Anyone who has ever spent some time among the countless pop-news and movie review blogs will likely have heard, likely more than once, a film referred to as, “Gimmicky.” Even though most people understand what this means, let’s quickly go back to basics for the uninitiated by defining our terms. A movie gimmick, as classically defined, is any unusual idea which is included into a film (generally in post-production) for either the enhancement of the film experience, to drive box office sales or some combination of both.
If you’re familiar with film history, then you’ll likely remember such wonderful oddities as Smell O Vision or Sensurround. Smell O Vision, for those unaware, was a short-lived gimmick that had attendants bring in various scents into a given theater to be released during key scenes of a film. As one might expect, this didn’t work out too well and ended due to audience’s overwhelming negative reaction to the peculiar and often odious aromas. Indeed, Smell O Vision fared so poorly that it was only ever used commercially during the release of the 60s thriller, Scent of Mystery. This, however, isn’t a case of too many gimmicks hurting a movie but rather one, rather poorly constructed gimmick hurting a movie.
However, there are certainly cases where the reverse is true, where too many gimmicks are what cause the movie. Even if a gimmick works (something, say, like 3D) ramming it down the throats of the viewers too much can really damage the integrity of the viewing experience. A good example of this would be the 2011 box office flop, Mars Needs Moms. The film, produced by Disney Studios and costing a tremendous 150 million dollars, utilized a great deal of 3D effects, but without actually being originally rendered for 3D. This caused a terrible “uncanny valley” effect that was both ugly, distracting and often, painful to the eyes, and was one of (though certainly not the only) reasons that the film was such a disaster. Mars Needs Moms is essentially the proto-typical example of one film with far too many gimmicks for it’s own good.
As you can see, gimmicks are never a bad idea, but one should always remember to test them before actually including them in a film. Make sure that the gimmick has some relevance to the story, the setting the characters and the theme and never, ever include things just because you think the “kids will dig it.”