation.
One notable difference between the first and second trailer can be seen in the shot below; instead of seemingly leaping in triumph, Chappie is now leaping toward an adversary.
The U.K. trailer straddles the line between the first and second trailer. It is notable, though, in that it marks the first instance in any of the trailers that a character suggests that Chappie is saving the “the future of the planet” and protecting mankind, as opposed to simply discovering his own consciousness and fighting for his own survival.
Then the television campaign started, and that’s where the shift in focus really ramped up. The tagline of the first TV ad states “His Mission is to Save Mankind.” Chappie’s creator who once called him “special” and was telling him he could learn and become anything he wanted to be is now saying he’s the “only one who can save us.” The inspirational robo-Pinocchio theme is dead. Chappie is strictly an action hero.
Around the same time that the television spots started to roll out, Chappie got a new poster with the tagline “Humanity’s Last Hope Isn’t Human”. Compare that to an earlier poster and an international poster where Chappie is basically portrayed as a lovable kindergartner who happens to have a gun nearby.
More TV ads reinforce that Chappie is a soldier fighting for humankind and saving the world. Earlier questions and suggestions about how his artificial intelligence could be a world-changing threat to humanity are effectively abandoned. His developing consciousness, capacity to learn and will to live are hardly alluded to. Eventually, in the final television spot, Chappie is reduced to being a weapon. He is captured and reprogrammed by “The People” so he can be used against the oppressive authority that created him.
At this point, as presented in the advertising, Chappie isn’t even the hero of the movie that bears his name anymore. The humans are the real heroes, and Chappie is merely an instrument of their “revolution” against a corrupt authoritarian government.
One small consequence of this ad shift that I find interesting is that the movie’s title is a much better fit for the first trailer than it is for anything that comes after. As my partner mentioned in another article, Chappie is a pretty goofy name for an action flick. It’s hard not to laugh at the gruff voice-over artist trying to say the word Chappie as grimly as possible at the end of the television ads.
There are any number of potential reasons for this change in focus. Sony may have thought that the action angle would sell better than the inspirational “self-discovery” angle. Maybe they feared audiences wouldn’t take to a movie where the good guy is an artificially intelligent machine whose very existence is, according to the villains, a threat to humankind. Years of Terminator movies have taught moviegoers that self-aware robots with guns who are out for their own survival tend to destroy human civilization, after all. Maybe they wanted to take things in a more “serious” direction to try to deflect all of the simplifying Chappie / Short Circuit comparisons. Whatever the reason, the changed direction of the advertising is evident. It remains to be seen if the film will find financial success, and if that decision to shift the focus of the ads will be validated.