I’m totally the kind of guy who says, “I told you so.” That’s because I’m so rarely right about anything that my ego demands I take ownership of all wins as publicly and obnoxiously as possible. Like that time my wife and I debated the first name of the Sopranos’ next-door neighbor: She claimed, super-wrongly, that it was “Joan” and I countered, gloriously triple-correctly, that it was “Jean.” Was it over-the-top to commemorate this smartfulness-affirming triumph with a series of limited-edition lithographs and display them prominently around the house? I suppose that depends on your taste in art.
That’s why I’m so annoyed that my prediction about BMW Films has been lost to the pre-Internet wilds. In a piece published somewhere or other in 2001 or thereabouts, I might have written something along the lines of “brands creating their own content is the future, and a most groovy future it shall be.” Or maybe I just thought it? Either way, with the first wave of BMW Films, BMW ushered in a new era of brand marketing, one in which marketers untethered themselves from dated conventions of self-promotion.
Looking back on those first eight films now - you can view a bunch of them here - it’s impossible to overstate the prescience of BMW’s vision. BMW Films arrived four years before YouTube did, at a time when most of us hadn’t yet upgraded to broadband Internet service. Dumping millions of dollars into a series of elaborate chase sequences that could only be enjoyed by a small percentage of the car-buying audience… that was an absolutely insane bet at the time.
Too, those first eight videos were much more than ‘roided-up commercials. They featured a distinct point of view, the sort of production values that one usually associates with mainstream motion pictures and the caliber of talent that, at least at the time, wouldn’t have been caught dead in a for-hire operation. Not to go all superlative on y’all so early in the week, but it’s blippin’ amazing how much the automaker got right the first time out and how, 15 years on, the BMW Films model remains very much the industry standard for large-scale (read: pricey-expensive-like) branded productions.
Which brings us to the unexpected BMW Films reboot: “The Escape,” which debuted last night at 6 p.m. ET. Setting aside the question of whether any other brand marketer could similarly bill the unveiling of one of its video bits as an event (I say no, unless that delightful Shia LeBoeuf fellow is somehow involved), it’s a bit of a surprise that BMW made the decision to resuscitate the franchise.
What was there to gain, really? From a marketing perspective, BMW’s vroomy sedan remains every bit the aspirationmobile it was back in 2001. From a creative perspective, there’s only so much you can do with a car and the chiseled jaw of Clive Owen (reprising his role as The Driver). Right?
Nah. “The Escape,” like the eight BMW Films offerings that preceded it, is pure pulpy goodness for people, like me, who believe that every filmed entertainment should feature lots of fast-goin’ chases and stuff done gettin’ blowed up.
The plot, as best I can interpret it: Molecular Genetics, a shadowy entity with the requisite shadowy-sounding name, has cloned a handful of humans. A military-type unit headed by a dude named Holt (the great Jon Bernthal) hires The Driver to help transport him the last of the remaining clones (Dakota Fanning) to… somewhere. The Driver becomes disenchanted with the way Holt goes about his business, kicks his non-people-person ass out of the car, and we’re off.
We’ve reached a point in our pop-cultural evolution where you’d think there’s no way to render a car chase novel (I blame the Fast and Furious franchise and, of course, Obama), but the “Escape” chase manages to inject plenty of life into a done-before scenario. Can I make a play for featured-blurber status? Okay, here goes: It’s edge-of-the-office-chair stuff, dude, complete with perfectly calibrated pacing and performances.
If there’s somebody associated with “The Escape” who isn’t having an awful lot of fun, I can’t tell who it is. The actors hit their notes with deadpan aplomb, the director pushes the pace to a borderline stupid level (I intend that as high praise) and the visual effects/kablammo-maker folks take fiendish glee in their effects and kablammo-making. By the time The Driver has delivered Clone Girl to her benevolent scientist clone mommy (Vera Farmiga), you’re pretty well spent. I mean, there are 23 stunt people listed in the credits roll. This is brand marketing as a collision sport.Does the car look great? Of course the car looks great, especially when it’s out-torqueing a helicopter in the chase’s climactic sequence. BMW probably didn’t need to spend millions of dollars to get that point across, of course, but who’s counting? “The Escape” reclaims BMW’s place of eminence in the brand-video pantheon, and then some. Brands attempting to copy or top this have their work cut out for them.