The rules of film publicity went out the window in the late Nineties when fanboy websites like Ain’t It Cool News started publicizing movie-set gossip and the results of the surveys studios distributed among audiences at preview screenings. I remember that when James Cameron’s Titanic was getting that dreaded “bad word of mouth within the industry” buzz, AICN had been reporting that preview audience responses were going through the roof, which made the film’s phenomenal success a lot less startling.
Since then, it seems to me, filmmakers have been responding to Internet fanboy espionage in three ways. Some, like for example George Lucas, tried to block it out completely, with spotty results. Others, like Peter Jackson, welcomed fanboy attention and catered to it with video diaries and on-set visits — when the first Lord of the Rings film opened, there was a remarkable amount of good will in the fan base.
The third, much smaller group, consists — as far as I can tell — of Brad Bird and J.J. Abrams, who are playing the fanboys like fiddles over their upcoming projects. Bird, who directed The Iron Giant and two of Pixar’s best features before moving successfully into live-action films with Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, is using selective leaks to generate levels of fanboy analysis that would do Borges proud. And J.J. Abrams is using spinoffs like the comic book prequel to Star Trek Into Darkness to keep everyone talking. It even amuses me, and I couldn’t care less about a new Star Trek movie.