Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Talking about The Shining yesterday I forgot to mention one of the coolest things on the DVD, the theatrical trailer. Kubrick was always involved with the marketing of his films, designing the campaign for A Clockwork Orange as well as selecting the infamous Eyes Wide Shut marketing footage. The trailer for The Shining is just the shot of the elevators opening and blood flowing out of them, with the names of the principles involved with the film scrolling over it. You don't know what the film is about, but it gives you a good idea of the tone and the image of the blood coming out of the elevators is incredibly effective at making you want to see more.

This trailer's brilliance shows how easy it is to pique the audience's interest with a really strong image, as opposed to telling them the entire plot. The best trailer I've seen, and one of the most effective, was the teaser for Garden State. It had no dialogue, just images backed by Frou Frou's 'Let Go,' it doesn't tell you what the film is about, but the images perfectly capture the mood, and in my case made a film I had read a couple of festival reviews of into something I had to see as soon as possible.

I think the main problem with trailers today is that they give away way too much plot. This is not an original observation, but the thing is, trailers now always gave away the setup of the movie. Look at The Sixth Sense, this is a film where it takes a half hour or so to get to the big revelation, that this kid sees dead people, however, if you've seen the trailer, you're just waiting for it to come up in the movie. So, all the subtle buildup is for naught, since you go in knowing so much information.

But, this is something that has to be done. You can't market a movie on the idea that this kid has a mysterious, nondescript power. However, when you say this kid sees dead people, you've got people hooked. My problem is with trailers that give away the second act twist, spoiling an hour, hour and a half of the film for you. One of the worst trailers I've seen recently is for Stealth, a trailer that sets up the first conflict of the movie, a robotic plane that's going to replace real pilots, and then sets up its second conflict, that the plane becomes sentient and goes rogue, attacking people. This would probably take at least an hour of movie to get to, but the trailer shows it all.

After seeing the trailer, I feel like I don't even have to see the movie. I don't think showing more entices you into the movie, instead the best teasers give you a taste and leave you wanting more. The reason Garden State's trailer works is because it shows you all these amazing images, and then leaves you wondering, how do they fit together to form a film. Similarly, The Shining gives you just one image and it's enough to make the audience curious about the film.

There's a whole bunch of other more standard trailers that also work really well. Sin City's trailer owned, a great music choice, cool looking clips, it made me need to see the film, much like the equally brilliant trailer for Kill Bill.

But, complaining about trailers today shouldn't imply that they're necessarily worse than those of years before. On the whole, trailers today are so much more evolved than those old ones which were mostly a collection of random scenes. One exception was Alfred Hitchcock, who did a brilliant trailer for The Birds, which actually might be the best explanation of that film's central mystery, and besides being a film promo, is a really funny short piece on its own.

In fact, today's trailers have become such an art form that in some cases they make the film itself obsolete. In the case of action movies in particular, what you really want is the orgiastic two minute presentation of visual spectacle set to a cool music track. XXX was a movie with an awesome trailer that actually got me to the movie, which turned out to be awful, the moments of coolness punctuated by excessively long, dull action sequences. Still, that two minute trailer is a fine piece of work. It does everything the movie sets out to do, and there's just nowhere left to go from there.

So, what I'm asking for is trailers that give you a hint of the movie, the basic plot setup, but mainly focus on the visual of the film. Always leave the audience wanting more,

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