At just under one-and-a-half hours in length, Cellular could be one of the longest ads ever made and, per celluloid minute, it could also be one of the cheapest.
It's easy to imagine the Hollywood powerbrokers' meeting at which the idea for Cellular was pitched. The subject matter of the movie, cellphones, are such an embedded and significant part of our lives there must be an audience, they would have reasoned. The strapline on the movie poster says it all: "If the signal dies, so does she." Then, when the producers got Nokia's backing they must have been thinking, "No risk, plenty of profit, no one loses, everyone wins."
Thanks to the competent direction of David Ellis, some good performances, a sense of humor and a decent script they pulled it off -- but it does represent a new mark in the growing field of product placement.
This extended promotion for the Nokia 6600 camera phone stars Kim Basinger as a kidnap victim and Chris Evans as the guy who tries to save her. The background plot is simple: Some bad cops are caught on film and stage a kidnapping to get the evidence back. Basinger's character is trapped but manages to call a random number by jacking the wires of a smashed rotary-dial housephone (how iconic).
Without a cellphone, the film seems to suggest, adventure, romance, saving your loved ones and the rest are out of our reach. A number of phone companies were approached to sponsor the film -- including Cingular, Sprint and Nextel -- but it was Nokia that liked the idea best and was prepared to see it through.
In return, the camera's spotlight is on the phonemaker all the way. There are even freeze-frames of the phone's screen at the end of the film upon which the credits are shown.
One of the characters in the film uses his cameraphone to video the catwalk of bikini babes strolling along a Los Angeles beachfront. He turns around and unashamedly says, "This is the single greatest phone ever made!" At the conclusion of the film, evidence of having made calls to the criminals snares one of the bad cops. "You should check the features on this phone, bud," the hero says, flashing his Nokia.
This film goes beyond simple product placement. The phone is the star, the cast are supporting actors. Humor is used to to undercut the feeling of being had. The hero desperately needs a recharger for his phone but cannot get the salespeople to serve him, so he fires his gun at the Smiley ticket dispenser to get their attention. A lawyer is the butt of a running series of gags that involves crossed-lines and fast cars.
As US television watchers are now able to filter out ads using smart devices, advertisers have had to innovate and they are increasingly using the big screen to get their message across. There are prominent Samsung phone placements in The Matrix and mobile phone tie-ins for Charlie's Angels. The electronics company LG is omnipresent in the future sections of 2046.
Cellular is actually an enjoyable romp through Los Angeles and not a bad film if you don't mind suspending disbelief and sitting back with your popcorn and Coke for some light entertainment. But, it does set a new high, or low, depending on which side of the camera you sit. And, since life follows art, the Nokia 6600 prototype used in the movie is now on the market.
From the cheapest film ever made to the most expensive. Another record-breaking tie-in with advertising is the new Chanel No. 5 fragrance advertisement that has been shown on local TV and can be seen by cinema-goers when Bridget Jones 2 is released early next month (Dec. 3).