I had been planning to write a couple of (so called) DC Extended Universe themed entries recently, being both an aspiring filmmaker and a DC fan.
However, there’s been a slew of DC-related news lately, as well as other industry news worthy of comment, so I was forced to change my plans. Then, just as I was ready to return to the subject of DC on screen, low and behold, Warner Brothers released a trailer for Titans, the first new series from DC Universe, the company’s just-launched streaming service. Cue another change of plans.
So what interested me about the trailer is less what was in the trailer itself, and more the reaction to it. If you wanted to be charitable, you might say it was a mixed response. A less charitable examination of the various tweets, Youtube reaction videos and comments, as well as other message boards, will show that the reaction was overwhelmingly negative.
For Warner Brothers/DC, it must have been groundhog day. A similarly cool response greeted the leaked set photographs that merged earlier this year. The pictures showed the Titans characters Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy. Fan ire was directed at their costumes, with Starfire in particular coming in for some heavy criticism.
The main cast tried to reassure fans, saying that they weren’t representative of their characters or their costumes. Some fans even generously speculated that the photographs could be a scene where the Titans were going undercover, or even on a night out.
Well the trailer proved that’s not the case. In fact, that could be a major reason for much of the disquiet amongst fans. Although the rather steep subscription price for DC Universe ($74.99 a year) might also be a factor.
Of course, you might say that disgruntled comic book fans are nothing new. And you’d be right. There is seemingly always some amongst the fanbase of various characters that are unhappy with some element/s of an adaptation. Are some of those reactions over the top? Absolutely. Do some cross the line, embracing things like racism and sexism? Sadly, yes, and those reactions should be condemned by all right thinking and rational people.
All that being said, we shouldn’t dismiss the impact that a negative reaction from genuine fans can have, particularly in this era of social media. As we’ve seen with Titans, thanks to the internet, negative feedback travels.
I’m not saying that the growth of social media platforms like Twitter, as well as sites like Youtube, are what cause fan anger. Rather, I believe they make it easier for those fans to share their views, both positive and negative, to a much wider audience. In the manner that a megaphone amplifies the sound of a voice, social media has expanded the potential reach for online content.
Before the advent of social media, we’d be limited in how widely and quickly we could share our opinions. Nowadays, these thoughts can be shared with people we’ve never met, thousands of miles away. The immediacy that such platforms afford means that a committed Youtuber or a dedicated tweeter can have his or her thoughts on a leaked set photo, casting choice or new trailer online within minutes.
This is both good and bad news for film studios. If the reactions are positive, then a film or a TV show will trend for the right reasons. If it’s not, you can be sure that the negative reactions will be shared online, meaning that a film or TV show might start trending for all the wrong reasons.
There is the old adage that no publicity is bad publicity. To that received ‘wisdom’, I’d direct you to some of the comments that the Titans trailer generated. A trailer is a film or TV show’s opportunity to attract potential audiences and viewers. To do that, you need to show your project off at its best. I fail to see how a “well at least they’re talking about it” approach, as a result of an unenthusiastic reaction, is a good strategy.
The negative feedback to the Titans trailer reminded many of the similarly tepid response that greeted the first official photograph released to promote Marvel’s Inhumans TV series. On this occasion, fans were also unimpressed with the main characters’ costumes, and weren’t shy in venting their views online. The show never really managed to shake off the negativity, and it was cancelled after one season.
It’s not hard to conclude that the poor reception afforded to the Titans trailer might also act like a millstone around the show’s neck. Having the costume of one of your main characters (Starfire) compared to a prostitute and someone going to a disco in the 1970’s isn’t what you want for your new show, especially when said show is being used to sell your fledging streaming service.
It’s said that the thing about first impressions is that you don’t get another chance to make them. Negativity can stick, and the first impression that this Titans series left wasn’t a good one. Beloved characters misrepresented, poor costumes, cliched dialogue and bad lighting were just a few of the things highlighted. It’s going to take a lot to bring those fans back around.
The worrying thing for Warner Brothers is that the chilly response to Titans isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s yet more lukewarm feedback to a live action DC project. Only Wonder Woman has been seen as both a critical and a commercial success, and it makes you question if all of the bad publicity is putting off potential audiences.
There is some good news for WB/DC, though. Both the first trailers for Shazam! and Aquaman met with a warm response, especially from fans. Of course, in order to capitalise on this, both films will need to actually deliver on the early promise. Because you can spend millions on a flashy advertising campaign, but if the product behind it all isn’t up to scratch, none of it will matter.
So a studio can try and seize the narrative, controlling the release of information about a project in the hopes of countering any negativity, but sooner or later a trailer will have to drop, and official stills will be published. And that’s when the internet will have its say, for better or worse.
It can’t have been easy for those involved with Titans to see the reaction the trailer created amongst some people. However, if you take risks with fan favourite characters like Dick Grayson, you perhaps shouldn’t be surprised when those fans aren’t too pleased.
This isn’t an argument for fan-driven content that takes no risks. What I’m saying is that all of these tweets, comments and reaction videos tell us something. Amidst all of the breathless hysteria and over-the-top outrage, there are thoughtful fans who care about their favourite characters, and these reactions are a red flag, a sure sign that the diehard fans aren’t happy. And when the fans turn away, who else is left?