The Curious Case of the Dragon Tattoo Red-Band Trailer 'Leak' (In Stereo) [UPDATED]
So it's Saturday afternoon on Memorial Day Weekend, and all's quiet on the movie news front. Suddenly, a full five days before it's scheduled to debut online, a red-band teaser trailer for David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo makes its way to YouTube. It's handheld, reportedly grabbed off the screen ahead of a Hangover Part II screening, according to Sony. There's nothing we can do with it, because studios have rules against disseminating pirated, leaked or otherwise unauthorized material, and it's easier to observe them than to have an angry publicist blowing up your inbox or phone. But what if the studio is doing the leaking?
It wouldn't be the first time, and it definitely won't be the last. And Sony hasn't responded to Movieline's request for comment about the video's provenance either way. But let's look at the evidence:
· An ostensibly pirated, surreptitiously taped red-band trailer has accrued 1.4 million views (and counting) in less than three days -- and has yet to be pulled down by YouTube, which routinely, aggressively polices such videos with its studio partners.
· The soundtrack -- an industrial-electronic cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" by Trent Reznor and Karen O -- is crisp, clear and in stereo.
· As indicated by The Hollywood Reporter, YouTube-watchers traced the uploader "dobvlvstiuwir" to the Netherlands; Sony reps told the publication they believed the video was uploaded after being captured at a Stateside Hangover Part II screening.
· There's no one else in the theater -- no heads, no bodies, no noise, nothing.
· "dobvlvstiuwir" joined YouTube the day the video was posted -- May 28 -- and has no other videos to his/her credit.
Look, this isn't Watergate. Let's just assume this was a calculated ploy on Sony's part to steal some R-rated thunder from The Hangover Part II on a weekend when folks around the film blogosphere had little else to talk about. It's marketing, and it worked.
But from a media perspective, it's dealing in bad faith. As noted above, Web sites and studios have an implicit agreement to work on the latter's schedules; we withhold obviously pirated or leaked material from our readers until an authorized, theoretically superior version is available. It basically reduces us to another Hollywood marketing arm, but at least we have the prerogative to tell you if the campaign is stinky or ineffective. (Or great, which, at face value anyway, this Dragon Tattoo trailer kind of is.) And by observing that unwritten rule, we retain a friendly relationship with studios and their publicists eager to control how, when and where their message is received and shaped.
When observing this rule makes you three days late on the first wave of a phenomenon, that's dirty pool. Not to get too inside baseball about it, either; this is a bigger issue than what time we post a video on the site. It's about Hollywood marketing in general -- how consumers who are threatened with prison time and/or a fine for pirating movies are sold on a movie by the impression that it was pirated. Studios' disavowal of guerrilla tactics by fans eager to get any taste they can of an anticipated film, then the application of those same tactics by studio marketers seeking the biggest viral bang for their buck. You try to play by the rules, but one day you wake up and suddenly there are no rules. The studio, the filmmaker and the MPAA are all implicated in a gambit that assumes you and I will bite at anything, when we've long conditioned ourselves to uphold their antiquated, old-media standards. Because that's how it's supposed to be. Or something.
Again, for the record, Sony has neither claimed nor denied responsibility for the Dragon Tattoo video making the rounds. But like I said: It's a handheld screengrab in stereo. Not too many folks are going to be able to pull that off on their phones. There's not much of a mystery here, despite what you read or hear elsewhere. So I'd just say to Hollywood as a whole: Get your act together. You can't expect people -- least of all those in the media whom you're relying on to get the word out about your movies in the first place -- to purposely avoid leaks and ugly bootlegs when you're the one attempting to capitalize on their appeal. I know playing fair can be hard, but if we can do it outside the studio gates, then you can do it inside. We're talking about two minutes at a time. It's only reasonable.
All that said: "The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas" is one of the best taglines ever.
UPDATED June 1, 2011 12:30 p.m. EDT: Sony has finally pulled the video from YouTube. The official version is available here.