‘I’ll never sleep again and it’s all Will Smith’s fault’: Guy Ritchie and the Aladdin fallout

Hate Disney’s trailer? You’re one of a growing number of strangely frustrated film fans

Irish Times film critic Tara Brady interviews Guy Ritchie, director of the new Disney live-action film Aladdin

 

Not everyone is a fan of Disney’s live-action remakes of classic animations, but few could have anticipated the strange, visceral reactions to the first shots of Will Smith’s Genie in Guy Ritchie’s remake of Aladdin.

“I’ll never sleep again and it’s all Will Smith’s fault,” tweeted one Aladdin fan after watching the trailer. “I think I’ve seen better faked celebrity porn clips,” wrote one of thousands of upset Reddit users. Will Smith sportingly called the many memes that followed hilarious.

“It was very funny,” Smith recently told Empire Magazine. “There was a Sonic the Hedgehog/Genie frog. Everything is under such critical scrutiny. I came up in an era where there was no internet. It’s a new thing that I’m trying to get a handle on.”

‘I’m not quite sure what happened there,’ Guy Ritchie says. ‘I expect the issue was they should have just showed more Genie’

On the eve of the film’s worldwide release Aladdin’s director remains a little perplexed. “I’m not quite sure what happened there,” Ritchie says. “It’s quite hard in retrospect to even analyse. But clearly people had an emotional reaction. One way or the other. I expect the issue was they should have just showed more Genie. What happened was a feathery fish. I think as long as you showed the Genie in his full splendour you would have been consoled.”

Amazingly, the online vitriol did not inspire drastic reshoots or re-edits. That isn’t always the case.

In the 1960s the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma and the nouvelle vague championed auteur theory; in his 1996 book The Genius of the System, the film historian Thomas Schatz elegantly argued that the golden age of Hollywood arose from the intricacies of the studio system. Nowadays the author of the film is just as likely to be a contributor to Reddit’s r/the_rise_of_skywalker thread.

Earlier this month a three-minute trailer for the incoming Sonic the Hedgehog sparked a wave of panic, and occasional orientation changes. “after watching that sonic the hedgehog trailer i would like to formally announce that i am no longer a furry,” wrote one Sega fan; “Sonic the Hedgehog the Movie: What if we were back in the 90s but also, simultaneously, in hell,” wrote another.

Within days Jeff Fowler, the director of the film and a visual-effects veteran, performed a whiplash-inducing about-turn when Sonic’s character design – especially his horrifying human teeth and nails – was roundly jeered on social media. “Thank you for the support,” Fowler tweeted. “And the criticism. The message is loud and clear... you aren’t happy with the design & you want changes. It’s going to happen. Everyone at Paramount & Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be... #sonicmovie #gottafixfast

Hollywood’s commitment to fan service isn’t necessarily a bad thing: the new Sonic did indeed deserve to be chucked back into uncanny valley; devotees of Marvel Cinematic Universe lapped up the victory lap of Avengers: Endgame to the tune of $2.5 billion and counting.

The narrative howlers in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the final season of Game of Thrones show the perils of dismissing fan service in favour of illogical, spoilerproof twists and turns.

The downside of fan service, aside from the vicious anti-progressive rhetoric around the 2015 Ghostbusters reboot, are the cluttering cameos found in the Star Wars films, a galaxy that is never far, far away from nostalgia and nods at the audience. (There are more than a dozen cameos in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.)

As the Sonic debacle illustrates, fan service is now a powerful shaping force at the level of the trailer. The online hate for the Dark Phoenix trailer, the last X-Men film before the franchise reverts to Disney, is intense and weirdly detailed. The film, which has already been extensively reshot after, well, negative fan reactions to test screenings, has come under fire for its earthbound final battle and undeniable similarities to X-Men: The Last Stand.

Trailers are sleek and action packed even when the films are less so. Remember the person who tried to sue over the Ryan Gosling thriller Drive, as, despite the emphasis of its trailer, the film featured ‘very little driving’?

They may have a point. But tearing down the final film in a franchise that has enjoyed 20 years of success is rather presumptuous, especially when one considers the evolution of the trailer.

In 1913 a marketing whizz named Nils Granlund thought to cut together a promotional short for the musical The Pleasure Seekers. As with the medium it promotes, the trailer is subject to vogueish preferences. Aside from some notable efforts by Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford, American trailers were exclusively produced by the National Screen Service until the postclassical era. They were story driven and inclined to reveal information about the final act. It’s impossible to imagine contemporary spoiler-paranoid audiences watching the revealing original trailer for Jaws. The 1980s brought in the grand “In a world...” format, often featuring the late voiceover artist Don LaFontaine, and still plot-point heavy.

Contemporary trailers, by comparison, prioritise dramatic music and money shots, like Rey re-enacting North by Northwest in The Rise of Skywalker, or Angelina Jolie flapping her dark wings to reveal a cutout bodice in Maleficent 2: Mistress of Evil.

Trailers are sleek and action packed even when the films are less so; remember Sarah Deming, the Michigan resident who attempted to sue the distributor of the Ryan Gosling thriller Drive, as, despite the emphasis of the trailer, the film featured “very little driving”? In 2016 a fan of Suicide Squad tried to sue the studio for its trailer’s “false advertising”, as he said it included footage that didn’t make it into the final film, especially scenes involving the Joker.

This apparent bait-and-switch strategy was also on show in trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the 1991 crime thriller Point Break and almost all of the Spider-Man films.

As it happens, a second, longer trailer for the Aladdin reboot has met with a warmer reception than its predecessor. “Aladdin’s new trailer finally gives us something to sing about,” said Gizmodo. “Aladdin’s newest trailer proves Genie is more than a meme”, chimed the Verge. Turns out people just needed to be reassured they were getting the same old rather than a whole new world.

Aladdin is released on Wednesday, May 22nd

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