By:Kurt Amacker Date: Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Trailers are serious business, Maniacs. We wait with baited breath for two or three minutes--aw hell, 30 seconds even--of footage for a movie that, for all we know, might turn out to be terrible. I admit I'm part of the problem. I pretty much watched the Super Bowl just to see the Captain America trailer (and the Steelers lose). We wait online. We cruise sleazy Russian websites for leaked, subtitled snippets. We watch them again and again. We hope and pray that the movie will live up to the promises made over two minutes of blasting music, explosions, boobs, and catchy one-liners. Then, summer rolls around, the movies finally come out, the popcorn's bought, and they mostly suck. You've gone to a midnight screening for nothing. It's safe to say that, on average, most movies are, well, average. Trailers build us up for weeks, months, or even a year for new movies. They make a movie, no matter how bad, look like the greatest thing ever. That's the point and we fall for it every time. But, trailers are fun to watch. And, some are even better than the movies they advertise. A few are brilliant little short films in their own right--or at least way the hell more entertaining than the final product. Such as...
5. The Phantom Menace
Let's not devolve into Prequel Trilogy bashing, shall we? It's like Marilyn Manson said: "Everything's been said before/Nothing left to say anymore." Also, "I am the god of fuck." But besides that, we all saw the trailer for The Phantom Menace six months before the movie hit. We were psyched. It hit all the right notes. Obi Wan Kenobi was there meeting Anakin Skywalker. Yoda was being all wise and shit. And, most of all, we heard those beautiful Ben Burt sound effects. You know the ones--the sound of lightsabers and blasters over that John Williams score. It was like someone had geeky cyber sex with every nerd on the planet all at once. The value of Charmin stock shot up overnight.
And then, the movie came out. Geeks argued for years about the relative merits (or lack thereof) of the movies. A bunch of die-hards kept screaming how you just had to pretend you were 12 or something, as if doing mental acrobatics would make a bad film better. But, the trailer managed to hit the sweet spot that the movie never did. It looked and felt like Star Wars. We didn't know that those scenes with Jar-Jar Binks getting his face shocked or little Orphan Ani' with his mom would portend such a bad movie. But, for a few months we were all in geek heaven, thanks to a trailer for a movie that just didn't deliver.
Underworld wasn't a terrible movie or anything. When stacked up with its prequel and sequel in order, it's a pretty cool B-horror saga. But, that trailer looked like the mother of all Goth videos. Let me explain. The White Wolf role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade had it heyday in the mid-to-late 1990s, well before the release of Underworld in 2003. And, like anything that's remotely popular, everyone wanted to know when the Vampire movie would come out. But, 2003 rolled around and a trailer for a movie called Underworld hit theaters. And, it looked a hell of a lot like Vampire, crossed with White Wolf's other big RPG, Werewolf: The Apocalypse. White Wolf was pissed. They sued. The settlement was declared confidential.
The movie still wasn't all that great. But, anyone watching the trailer saw the Vampire movie that never was. Or, they just saw Kate Beckinsdale shooting werewolves in skin-tights black vinyl and a corset. Either way, the sight of decadent, well-dressed vampires sipping blood in a nouveau Victorian setting was just too damn cool. Not since The Crow came out have so many teen Goths wept openly in a movie theater. But, Underworld kind of fell flat. Most of the good effects shots were in the trailer. The Romeo and Juliet love story wasn't even really a big part of the movie. And, it seems a waste to see a bunch of vampires that rarely bite a damn neck. But still--Kate Beckinsdale in black vinyl.
3. White Noise
White Noise wasn't all that great. Michael Keaton is trying to get in touch with his dead wife through EVP. That means he sits around for hours on end watching static waiting to hear ghosts. Then, some bad ghosts show up and start tormenting him, he sees visions of people that haven't even died yet, then--you know what? It's really not even worth explaining. EVP is pretty much bullshit and everyone knows it, and the movie didn't even really get it right--or rather, it didn't explain it as most of its real adherents would. But, the trailer is a chilling little movie unto itself.
Have you ever watched any of those ghost hunting specials late at night, all alone? And, even though you kept reminding yourself that ghosts aren't real, it scared the hell out of you? That's what the trailer for White Noise is like. It starts out like a documentary with garbled voices speaking on tape. Then we see the faces of people and what year they died and we collectively pee a little. Without even revealing the plot of the movie, it plays more like an advertisement for ghostly phenomenon you never wanted to know about, concluding with the line "The subject of some movies is so disturbing that those who experience them will never be the same again." That plays as effectively as the trailer for Last House on the Left: "Keep reminding yourself: it's only a movie, it's only a movie." Last House was just that f-cked up. It deserved that tagline. And damn it, White Noise looked like it would be just that disturbing. But, in the end it only had a few good jump scares and not much else. Michael Keaton deserved better.
2. Punisher: War Zone
There have been three Punisher movies. The general consensus is that none of them have been very good. But, they have their defenders. The extended cut of the 2004 version isn't bad. And, War Zone has some things to offer if you can accept the tongue-in-cheek tone of the whole thing. But, the trailer for Punisher: War Zone promised the cinematic vision of Marvel's skull-clad vigilante every basement-dwelling gun-nut had ever dreamt of. To the tune of the vaguely pro-terrorist Ramallah's "Days of Revenge," we see Frank Castle gunning down mobsters in a hail of bullets, punching guys out, launching rockets, and saying shit like "This is just the beginning." Seriously, I challenge you to not head to the gun store or the local Krav Maga studio after watching that clip. It's like the manliest thing ever filmed, and you will want to destroy criminal scum after watching it.
The movie was a different animal. Punisher: War Zone had more in common with the goofy, satirical style of RoboCop or Starship Troopers than Death Wish. It alternated between comedy and brutal action with little notice. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't the 70s action flick that everyone wanted. The trailer promised a slice of sheer badassery that would fire live rounds at you straight out of the screen. The movie just didn't deliver.
The animosity I feel towards Cloverfield knows no boundaries. The movie made me physically ill for three days with the stupid shaky-cam thing. It would've been worth it if it were anything other than a theme park ride masquerading as a movie. This is not to bash J.J. Abrams. Star Trek was great. I haven't seen a single episode of Lost. But, Cloverfield gets #1. Not only did the trailer get everyone going (mostly by making everyone ask "What the hell is blowing up New York?"), but Paramount teased the movie for six months prior with cryptic images bearing no title, but only the movie's release date: 1-18-08. That's brilliant, yet incredibly simple, marketing. It made everyone speculate endlessly, thus driving audiences to the theater in droves on opening day. Everyone thought it was a new Godzilla flick, or Voltron, or a Lost movie, or an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. In the end it was...a straight-up giant monster movie, filmed from a first-person perspective. It's like going on the King Kong ride at Universal Studios, except that didn't take 85 minutes of my life that I'll never have back. It starts at a going-away party for a guy leaving for Japan. Then, the thing attacks the city and a few douchebags run around with a camcorder shouting a lot. The movie retained the creature's air of mystery by concealing its origin and only showing bits and pieces of it. That's pretty cool, at least, but it only hinted at something much more interesting than the movie itself.
The trailer mostly works because, at that point, we didn't know what the hell was blowing things up in New York. It left all of us wondering and speculating what the monster would look like. That kind of hype and mystery is easy to create. The downside is that whatever it is, it will probably end up disappointing everyone.
It's odd that the Internet has given rise to trailers made for their own sake. When the way-underrated Grindhouse came out, the studio promoted a contest to create mock trailers--similar to those for Machete, Thanksgiving, and Werewolf Women of the SS. One of those was Hobo with a Shotgun, which should be in theaters in a few weeks. Fans have created brilliant recuts of trailers that alter the stories of films like Office Spaceand even Mary Poppins. Sometimes, it seems, the movie in our imagination is almost always better than the one that ends up in theaters.