Trying to focus on the positive in life, I think it is high time I devote this week’s blog entry to that supreme American art form, the movie trailer.
It feels like we’re in a golden age for movie previews at the moment, although I’ll admit that my feelings on this may entirely be attached to my reaction to the latest trailer for Logan (2017)*.
Amazing. Tragic and funny. Thrilling and mysterious. The movie will have elements with which we are familiar, but will still be something completely different. I was barely 16 when X-Men (2000) came out in theaters, but now I feel like Hugh Jackman looks in this movie. Also, any time Patrick Stewart says the word “fuck”, an angel gets its wings. That’s basic science. Or, at least, it might be now.
We might have forgotten that hype is part of the fun in the lead-up to The Phantom Menace (1999), but when The Force Awakens (2015) was finally unleashed from the nostalgia incubator that calls itself J.J. Abrams, it turned out that the whole movie—culminating in nothing more than a head turn from Jedi Master Luke Skywalker—was just a two-plus-hour trailer for The Last Jedi. That all being said, the second trailer for the latest non-spinoff movie in the series is one of the all-time greats.
Hell, Mark Hamill gets more to do in just shy of two minutes than he did in the entire movie that followed! But listen to that narration. It sounds like it is lifted dialogue from Return of the Jedi (1983), but it’s different. With the words “You have that power, too” Luke might be talking about Rey or Finn or BB-8 or Unkar Plutt, but we don’t know any of them yet. Luke Skywalker is saying we—the moviegoing public—have that power, and that we need to join him in an adventure.
And we surely did.
When did the Trailer declare its independence as its own film genre? Was it the rise of the preeminent Don “In a World…” LaFontaine? Probably after that. Was it the emergence of ubiquitous “trailer sounds”?
Probably before that.
Some say that the practice of paying full admission to a movie of no interest, just to see the trailer of another movie started with the inflated box office of Meet Joe Black (1998), which hosted the teaser to the aforementioned The Phantom Menace, but there appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that ten years earlier, people opted to see the hastily assembled trailer for a little independent film called Batman (1989).
Rushed out to diminish the fears of comic book fans who thought Mr. Mom would be the second coming of Adam West, the trailer doesn’t do much. Just a taste of Jack’s Joker, just a taste of what the costume would look like, and just a taste of the Anton Furst-fueled Batmobile. We didn’t even get any of Danny Elfman’s score. The trailer was never the same.
A trailer, when it is operating at peak efficiency, can even sell a movie that has no hope of delivering on any of it’s promise. Take this piece of evidence, heralding the great Paramount release for Christmas, 1990.**
The Corleone’s taking over the Vatican? I’m in! Michael Corleone confronting the dark void where his soul used to be? Where do I sign up? Sofia Coppola is in the movie?! Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
But what about movies that didn’t tie in to established properties? For any movie that features Wolverine, Mark Hamill, and the Caped Crusader***, most of the advertising work is already done. It’s the special kind of trailer that insists you go see a movie you know next-to-nothing about.
Hell, I want to go watch that movie right now. You know what? I just might do that. Did I miss a trailer? I’m sure I did? Did I miss an element that makes trailers great? Let me know in the comments.
*Also contributing to the feeling? The released-on-the-same-day-as-Logan second trailer for Power Rangers (2017). Any trailer that actually makes me want to see that movie is a work of superlative advertising art. Then again, Bryan Cranston, so I was probably going to be on board either way.
**Special thanks to wonderlist.com for turning me on to the one redeemable feature of The Godfather: Part III.
***An even better pitch: a movie featuring all three of those elements! I predict an opening weekend gross of 100 dollars!