The policy video which precedes a movie – the one that tells you there’s no smoking (in case you’re coming to the theater from 1993 or Bulgaria), no talking, and concessions are available for purchase in the lobby – is a little like the bread a restaurant provides before your meal. It’s not why you’re there, but, if done right, it whets your appetite for what’s to come.
There is a gold standard in this form.
REGAL – ROLLER COASTER
It hits all the essential notes, informing and engaging the audience in a fantastical journey. The admonitions against littering and the advertisements for Cookie Dough Bites are not primary in this story – they are merely accompanying the viewer traversing along the filmstrip. There are thrills, but never true danger, and at the end we get the sense of that moment Semisonic so eloquently described in 1998, where every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
(Query, however, where this roller coaster ride takes place – on a planet that has two moons at 0:27, moderate proximity to what appears to be Saturn at 0:32, and even greater proximity to Earth in 0:36. Perhaps this is some fully terraformed Mars, serving to remind us all that modernity may force us to flee our current home planet.)
The Regal Roller Coaster is a perfect prelude because it creates anticipation – for what does not matter. If only all policy videos were so lovingly crafted.
CINEMARK – FRONT ROW JOE
Though it starts in a strikingly similar way to Regal’s video, Cinemark fails to give us any context for the filmstrip journey. Even more problematically, thirty seconds elapse without any information provided other than “we have tickets to Cinemark” – a statement so unnecessary that it insults the audience’s intelligence. At 0:50, we are told Cinemark has many fine arcade games to enjoy before the show. Again, this revelation is less than timely.
Cinemark does, one minute into the video, finally reveal the sort of behavior that they want to prevent: talking, kicking away the popcorn of fellow moviegoers, and placing feet on someone else’s shoulders. Setting the bar so dreadfully low sends the wrong message, however – it suggest that I may whisper and merely rest my head on a stranger’s lap, instead.
At its core, where Cinemark goes astray is simple: it relies primarily on audio to tell a story in a predominantly visual medium. You wouldn’t lead a tour of the National Portrait Gallery by inviting visitors to smell the materials of the frames, Cinemark.
UNITED ARTISTS – WORDSPLOSION
Here, the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. UA has gone far, far too wordy here – it takes 24 words just to ask people to throw away their garbage. Music and sound effects can only do so much to cover up what this really is: a PowerPoint presentation. The truth is, this video loses any chance of succeeding six seconds in with just three poorly chosen words: “May We Suggest.” Show, don’t tell, United Artists. But if you are going to tell, don’t ask for audience permission.
NATIONAL AMUSEMENTS – SONIC THE HEDGEHOG BONUS LEVEL
There’s a lot to like about this policy video – it’s well-paced, it’s visually engaging, and it avoids unnecessary judgment of the audience. But using “Gift Certificates Available” as the final advisory before wishing us a pleasant moviegoing experience seems like a misstep. It drags us, jarringly, out of the escapist moment which we seek and back into the world we are trying to forget, a world where there are birthdays and holidays to remember and anxiety over whether a gift certificate seems thoughtless and how much do you even get someone for a twelfth birthday. It’s not the embrace of commerce that I object to. It’s just the timing.
REGAL – PEPSI COWPOKE
Finally, a warning. Success is not hereditary. The same theater that delighted us with a thrill ride from an unknown yet somehow familiar future can bring us this heavy-handed piece of corporate thuggery. Pepsi Girl is clearly not the law in this town (thus the off-screen cry for the sheriff), and so her edicts seem entirely personal and arbitrary, not connected to our larger social contract. This video is, amazingly, both too cute and too dark. Why would you want us to think a movie is something we must simply survive, Regal? Better to leave this sad chapter in policy videos to history’s dustbin.