Thanks to a preview from Netflix, fans of The Witcher now have a sense of the direction the series is headed with Henry Cavill's version of Geralt. But the public is already taking the test footage as much, much more... and Joaquin Phoenix's Joker may be partly to blame.
It isn't that common for a show slowly moving into production to give fans and potential viewers so early, and so un-edited a glimpse into the hair, makeup, and wardrobe testing, but Netflix and The Witcher showrunner Lauren Hissrich have been punching holes in the usual 'veil of secrecy' from the beginning. In the case of the first test footage of Henry Cavill's Geralt, that openness may have come back to bite them.
When the most negative and dismissive critics of Cavill's casting were told to hold their judgement until they actually saw it for themselves, those promoting patience were likely referring to an actual trailer, if not the show itself. But as exciting as it may have been to see "test footage" of Joaquin Phoenix's Joker win over skeptics, just weeks later, this Witcher news reveals just how misinformed fence-riders may be on the purpose of camera tests to begin with.
The Joker 'Test Footage' isn't Test Footage
By now every interested moviegoer has likely seen the footage in question, revealing Joaquin Phoenix in his final(?) Joker makeup and wardrobe. The footage referred to by Warner Bros. in their official Tweet as a "camera test," and described by the clapper board that starts the video as a "makeup/wardrobe test" - but which is, speaking practically, the first teaser for a film people weren't sure would even include Joaquin Phoenix in the Joker makeup at all. A video with one specific job: to interest people in a rebooted version of the Joker with another fresh in their memory, and give some sense of the tone or attitude of director Todd Philips' tale. And the video was polished and produced to be just that.
With the clapper board almost an inside joke to give viewers the feeling of physically looking behind the scenes, and onto the real set of the Joker film, the ensuing "test" is anything but. Two tracked shots - one of Phoenix in street clothes, the other in his "Full White" Joker makeup - elegantly edited together through use of a spinning spotlight within a circus tent backdrop, all set to "Laughing" by The Guess Who. And all building up towards a final reveal of Phoenix as the new Joker, grinning ear to ear in close-up as the music crescendos.
It does the job of a teaser trailer, while also revealing the finished design just days before Joaquin Phoenix set photos showed Joker in less than ideal conditions. But in industry terms, calling it a "test" could only be done with a wink, or a guilty smirk. Unfortunately, the same basic measuring stick is now being applied to The Witcher's test footage, which has one major difference to consider.
The Witcher Test Footage is Actual Test Footage
By contrast, the "costume and makeup test" shared by Henry Cavill and Netflix has led to some negative responses, mainly for being... well, nothing but a filmed test of Geralt's wig and makeup. Cavill walking from shadow into partial light, rotating to show how his makeup and hair play on camera as opposed to the naked eye, and drinking from a small flask. To those excited about bringing The Witcher to life off the page of both novels and screenplay - which includes those making and releasing the footage - it's not intended to do anything but boost that enthusiasm. For those expecting to be convinced on a project or casting they're not yet sold on, if not openly against, it seems to be nothing but a shot of Henry Cavill in a leather jacket and white wig. Primarily, because it is.
Applying the expectations or responsibilities of a teaser, as opposed to a legitimate look at test footage is an unfortunate outcome, since the open and fan-focused attitude Hissrich and Netflix adopted early on seems to be the only reason this preview of Cavill was released at all. Not as a polished, edited, heavily-produced piece of marketing, but to pull back the curtain at a time when blockbuster movies are filmed under total secrecy, denying fans any chance to share in the experience.
Sure, every asset and bit of content released for The Witcher is marketing in one way or another. But releasing such straightforward and raw test footage assumes the viewer, commenter, industry pundits and news outlets will reciprocate that unvarnished goodwill-- not deem the footage a failure of advertising and hype-building if it doesn't sell skeptics on the finished product... before there even is a product to sell. There's no actual reason to believe that any part of this first look at Henry Cavill is Geralt's final design, as opposed to a test, which it appears to be. And even if it were, evaluating an actor, a character, or an entire series based on seconds of footage is, and has always been a bad idea with comic books and fantasy filmmaking.
Considering the hyperbolic, and sometimes offensive responses to this Witcher series, particularly those hailing this footage as "proving" their doubts to be wise, there's less of a chance fans will get to see the finished form take shape from here on out. Which is unfortunate for the audience that Cavill, Hissrich, and Netflix are trying to reach.
The Witcher season 1 will release on Netflix in 2019.