Sunday, July 25, 2010

SALT and "the story" behind it


So, I saw the "much-hyped" SALT movie on Friday. Thought I should share some thoughts and impressions.

It's a good one: entertaining (if you're a fan of Jolie's superhuman proficiency, that is) and most certainly, amusing, especially in the way that it thrusts the Cold War nostalgia at the viewer. They've got it all: "Comrades," KGB, double (and even triple) CIA agents, nukes (I bet the parallels between the surname and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks are not just coincidental), indoctrinated "Pioners", Russian fur hats, North Korea, Iran... you name it!

Image from Pynk Celebrity.

As I had mentioned before, an interesting fact is that the most recent Russian spy story was almost bound to guarantee the success of the movie, or at the very least, make it significant. After all, the key to any successful marketing strategy is relevance to the target audience, and the scandal that broke out several weeks ago could not make the movie any more relevant for the "Western" public.

The best part of this all, however, is that former CIA and Homeland Security chiefs were both recruited to market the movie. Here's a segment from the Washington Post review by Ann Hornaday:
"Even after "Salt" was green-lighted, its producers enlisted no less august a team than former Central Intelligence director R. James Woolsey and former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge to help market the movie and to pre-empt the inevitable criticism that "Salt's" plot is either hopelessly dated or risibly improbable. (The Washington endorsement suggests another mystery: How does a studio persuade the Justice Department and FBI to prolong a decade-long investigation until a few weeks before your movie comes out?)
It's true that, without current fortuitous events to back up its premise, "Salt" most likely would have been laughed out of theaters in its first five minutes, with its Russians scheming to spark World War III by giving long-dormant agents in America their cue. It would have seemed so quaint! So retro! So Boris and Natasha!
Instead, that story line gives "Salt" timely zing and arresting realism amid otherwise over-the-top -- and utterly enjoyable -- whiz-bang action."

I know I'm running the risk of sounding "conspiratorial", but my major concern here is the conflict of interest. It just so happens that not only former Homeland Security Chief, but even the current DHS TV crew took an immense interest in promoting the movie. Here's the promotional video for "Deep Cover: Spies in America" as posted on the Homeland Security Television's Facebook video channel:

I find it interesting that half of the promotional segment for what is, supposedly, a televised discussion of the Russian spy case, is actually the SALT movie trailer...

The program itself, which is now available online, puts less emphasis on the movie; and yet, it features the "top promoters" (as mentioned above) and provides several references to SALT, in the context of "Russian sleeper agents". (Since embedding is "disabled by request", I cannot re-post the YouTube video; but here's the link.)

I wonder if Anna Chapman received any "rewards" for property rights/character use. (Oh, by the way, if you haven't yet heard, Jolie personally invited Chapman to attend the opening of the movie with her in Moscow this weekend. Sadly enough, the invitation seems to have been declined.)

I truly admire the skill to sell!

In the Box Office, SALT has come in second (after Inception, which held strong at the first place for the second consecutive weekend), which is a good indication of high interest on this side of the Atlantic. I wonder if its success will be greater in Russia, and am very much looking forward to reading a greater number of insightful reviews from the former Soviet sphere.

As for images and stereotypes... I have touched upon it on numerous occasions before: it is funny to see so much excitement about an outdated story that's some 25 years late. And yet, this piece of "popular culture" (because that's what it is, essentially) is still a good illustration of just how easy it can be to stir the well-ingrained stereotypes and attitudes for marketing purposes (or, alternatively, how difficult it can be to let go off them), especially when it comes to Russia.

Nonetheless, Voice of America (Russian), too, caught the right moment and hosted a discussion on the movie with the participation of some of the aforementioned former officials. Kudos to SALT-ian public diplomacy!


  1. Germany, in this respect, is so terribly behind on all these things: The movie was just released here yesterday (and since there's nothing else in the theaters, I went to see it).

    I must say the Russian fur hats were the best about the movie! And to see some DC cityscape in the background. Other than that, mindless and uncreative action... yawn? (And although I like the skinny types, Angelina needs to eat some more. She has Gollum feet)

    As for the stereotypes, it was nice to see some Russians as the evil guys again, not Arabs or generalized Muslims of some sort! :P On the other hand, Russian enemies seem to become more popular these days. I don't want to spoil everything if you haven't seen it but in the 8th season of 24 (I guess from 2009), a seemingly Islamic terror group is secretly funded by the Russian government. Uh-oh!

    Maybe, if the search for retro enemies goes on, the Germans will be the next candidates for movie antagonists. I think I'd enjoy that! :D

  2. Hahaha! :) You're so right! Movies always need some "bad guys", and the more realistic they are, the better the movie will sell. The sad thing, however, is that these movies only perpetuate stupid stereotypes and promote intolerance/xenophobia, just as we see playing out these days [re: that Islamic Center issue, for example].
    And well, Germans already got to be the bad guys last September --> Inglorious Basterds got quite a lot of attention...
    Oh, and Russians are the evil masterminds of everything (just in case you didn't know), so yes, sponsoring Islamic extremists sounds VERY realistic, especially given their own situation with them at the moment. I can just smile and hope people don't take it all seriously :)

  3. When I heard about this movie it sparked some interest to me right away, but after looking at some reviews and seeing more previews, my desire to see the movie quickly faded. I'm sure I'll end up seeing it eventually, but I'm sick of Angelina Jolie movies with her being a secret agent. It's all getting a little too repetitive to me. I'm sure the message behind the movie is decent, but not decent enough for me.