TEN TERRIFIC TRAILERS: THE ART OF THE AMUSE-BOUCHE

mm06The new trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road is online, and, predictably, everyone is going nuts for it.

Yes, it’s an exciting trailer – but remember what happened with Prometheus a couple of years ago? Everyone went nuts for that trailer too. They watched it endlessly, and speculated excitedly over every last detail and fragment of imagery, and pretty much OD’d on it, so that by that the time the film itself came out, disappointment was inevitable.

(The film’s detractors will tell you that this was because it was a bad film; of course it wasn’t flawless, but I’m prepared to bet that if they hadn’t overwatched and overanalysed the trailers, they would have enjoyed the film at least as much as I did, having seen only a brief teaser and otherwise avoided most of the hoo-ha.)

In any case, the Mad Max trailer is a series of epic-looking images and glimpses of exciting action and automobile mayhem and stunts and big explosions edited to the beat of stirring classical music, revving engines and a bit of scene-setting voice-over. But honestly, I reckon you could set just about anything to the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem, and it would set your pulse racing.

It’s a good trailer because – unusually – it doesn’t give too much away.

Like all trailers, it exists to persuade the public to buy tickets to the film.

But it isn’t the film.

Anyhow, here’s a piece I wrote last year about trailers:

mm03A movie trailer should be an amuse-bouche, whetting our appetite for the film. But all too often, it fills us up before we get to the main course. The trend is Too Much Information. Watch trailers for films such as Paranoia (Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford in an industrial espionage thriller), The Call (switchboard operator Halle Berry gets a call from a kidnapped girl) or Elysium (Matt Damon leads disadvantaged earth-dwellers against the off-planet super-rich) and you will see the entire plot laid out for you, leaving you wondering whether it’s worth shelling out for a ticket to see the rest.

But if you thought Too Much Information trailers were a recent phenomenon, think again; movie publicists have always had a tendency to overdo it. The trailer for Robert Aldrich’s 1955 film noir Kiss Me Deadly even shows the ending of the film! I thought the trailer for the forthcoming remake of Carrie was spoilerific, but it’s positively discreet when compared to the one for its 1976 predecessor, which actually shows the deaths of at least three major characters. But then director De Palma, star Sissy Spacek, co-star John Travolta and author Stephen King, who wrote the novel, were all relatively unknown quantities in 1976, so publicists had to use all the tricks at its disposal to sell the film to the public.

mm05The main difference now is there are more platforms for showing trailers than ever before, more ways of sharing them, more opportunities to watch them repeatedly – and more films, TV and music competing for audiences’ attention. Publicity departments strive to keep their fickle public interested by drip-feeding a steady diet of action highlights or dialogue or (in the case of comedies) jokes in the long months leading up to a film’s release, counting on social media to spread the news, trigger discussion and keep everyone interested.

So now we don’t just have teasers – which are essentially trailers for the trailers – but also pre-teasers for the teasers, which is getting ridiculous. Trailers have become events in themselves. They even get reviewed, though it’s rarely the trailer techniques that come under the microscope – reviewers are more interested in parsing available footage to predict what the finished film will be like.

mm02This barrage of teasers and trailers and media speculation can backfire, as it did with the Alien “prequel” Prometheus, where excessively explicit advance publicity whipped Alien fans up into such a frenzy of anticipation that, whatever the film’s true merits or flaws, it was inevitable audiences would feel let down by the film itself.

But there’s a small movement afoot of intrepid souls who have started diligently avoiding pre-publicity, adding filters to their Twitter streams to block spoilers, refusing to read reviews or related interviews until they’ve seen the film in question, even sticking fingers in their ears and singing “la la la” when trailers come on at the cinema. They prefer to see films as the screenwriter intended, with plot points revealed as the story unfolds instead of advertised months in advance. I’m told this approach leads to vastly enhanced enjoyment. Sometimes, it’s fun to be taken for a ride when you don’t know which route you’ll be taking, or what your destination will be.

mm01

TEN TERRIFIC TRAILERS!

 

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock takes us on a tour of the Bates Motel, and describes the murders – “You should have seen the blood” – in a semi-jocular way which is somehow more ominous than any glimpses of shock-horror footage could ever be.

 

 Contempt (1963)

 “L’Alfa-Romeo. Le music-hall. La statue grècque. Le revolver.” Playful, avant-garde and ineffably chic, the trailer for Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece is a mini-masterpiece in its own right.

 

Alien (1979)

Nowadays we’d have it all spelt out for us: “OMG there’s an alien on board this spaceship, and it’s killing us one by one.” But this trailer for Ridley Scott’s SF-horror classic manages to be terrifying without telling us anything about the plot – and without a single line of dialogue. If I ruled the world, all horror/SF/action trailers would take this as their role model.

 

Femme Fatale (2002)

The two-minute trailer for Brian De Palma’s underrated erotic thriller, set in Paris and Cannes and starring Rebecca Romijn and Antonio Banderas, consists of nothing less than a speeded-up version of the film itself. Jean-Luc Godard later borrowed the idea for his Film Socialisme trailer.

 

Comedian (2002)

“In a world…” This documentary about Jerry Seinfeld and stand-up comedy had a brilliantly funny trailer featuring Hal Douglas, a man described by a Miramax publicist as having “perhaps the most recognisable trailer voice in the business.” You’ll know it when you hear it.

 

Scary Mary (2006)

Recut trailers, which subvert the mood, message or genre of the original film, began to appear on the internet in the mid-noughties. One of the best is Chris Rule’s recut of family favourite Mary Poppins (1964) so it looks like a horror movie, Scary Mary. See also Robert Ryang’s The Shining-recut-as-comedy trailer.

 

Skyfall (2012)

I thought this trailer gave away far too much information – until I saw the film and realised how much had been held in reserve. This is a sterling example of withholding plot detail so the film itself will still have some tricks up its sleeve.

 

Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (2012)

“This is a film about a pirate sailor And we’re singin’ in the trailer!” Here’s a rare but utterly delightful example of a modern trailer acknowledging that it IS a trailer, with a rousing shanty presenting a catalogue of the stop-motion yarn’s assets.

 

Iron Man 3 (2013) trailer “sweded” by Fedfe

“Sweding”, a term first heard in Be Kind Rewind, is the art of cobbling together your own version of a film or trailer using whatever materials are to hand. This Thai DIY effort made with a couple of wigs and hilariously amateurish special effects is somehow more faithful to the spirit of cinema than any amount of megabudget trailers, though it probably helps if you’ve already seen the official studio version.

 

Gravity (2013)

This is officially the “teaser” for Alfonso Cuarón’s forthcoming space thriller, which implies there will be longer, more explicit trailers to come. But it’s Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, they’re wearing spacesuits, and they’re in big trouble. What more do we need to know?

 

This piece, minus the preamble about Mad Max: Fury Road, was first posted on the Telegraph website in June 2013.

 

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5 thoughts on “TEN TERRIFIC TRAILERS: THE ART OF THE AMUSE-BOUCHE

  1. Why oh why has the world not embraced Pirates to its bosom as it well deserves?! I love that film so much. And I am so chanting ‘please don’t suck!’ until next summer because I want Max to live up to my hopes. And I am not re watching the trailer.

  2. Every time I rewatch the Pirates trailer it makes me want to watch the whole movie again. I love it! Interestingly, a friend who is a mother of seven-year-old twins says they all three find it TOO action-packed, though I reckon it should have appealed to everyone who enjoyed The Lego Movie, at least.

    • I used to love trailers. LOVE them. They were like a special treat before the main feature, and I couldn’t get enough of them. Then I started going to press screenings, where they didn’t show trailers (or ads, come to that).

      Now I’m back going to public screenings, but my local multiplexes show the trailers before stupid ads selling cars and soft drinks, and as I’ve already seen all those about 1,000,000 times (and they weren’t exactly a bundle of fun the first time around) I try and turn up just before the main feature, so I don’t have to sit through the stupid ads again.

      Hence, no trailers. But since they’re always so spoilery nowadays, I don’t mind missing them.

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