It’s no secret that big-budget Hollywood movies rarely take risks. That’s why, for every Inception, there’s about 50 Marvel superhero movies. But sometimes, for whatever reason, a movie that’s a little different slips through the net and gets itself made. It’s then up to the marketing department to try to sell this troublesome little movie
Movie trailers are a marketing tool designed to appeal to a given audience and get that audience to go see a movie. That’s why action movie trailers are fast-paced and full of violence, Oscar-bait trailers describe all the awards the cast members won and comedy trailers include a few clever one-liners and sex gags. As long as movies fit neatly into the prescribed categories, everything goes well. But
The average movie-goer’s definition of a good movie trailer is one that tells them the basic premise of a movie, gives them a sense of the movie’s tone, and shows them a few cool clips to pique their interest. The average studios’ idea of a good movie trailer is one that sells the most tickets. And if that means that the trailer must completely lie about the type of movie it’s selling, so be it. That’s why, every so often, we get trailers more full of bullshit than Spain during the Running of the Bulls. Trailers like these:
The trailer for this post-apocalyptic, father-son bonding story kicks it off with a bunch of grim-looking environmental disasters, none of which are featured in the movie at all (but never mind). Then we’re treated to a montage of clips involving Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, and their son. Dramatic, suspenseful music plays as Viggo and his son run through the woods. Guns are loaded. Axes are swung. “I’ll kill anyone who touches you, because that’s my job,” Viggo tells his son in a dramatic voice-over (an unfortunate choice of words, when taken out of context).
We get a lot of looks at Charlize Theron—this movie stars her, the trailer seems to be reminding us, and, by extension (one can presume) her boobs. And at the end we even get the glimpse of what looks like an explosion Michael Bay could be proud of. Hell yeah! A post-apocalyptic action movie about a grizzled, bearded man escorting a kid across bandit-ridden America? Sounds like the film adaptation of The Last of Us.
This image is a more accurate representation of the movie’s tone:
That explosion in the trailer? Its not in the movie. Neither, for that matter, is Charlize Theron, unless you count a couple of flashbacks. This is not an action movie. It’s not even an adventure movie, though a case could be made for calling it a horror movie.
The best word that could be used to describe The Road is gray. Both in a metaphorical, morally ambiguous kind of way and a literal, is-this-filmed-in-black-and-white? Kind of way. The gun we see Viggo loading and aiming about once every 5 seconds in the trailer contains a grand total of two bullets—but that’s okay, because as it turns out, he kills only two people in the entire movie. Despite the trailer’s earnest attempts to convince you that someone, at some point, will get murdered by an ax, it never happens. Most of The Road’s the running time is taken up with dreary monologues about the hopeless state of the world, and a lot of scavenging for food, as starving Viggo tries to help his starving son get to the coast of America while being chased by starving cannibals. It’s like The Hunger Games, but with no games and a lot more hunger. Because, people, hunger is no fucking game.
The Road is a movie designed to make you long for sandwich, or a box of tissues to cry into as you ponder the meaninglessness of human existence and the eventual death of mankind. It’s nothing like the pulse-pounding thrill ride the trailer promises. Trying to use action and sex to sell a movie like the Road is like trying to sell George Orwell’s torture-filled dystopian novel 1984 by passing it off as scandalous erotica. And no one would ever try something like….
IRON MAN 3
Ominous music plays in the background as Iron Man begins the voice-over by promising he has a lot of apologies to make. During these 2 minutes and twenty-odd seconds, we hear terrorist threats, see Iron Man suits explode, and watch as Tony Stark sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Gone are the days of the happy-go-lucky, light-hearted Iron Man movies you may remember. Now Marvel is going the dark and gritty route. This is the Dark Knight of Marvel films, designed to make Iron Man more serious, meaningful, and relevant, as he tackles not an army of killer robots but a cruel terrorist mastermind reminiscent of Osama Bin Laden. There’s even a scene where an Iron Man suit, worn by someone other than Tony Stark grabs Tony’s girlfriend Pepper out of bed. Will she die? Nothing is too dark for this heavy and dramatic sequel.
What we got instead:
Iron Man vs. fire zombies. Well, not literal zombies, but glowing “infected” that make zombie noises, have some sort of rage virus, and appear to lack self-preservation instincts, so they’re close enough, right? After all, time has shown us that the definition of zombie is flexible.
Instead of being the gritty, realistic final installment everyone was expecting, Iron Man 3 turned out to be even more humorous, whimsical, and cheesy than the previous two. Lots of one-liners; little in the way of a message, unless the message is that evil deserves a good punch to the face. If nothing else, this trailer is a testament to how playing clips out of context to some grim music can make anything, even the most innocent of popcorn movies, seem dark.
That scene where Tony Stark is dragged to his doom beneath the ocean? He gets out of it in about one minute. That scene where Pepper and Tony are roused from bed by a mysterious intruder in an Iron Man suit? Just a malfunctioning suit. That scene of Tony dragging his armor through the snow? Sure, it looks pretty bad played at the end of the trailer, but it’s just a minor annoyance for Tony in the movie. This trailer is just about the equivalent of trying to pass a Reese’s Butter Cup off as Ghiradelli.
Not the same.
The real movie, aside from its above-average dialogue, is about as by-the-numbers as an action movie can be. No grand aspirations, unless making a shit ton of money at the box office and pissing off a lot of comic book fans with a sneaky plot twist can be seen as a grand aspiration.
Apparently no science fiction movie can exist unless it be an action movie in the style of the Matrix. If it is not, then it must pretend to be in its trailer, or else no one will want to see it.
This must surely be the thought process behind trailers like Looper’s. Impressively, the trailer-makers have seemingly managed to squeeze in just about every gunshot, punch, and explosion featured in the movie.
The trailer presents us with an action-thriller about Robin hunting John McClane (if that sounds like a horribly lopsided match-up, it is) with some fancy-looking guns of the future. Cars are flipped, houses exploded, and screams made in slow-motion; all the hallmarks of a good action movie.
For those out of the loop (yes, that was a pun. Feel free to laugh), Looper is a movie about an assassin named Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who is trying to kill a future version of himself (Bruce Willis) that has come back in time in order to kill a child who will grow up to destroy the world or something. So basically, he’s like the good version of the Terminator.
But the actual movie is mostly a less a game of cat-and-mouse between the two Joes and more a slow exploration of a troubled young killer’s psyche as he hangs around in a farmhouse and learns about the importance of good parenting. No, that is not a joke. That is actually what the movie is about. Every punch exchanged between the two leads, Levitt and Willis, can be seen in the trailer.
While Bruce Willis kills children (a sentence I hope never to have to type again), Joseph Gordon Levitt falls in love with a telekinetic farmer. Yes, telekinesis, because apparently time travel wasn’t enough for this movie—they crammed in telekinesis, too, because if you’re going to make a science-fiction movie, you might as well include as much science fiction-ey stuff as possible. Right?
Remember those days in the 2000s when every action movie trailer used that same stupid trailer song from the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers? (This was before the invention of the Inception Horn). From an age of generic trailers comes the most generic trailer of them all, perhaps the most generic trailer of all time: the trailer for Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. We are told the basic plot of the movie: a bunch of scientists have to go on a space voyage to bomb the sun because the sun is dying and as Hollywood will tell you, bombs can are the answer to every problem, ever (with the notable exception of how to kill a man hiding inside a refrigerator). Then we see lots of screaming, explosions, and clips of things that could honestly be anything, they go by too fast to tell. Is that a guy getting cut with a razor? Is that a giant fire? It looks like someone is freezing to death, maybe? The point is that its fast-paced, set to fast-paced music, designed to overwhelm your brain and instill you with the message that this movie is going to be—no pun intended—the bomb.
Yes, there is some action, and yes, some people do die. There’s about ten minutes towards the end where Sunshine momentarily decides to become a slasher movie, so it’s not a completely inaccurate trailer.
But it ignores the fact that much of this movie is pretty slow-paced, filled with gorgeous, solar-based scenery porn.
It takes a while for the action to get started, and even once it does, it’s hardly the unrelenting thrill-fest the trailer would have you believe. Sunshine is more an exploration of the effects space, the sun, and an imminent apocalypse can have on the human psyche. But you’d never know any that from the trailer. In its defense, Fox Searchlight (the maker of Sunshine) also made a second, “extended” trailer—that spoiled every single plot twist in the entire film. I guess they decided that if at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail again.
MAN OF STEEL
Swelling orchestral music. Tantalizing glimpses of Superman as a kid, and then a young man. Christopher Nolan’s name. Everything, from the inspirational quotes about helping people achieve wonders to the image of Superman as some type of hobo/hitch-hiker, seemed to suggest a character-driven piece. Finally, we’d get to delve past the cape and the tight red underpants and get to know the real Man of Steel. The teaser trailer for Man of Steel didn’t even have a single action sequence in it, because this movie wasn’t about the action; it was a coming-of-age story, a “deep” movie, a welcome counter-point to the frivolous and goofy Iron Man 3.
Except that this trailer turned out to be just as misleading as Iron Man 3’s. It seems that 2013 has been a year of strange reversal for movie trailers—while in the past, serious movies had to pretend to be generic action-thrillers to get sold, now generic action-thrillers are masquerading as serious and artsy.
This movie, unlike the other entries on the list, is almost non-stop action. Every time a conversation is on the verge of appearing, the screen-writers quickly shut down that boring shit, because who wants to pay money to watch people talk? IT could be a bus falling off a bridge, or a tornado, or an oil rig explosion—apparently Superman’s other power (besides flying, X-ray vision, heat-ray vision, invincibility, super strength and super speed—Mary Sue much?) is causing disasters to spontaneously occur around him. The script for Man of Steel probably reads like two people, one of them Christopher Nolan and the other one an ADHD child sat down and tried to write a script together, taking it in turns.
Nolan: You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. Ok, your turn.
ADHD Child: Tornado! WHOOOOSH!
By the second half of the film, Man of Steel abandons any attempt at character development and turns into a re-enactment of my childhood games of Sim City. The part where you destroy the entire city with an alien invasion (recent psychological studies using an advanced multivariate regression analysis have proven that is the only part of Sim City anyone cares about).