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‘Lantern’ lights way for DC brands

Warners launches massive coordinated effort for pic

Executives at Warner Bros. have slipped on their power rings and hope to conjure up more than just a new film franchise when “Green Lantern” takes flight at megaplexes today.

With the live-action launch of the superhero, portrayed by Ryan Reynolds as jet fighter-turned-space cop Hal Jordan, the studio is giving its various divisions the first of several DC properties to collectively rally around.

In the past, WB’s TV and animation divisions, consumer products arm, direct-to-homevideo shingle Warner Premiere independently produced their own merchandise based on DC characters, without tie-ins to a particular film at the B.O. or the close involvement of DC itself.

The 71-year old Green Lantern character, introduced by writer Bill Finger and artist Martin Nodell in 1940, was getting that same treatment. But since the studio took control of DC Comics and rebooted it as DC Entertainment last year, WB has been taking a more Disney-like approach, aiming to carefully orchestrate how its characters are employed across the company to help each arm get the most from a film’s bow.

“Green Lantern” is being used as a test case as WB strives to get more of its comicbook characters — which also include Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash — into theaters.

Effort is being spearheaded by Warner Bros. vet Diane Nelson, a former global brand management exec who had overseen the “Harry Potter” franchise for the studio and managed Warner Premiere but now heads up DC Entertainment, reporting to Jeff Robinov, prexy of Warner Bros. Picture Group. Robinov had been keen to take more creative control of DC’s adaptations but wanted to turn to an exec who could fully exploit the comicbook brands while making sure diehard fans would be happy with the resulting films.

It’s a tough balancing act, but with a $200 million production budget, brands like Subway and cellphone maker LG backing the marketing of the pic, and a slew of comicbooks, toys, games, DVDs, an animated series and other merchandise from inhouse and licensing partners, “Green Lantern” has become a hard property to ignore.

That’s not to say it’s been an easy sell. The character isn’t as well known as Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman. There are multiple Green Lanterns in the universe, and the character’s power ring, which chooses the wearer, can create basically whatever its possessor wants.

To introduce Green Lantern to moviegoers, the studio turned to Martin Campbell, who has experience nurturing franchises as the helmer of “GoldenEye,” which launched Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, and “Casino Royale,” which did the same for Daniel Craig. He had also put Antonio Banderas behind the “Zorro” mask for Sony.

But less than three months before its launch, Warner was still trying to establish the film’s identity clearly among potential ticket buyers.

A teaser trailer attached to “Harry Potter” last November was criticized by fanboys, forcing WB worldwide marketing chief Sue Kroll to relaunch the campaign. The hitch: She had to wait for the pic’s complicated 3D f/x sequences to be completed before she could show off more of the goods.

“It’s a very ambitious film and very reliant on visual f/x,” from the planet Oa to digital characters like Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan); even Reynolds’ suit and that of Sinestro (Mark Strong) are CG, Kroll told Variety. “All of the best elements of the film were going to be available later. We went out a little bit early and weren’t prepared with the setpieces and didn’t have a lot to work with. The response wasn’t as good as we had hoped for.”

A nine-minute sequence that was later cut into trailers and TV spots was shown at Las Vegas’ CinemaCon at the end of March before moving on to San Francisco’s WonderCon in April. The new images won over naysayers with more money shots and sold the Green Lantern character as a wise-cracking superhero who appeals to kids and adults the way Spider-Man does and is not like the darker, edgier Batman.

“That’s when the campaign started in earnest, and we were able to establish the mythology, introduce Oa, all of the characters,” Kroll said. Character posters were then released and an aggressive TV campaign latched onto sports events and series finales of hit shows.

“You only need a couple months to be out there aggressively,” Kroll said. “It is important to remind people that a movie’s coming, but there’s so much product coming out every weekend, the marketplace is so competitive and cluttered all year that if you’re marketing a movie a year out it’s wasteful and presumptuous that people are going to remember you.”

Still, WB needed to use the ads to educate moviegoers who weren’t familiar with the property, especially women, regarding who the Green Lantern is and what his world consists of — not unlike what Marvel had to do with Iron Man and Thor. Property essentially serves as DC’s version of “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” spotlighting a slew of alien creatures from various races that make up the Green Lantern Corps., an intergalactic police force.

“The most simple thing we had to answer was, ‘What is a Green Lantern?’ It feels obvious now but it wasn’t to most people,” Kroll said. You can’t take anything for granted when it comes to the mainstream public. You really have to educate people what (a film’s) about. You just have to do it in a fun and interesting way.”

The challenges included explaining that Hal Jordan was the only human Green Lantern among a legion of creatures that protect the universe and defining what the ring and suit do and how they work, as well as who the other Green Lanterns are. The effort built on a number of fronts:

  • Warner Bros. Consumer Products, which earns more than $6 billion annually, is putting more resources around the launch of “Green Lantern” than around any major property since “Harry Potter.” Division recruited more than 100 licensees, including Mattel, to create a wide range of products, from T-shirts to toys. Each action figure and playset comes complete with a Green Lantern ring in order for kids to feel as if they, too, have been “chosen” to be a Green Lantern.
  • Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment produced the vidgame “Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters,” inspired by the film.
  • Warner Bros. Animation created “Green Lantern: The Animated Series,” which will bow on Cartoon Network later this year.
  • DC has published a new line of comicbooks, and an ad at the end of the pic’s credits aims to drive auds their local comicbook shop to purchase new books featuring the character.
  • On June 7 Warner Premiere, working with DC and Warner Bros. Animation, bowed “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights,” a full-length original toon on Blu-ray, DVD, on demand and via download. It had also produced “Green Lantern: First Flight” in 2009.

While all of those products are tied to the new film, those divisions can still build new efforts around the durable core character, who has proved popular for decades, even if “Green Lantern” doesn’t do well at the box office. The property has a legacy that precedes it and a mythology that’s been well established.

And thanks to the film, more people will know about the character than may have before.

“Fanboys are a very vocal minority but represent a very small percentage of the moviegoing population,” Kroll said of the early negative buzz surrounding the film. “It’s very hard when you’re creating a film that’s intended for mass audiences. It’s very hard to keep fans happy. Fans will always have issues with what’s being done to the source material. But there’s a much bigger purpose for this property. It’s a good primer for the future and lays the groundwork for the future of the franchise.”

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