April 2007

Evan Almighty/Live Free Or Die Hard/Fay Grim

Match the trailer to its subtext:

A: “We’re making a sequel to a movie you liked. You should see it because you are a pathetic sucker who is so invested as a consumer of our franchise that, no matter what we put on the plate, you’ll swallow it as long as you have the vague idea that it’s related to the first movie. By the way, fuck you.”

B: “We’re making a sequel to a movie you liked. In actuality, the sequel has very littleSling_blade
to do with the first movie. In fact, the second movie probably started as a completely separate script that was written by someone who had no idea that their work was going to end up as part of a franchise. But some producer noticed that there were similar themes, and an easy way to work in the main supporting character from the first movie. So we end up with the best of both worlds: a fresh and (by Hollywood standards) original story, and an already-made vehicle with which to market it. You might see it because you like the story, and you might see it because you like the first movie. You might go and rent the first movie before seeing the sequel, or afterwards, or not at all; it’s really a win for us, and hopefully for you, either way.”

C: “We’re making a sequel to a movie WE liked. We’re not really sure if you should see it or not. If you happen to be one of the two hundred or so people who saw the first movie, you may like it. On the other hand, maybe you won’t. Who knows? And if you didn’t see the first movie, you may still like this one, which, let’s be honest, is a creature all its own. That’s why we don’t even tell you about the first movie in the trailer for the sequel. Anyway, the best way to do this sort of thing is to just release the new movie and let an audience develop organically if that’s what’s meant to be. This has been fun, but we’dEvening_star
better get to work on our next project. Take it easy!”

Evan Almighty trailer

Live Free Or Die Hard trailer

Fay Grim trailer




Firehouse Dog/Hot Fuzz

Perhaps, like many regular viewers of mainstream American movies, you spend a lot of time contemplating the disparity between your own crappy life, and those of your cinematic heroes.

Back in the 30s (for example), audience envy was mostly about the glamour. You wished that you could switch places with Cary Grant or Ginger Rogers because you wanted the opulent lifestyles that their characters typically enjoyed. It was a class thing: the typical audience member was a "have-not," vicariously enjoying the lifestyle of the "have": clothes, cars, chandeliers, what have you. The differences between the actors and their characters weren’t nearly as important as the differences between the actors/characters and the audience. Those movies seldom implied that movie-goers had a shot at a movie-star life; they were impermeable but ostensibly transparent portals through which regular people could observe the rich and powerful.

Now, things are different. What’s truly supernatural about the Hollywood hero is not the position into which he was born, but his finely-honed awareness of self and purpose. Even a quick perusal of the most superficial screenwriting text will tell you: a cinematic hero wants one thing very badly, and he spends the entire movie trying to get it.

This being the case, any extraordinary talents that the hero displays in pursuit of that one goal are, in A_history_of_violence
this model, merely metaphorical embellishments on the same theme. It doesn’t matter whether the character can fly, or fight ten opponents at once, or is preternaturally witty and charming. The point is that the hero, unlike the viewer, a) knows exactly what he wants, and b) absolutely cannot be stopped. Like Hermes with his winged sandals, movie heroes are implicitly gifted with some remarkable attribute - unwavering integrity, a bottomless love of dolphins, bulletproof skin, or whatever - that protects them from this cruel world that has done such a good job of battering down the rest of us.

The fact that these superpowers (actual or virtual, mysterious or obvious, physical or spiritual) are so nicely tailored to their characters - almost, in fact, an extension of something surprisingly normal in those characters’ personalities - is comforting to regular people. For example, most of us fall in love, we just don’t quite fall in movie-love. Some of us can fight, but we just can’t movie-fight. Some of us have a lot of integrity, but we don’t quite have movie-integrity. These movie- characteristics are manufactured so as to seem just out of reach. Your love for your dog won’t give him the power to put out fires and rescue innocent people…but it almost could, right? I mean, sometimes doesn’t it feel like you’re just this close to breaking through some metaphysical barrier, tapping into the part of your brain you don’t normally use, and exploding into a tightly focused machine that does nothing but kick ass and chew bubble gum? And adopt dogs?

Enter the "hero with sleeping powers" story. Sometimes the power and the way it’s sleeping is more obvious than others, but as far as audience manipulation, it’s the same thing. The average Joe’s/Jane’s specialness might be awoken by a traumatic incident, or by a mysterious visitor who has already found his or her own special power.

When the source of the magic is made out to be Hollywood itself, the writer is entering risky territory. Gone is the Golden Age; if you want a modern audience to accept that Hollywood is glamourous, then you need to earn that mystique within the movie you’re making. Modern audiences don’t enter the theater (especially for a movie like Firehouse Dog) like it’s a temple at which they are allowed to worship; they enter it like it’s a convenience store that most likely has the standard fare composed primarily of high-fructose corn syrup. Few people who are regularly allowed to leave the house are under the illusion that actors - human or otherwise - can really do the things their characters do in the movies. To posit a story in which a bunch of regular people (i.e. analogs for audience members) believe that they can is clumsily arrogant and fairly insulting.

Compare to Hot Fuzz, which we’re told was made by "the guys who have seen every action movie everThe_purple_rose_of_cairo_2
made." In other words, the hero is not literally supposed to be from Hollywood. Rather, he has been created by regular people (no superpowers, like you) who are familiar with the Hollywood tropes. The writers are inviting us to share a fantasy. They are implicitly in the theater with us. Together, we laugh at, and marvel at, our shared fascination with these demigods whom we have willed into existence in order to make our own lives just a little bit easier to bear.

Firehouse Dog trailer

Hot Fuzz trailer




Kickin’ It Old School

This is a "let’s get the band back together" story, and a "misfits enter a contest" story, but mostly it’s a Peter Pan story.

Many people in their 30s (and a lot of older people) feel like they’re actually ten or twenty years younger, that life has somehow cheated them of their prime, that their greatest years went by so fast that they couldn’t properly be used. This feeling of missed opportunity corresponds to the way we all feel about the clothing and music that were popular when we were teenagers. At that point in life, there is such a feeling of power and possibility, of reaching for the future, of being the culmination of everything that the world has done before your birth, that there is a certain indelible coolness to everything that surrounds you. No thirteen year-old boy really believes that the clothes he’s wearing, the music he’s listening to, the TV shows he’s watching, the dance steps he’s imitating, will, in a remarkably short period of time, be regarded as ridiculous by the majority of people on earth. And when it does happen, you can’t help feeling betrayed. What happened to the cool - yours, mine, everybody’s?

What happened to the implicit promise that our generation was going to be different, was going to latchQuantum_leap on to something that would last?

It doesn’t matter whether the kid was in a coma, or grew rapidly due to some glandular disease, or died and came back to help the son he never knew he had, or what. The conceit is just a device that allows the viewer to transfer his own yearning for the confidence of youth onto the hero, who will take that ball and run with it.

Kickin’ It Old School trailer




Georgia Rule

American_quiltMovies that grapple with the subject of intergenerational conflict create a marketing problem: who is the the target audience? Only one of the generations represented, or all three? When the people making the trailer can’t (or won’t) make a decision, you end up with a trailer that makes you feel like you just swallowed one of those Asian snacks that has sugar on the outside and meat on the inside.

Older viewers (and Southerners) may, for a few seconds, be intrigued by the overbearing folksiness of the Jane Fonda character. Younger viewers (and viewers of other ages who are pleased to finally see her in an overtly sexual role) may begin to hesitantly pump a fist in the air as Lindsay Lohan attempts to fight the shackles of grandmatriarchal oppression. Middle-aged viewers may have time to wonder why Felicity Huffman really isn’t in the trailer that much. And then the trailer changes gears, or ends, and we’re all left with a vague sense that the next time we learn about these characters, it will be seven years from now, at 4:03 am when we’re strung out, bleary-eyed, and surfing channels.

Buried in there somewhere is probably a story about learning to accept your place in life - the grandmother gives up on her stupid rules, the granddaughter gives into the stupid rules, the mother deals with some subplot that explains why she and the granddaughter are living with the grandmother to beginBarbarella with. And we find out the true origin of "Georgia rule," and it’s some secret from the grandmother’s past which ties inexorably into whatever is going on with Lindsay Lohan and those fundy girls who go around calling her names.

Either that, or it’s a complete mess that makes no sense, but has Lindsay Lohan in it, getting sprayed down by a hose while wearing a white t-shirt. More generous would-be-viewers may convince themselves that there’s subtext implied by the casting of the person doing the spraying.

Georgia Rule trailer