Coming Attractions, Yet To Come

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A guest post by hermitosis.

Studios can make all the piracy-condemning PSA’s they want, but the truth is that they’d rather you see their movie illegally than never see it at all. In fact, piracy has already become built into the way they market movies to begin with. Internet gossip tells the public which blockbusters will be showing which hot new trailer. At the very first screening on opening day, when the lights go down and previews of coming attractions start rolling, electronic eyes in the audience record and transmit them to those waiting in their homes across the world, often days before the trailers are officially available online. Like most people, my first glimpse of Heath Ledger as the Joker wasn’t an unexpected perk of a $12.00 movie ticket, but via shaky, grainy video on YouTube. We vigilant media truffle-hunters all congratulated ourselves for our precocity and then passed the link on to others, perpetuating the kind of word-of-mouth anticipation that studios would pay for if they had to — but since they don’t, they never will.

And we’re not just helping them sell movies, we’re helping them make movies. The latest trend in trailer-bootlegging is the network of comic book conventions which have become all but overrun by Hollywood press junkets in recent years (often for films that have nothing to do with comics at all, like I Now Declare You Chuck and Larry). Screen a test-trailer for an army of comic book nerds while a film is still in production, allow it to leak online and generate tons of criticism, and then modify the work-in-progress to better meet audience expectations. The Tron remake probably won’t come out until 2011, but we’ve already drooled over the test-footage from last year’s SDCC and told creators exactly what we’d like to see them do with it.

The SDCC also showed a full-length trailer for the new Wolf Man movie starring Benicio Del Toro, which was supposed to open in February 2009. Perhaps based on the wildly positive reception of the “leaked” trailer, Universal rescued the film from its unceremonious midwinter release and is pouring more love into its post-production and marketing, obviously re-imagining it as a dark jewel in their crown of fall features, perhaps even a contender for next year’s Oscars. Meanwhile the trailer’s still only online in wobbly second-hand form, which means that anyone who stumbles across it — which of course is only as hard as googling “Wolf Man trailer” — gets to feel they’ve stumbled upon a cache of rare goods, one that they’re likely to show off to their friends (like I just did right here).

As someone who always makes sure to get to the movies on time so I can catch all the coming attractions firsthand — and gets hostile when others talk over them — I could bellyache about having to rely on someone else’s quick draw with their iPhone to see the first snippets of the new Star Trek. I could lament that cinephiles have been removed one degree further from something they love, settling for the vicarious thrill of watching a clip of other people watching a clip — in fact, the amount of vloggers out there who post reaction videos to whatever pop media they’re ingesting makes it a cinch to find clips of people watching clips of other people watching trailers.

At the same time, while they’re as vital to the ritual of moviegoing as popcorn and broken water-fountains (and often a grand consolation prize if the feature presentation is an utter disappointment) that doesn’t mean that trailers are sacrosanct. They are, after all, commercials — that’s all they ever have been, and the only rule that matters in advertising is to remain a step ahead of your consumers. If the consumers subvert your strategies and usurp your role, then you find a way to wriggle back on top. (I’ve watched two whole seasons of Mad Men, I know what I’m talking about.)

The effect on the movies themselves is the more ominous issue. Have we entered the age of being given the movies that we deserve? We demand them, shape them, and criticize them before they appear, we bookmark their websites and hunt for stills and clips, we read plot outlines, leaked scripts, filmmaker interviews, celebrity gossip; via the almighty internet, we inform the artists what we’ll accept and what we’ll spit out, when to pull the rug and where to plant the trap — all before we ever set foot in a theater. Is it any wonder we so rarely feel thoroughly satisfied when we walk out? The appetizer has become the meal.

Still, we trailer-worshipers should probably feel grateful — rather than making them obsolete, the internet and its video-sharing networks have reinvented appreciation of them, giving rise to a malleable, open-source artform in which everyone is invited to present their own Brokeback Mountain parody or paint their favorite kids’ movie as a Requiem for a Dream spin-off. This firsthand experience is becoming nearly inseparable from that second- or thirdhand experience, making would-be leakers and bootleggers of us all. But in the critical moment, as the moon rises in the sky over Benicio, all is forgiven, all is permitted; desire truly makes beasts of us all.

Science Fiction

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A Simple Plan

from xkcd

Drama

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Nine

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What is it about numbers as names?

Star Trek Voyager’s Seven Of Nine is (or was) part of the Borg. Her number indicates that she has lost her human identity. But it’s also kind of mysterious and hot.

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House’s Thirteen gets her number from when she was one of many candidates for a place on House’s team. She avoids revealing her real name for as long as possible, because she knows that being called Thirteen makes her sound mysterious and hot. Also, she has Huntington’s disease, is going to die soon, and doesn’t want anyone to know about her personal life, so keeping them from knowing her real name is a good start.

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Battlestar Galactica’s Six, another alien sex robot, basically. I have to admit that I never found her particularly attractive or mysterious, but that’s the idea.

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Ninety-nine from the original Get Smart. Hot in the context of a ridiculous world.

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Five from Peanuts. His father named all the kids numbers, and their last name was their zip code.

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Animation

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Sita Sings The Blues

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This feminist retelling of an ancient Indian story can’t get distribution because the director doesn’t have the rights to the music.

It seems inevitable to me that she will eventually release the film online, where at this point it will get a lot more exposure than it would have if she had gotten the music rights. What’s more, the enforcement of the music rights will be rendered pointless. Or rather, the pointlessness of enforcing the music rights wil become manifest.

I like this trailer. One of the basic conventions of filmic storytelling is that you reveal right away the genre and setting. The first thing we know here is that we’re looking at something that is both postmodern and metafictional, yet reverent and sincere in its own way. A story about religion that is neither anti-religious nor pedagogical, but is rather a rumination on an important myth.

Here’s the trailer for Sita Sings The Blues.

I was reading an article about the problems Sita’s director is having with getting distribution, and the headline was eclipsed by an annoying ad for The Spirit. As I’ve seen The Spirit, and it’s a piece of crap, this image is all too appropriate.

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Animation

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The Ugly Truth

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Movies with major stars saying impossibly stupid and unrealistic things usually come together because of some producer’s mandate to write a script that fills a very particular marketing niche. In this case, we have the bizarre and disturbing subgenre, “romantic comedies for dumb men.” Instead of hoping that two attractive but contentious people eventually let their guards down and recognize the traits that make them compatible, we’re hoping that the woman rated #1 in askmen.com’s list of most desirable women can learn to sexualize herself enough to satisfy the leader of the Spartans from 300.

Quicktime trailer.

Comedy

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Wendy And Lucy

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Wendy evokes the dreamer in Peter Pan on the cusp of adulthood, so simultaneously innocent and eager to grow up that she moves asymptotically toward heartbreak with each passing moment. Lucy is the feminine of Lucifer, the light-bringer who, by aspiring too much, found himself illuminating the torture of damned souls.

With the economy gone to shit, some people watch romantic comedies to feel better, while some people (myself included) prefer to see movies like this. On one level, it lets us play out our fears about what might happen if we, personally, run completely out of money. At another level, the fact that mainstream movie star Michelle Williams is playing someone so poor, unknown, and desperate comes across as a touching acknowledgement that those of us living down here on the ground aren’t drinking ambrosia. And it goes without saying (doesn’t it?) that Michelle Williams, widow of the recently deceased Heath Ledger, has a lot of fans looking for an opportunity to commiserate along with her.

Drama

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The Great Buck Howard

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Quicktime Trailer

This is one of those situations where the trailer is so bad that you have to assume that the movie itself is weird, and the studio doesn’t know how to sell it.

The endless series of cameos in the trailer clearly has little to do with the movie. And anyway, all you need to do to get John Stewart and Conan O’Brian to play themselves in your movie is to pay them. Are we really supposed to be tempted to buy tickets just because they got paid? I mean, watching them do what do is actually free.

Clearly, someone was instructed to put together a reel showing all the celebrity cameos, and also showing Tom Hanks and his son together on screen. It’s difficult to even identify the genre here. Drama? Comedy? Bittersweet Kaufmanesque stuff?

Uncategorized

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Know1ng

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Quicktime trailer.

Listen closely to the beginning of this trailer, or you’ll miss the creationism. The hero is a teacher, teaching his class that, according to the laws of science, there is no grand design for the universe.  That somehow leads to the conclusion that, ha ha, it must be impossible for him to be there teaching the class.

It gets worse. The father and son looking each other in the eye and saying “You and me, together forever.” The son asking his father if they’re going to die, and the father promising: “I would never, ever, let that happen.” In other words, they’re both going to heaven.

This looks a lot like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, with Nicolas Cage as Lot. It’s a telling scene where he selects one woman and child to rescue from a train that’s about to crash; he’s helping God separate the wheat from the chaff.

Drama

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Terminator: Salvation

Quicktime trailer.

The TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, while occasionally inventive and interesting, vaccilates between Christian allegory so overt that you expect a DRTV version peddling bibles, and a weirdly anachronistic screed against technological progress. Neither can last for much longer without getting ridiculous.

So now we have a tale of “judgement day,” the inevitable climax of any Christian science-fiction story. The ultimate cyborg thing that is the villain will symbolize something or other, and what that is will be the measure of whether or not this movie makes any sort of sense. Does this uber-terminator represent the devil? Or is he merely a symbol of spiritual emptiness, a soul-less creature who represents the worst possible type of human being: amoral, guilt-free, blasphemous to its creator?

Aliens and robots are usually metaphors for some aspect of humanity, so it’s common for their stories to climax with a hybrid creature that drives home the horror of the familar. Some other examples:

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The Borg Queen in one of those later Star Trek movies singularly personified (literally) an entity that had been so insidious because of its depersonalization. In TV, things spread out, curl back on themselves, and develop endlessly. In movies, they come to a head. After years of hating “The Borg,” viewers are here enticed to be sexually attracted to it. They couple with it in the form of Data, the good cyborg, so the interface still comes at a comfortable distance.

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The werewolf/vampire hybrid in Underworld is a correctional force of nature, arrived after the world of the undead has been consumed by too much politics and arrogance. He’s a new broom in an old house. Nice abs, too.

This trailer for Terminator: Salvation also uses the viewer’s implicit questions about the franchise to generate suspense within it. Does the movie mean the end of the TV show? Do you have to watch one to understand the other?

The key lies in the line “This isn’t the future my mother warned me about.” In other words, everything has changed, and the connection between cause and effect is tenuous. Most likely, the movie will have a sort of Alice In Wonderland ending, where all the events we observe on the big screen cancel themselves out, or something.

Finally, the transition from the small to the big screen tends to often manifest as certain characters or objects literally getting bigger, as if to fill the extra space. This moment in the Terminator: Salvation trailer immediately made me think of Animal’s giganticism in The Muppet Movie:

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Adventure
Science Fiction

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Star Trek

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Quicktime trailer.

J.J. Abrams, creator of Alias and Lost, has shown himself to be very bad at bringing complex stories to a close. So here’s a project he’s much more likely to excel at, one that is focused completely on building exposition around an end that the audience already knows.

The original Star Trek series only ran for three years. Since then, it has expanded into a universe of such depth and nuance that, for those of us who have come to appreciate it, watching the original series can sometimes be cringe-inducing. The obvious costumes, the re-usable sets, the cheap ship-shaking effects… we’d almost like to imagine that, somehow, the original show could be retroactively made better than it was, to make it more obviously deserve everything that it became.

When the voiceover says “You’ve always had a hard time finding your place in this world, haven’t you?”, it’s not talking to the young James T. Kirk; it’s talking to you, the potential viewer. Are you, or were you, an awkward kid (i.e. everybody)? Perhaps you’ll find a career… in space. The voiceover ostensibly directed at the young Spock is similarly directed at the viewer: We all find ourselves born of two worlds in some way or another, whether the divide is racial, religious, geographical, divorced families, dual citizenship, etc. The idea here is to encourage the confused child of two worlds (i.e. everyone) to buy a ticket in order to be exhilarated as that drama made metaphorical is played out on a grand scale.

Adventure
Science Fiction

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