by Curt Milner
The other week, I was waiting for a bus on a muggy summer day when another double-decker passed me travelling in the opposite direction. On the side of the bus was an advert for Seth McFarlane’s latest comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s a film I was keen to see being a fan of McFarlane’s work. I like Family Guy a lot and am always up for a laugh. That’s the transaction promised with a comedy, right? Every time I would see a poster, trailer, or billboard for A Million Ways in the run up to its release date here in the UK, I was up for it, feeling that sense of intrigue and excitement for this as yet unseen film.
But as I watched the poster on the side of this eastbound bus slowly draw away from view some two weeks after A Million Ways was released, something had changed. I no longer felt the pang of excitement for an unseen film I did before. Somehow this attraction had lost its sheen. So what had changed? Namely this: The critical consensus was not good, and my own enthusiasm to see this film was fading fast. Shame. This life-cycle of a film’s theatrical release is a fascinating thing. A film is born on its release date. Before that it is innocent, an unknown quantity, and once it is released, is might sink or swim. I often look at often out-of-date bus posters for films and get a strange sense of nostalgia for this magical time before a film was out; when it had lots of potential, to entertain, scare, engross, enlighten. And so a part of me feels a little sad when I see a film long since released fade from view. By this tie, a film’s noble struggle will have already generated it’s own narrative, the kind that keeps sites like Box Office Mojo in business. Perhaps it was a smash and is still going strong. Perhaps it disappeared without trace. Maybe it just did okay and had a good run in cinemas until the end, as it looks like A Million Ways will.
And yet, despite the critical drubbing A Million Ways to Die in the West has since received, I admire and respect Seth McFarlane’s work ethic, and willingness to push the boundaries of comedy. Perhaps more than anything, I admire McFarlane’s willingness to try and fail. I hope he continues to make many more films in future as I think he has a few comedy classics in him, if only all the elements can come together into the mix. Making a film is hard. Making a successful film is even harder. And that is why I love this medium. I love getting excited by a film in its unreleased, unknown phase of life. Hell I even remember getting excited by the trailer for Paul Blart: Mall Cop. That film was a disappointment for me, but for a few glorious, naïve weeks, I was excited about it, and you don’t want to know how many times I watched and laughed at the trailer. I hope that as time wears on, I never lose that feeling of getting excited about a film before it is unleashed to the cinema-going public to fend for itself in the big wide world. And so to Hollywood I say this to you: Keep sending those bus posters my way, because (*insert title here) that looks like it might be quite good. Also, if my bus is attached to that poster, that would be cool too, I have places to be…