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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:

292px-borg-queen-being-assembled

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.

underworld-hybrid

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:

terminator-salvation-giant-terminator

giant-animal-muppet-movie

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Science Fiction

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Star Trek

apple-trailers-star-trek-trailer-2-large

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.

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Science Fiction

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Chandi Chowk To China

Now watch the very different Quicktime trailer.

Who’s the intended audience?  Will the comedy play stereotypes against each other, or stereotypes against reality?

A couple other comedies that deal with inter-cultural tension in a way that seemed smooth at the time:

Michael Keaton is the working-class American guy who pretends to know how to talk to Japanese businessmen in Gung Ho. Interestingly, I can’t find a trailer, or even a good still image from that movie. It’s almost as if it’s been erased from public memory, like Songs Of The South. Here’s the climax, though:

Eddie Murphy is a finder of missing children, who must now find the Dalai Lama, or something, in The Golden Child. But does anyone else remember that trailer as a little bit different?

Also, The Guru vs. The Love Guru, previously discussed here.

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Comedy

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The International

Quicktime trailer

Even those of us who know better would still like to believe in a world in which large, sweeping problems are always caused by evil, powerful people conspiring on a grand scale. Let us indulge in a little fantasy that the ongoing economic collapse is the result of a few bad apples who, formidable though they may be, could in theory be tracked down and shot. It naturally follows that this is true of all your institutional problems, be they with banks or schools or whatever: Somewhere, there is some evil guy whom you could just take it upon yourself to kill, and the problem would go away.

Remember this? It’s the stilt house from Lethal Weapon 2. It symbolizes the South Africa pro-apartheid government, and how it was destined not to last, and how all it really needed was a traditional black-white American cop duo to tear it down.

Much more interesting is that the trailer for Lethal Weapon 2 was really just a trailer for the first ten minutes of the movie, which had nothing to do with South Africa, or even any specific bad guys. And yet it still fits, because it’s about how the American dream of domestic bliss gets messed up at every turn. You think you’re doing something as simple as sitting in your bathroom, reading Field And Stream, when boom, you realize that you’ve been tracked down by haters of all things suburban…

Stilt house image from I Am Not A Stalker.

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Animation

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Duplicity

Here’s the Quicktime trailer.

All intense relationships vaccilate between passion and doubt, love and distrust. Movies like this comfort us with the idea that this duality is both completely natural, and also inevitably experienced by the the sexiest, most glamorous among us.

The story of two assasins, simultaneously in love and at odds, is not new.

In Prizzi’s Honor, Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner are mafia assasins assigned to kill each other.

In Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Pitt and Jolie are… well, I haven’t seen it, but it obviously fits in here somehow.

Spy Kidsuses this idea as exposition. The parents start out as spies assigned to kill each other, but they fall in love and have kids. But then, their exciting and difficult lives come back to haunt their children. Which reflects the fact that, while reproduction often seems like the end game, it only creates another universe of problems for a new human being, who isn’t so different from you, and whose problems aren’t so different from yours.

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Watchmen / Special

Watchmen is a superhero story that focuses on the type of normal human beings who want to become superheroes so badly that they actually do. Special is the story of a normal guy who is deluded into thinking he has special powers, so he becomes a superhero.

Watchmen Quicktime trailer

Both movies are about people who see in themselves, or want to see in themselves, a closer personal connection to the myths that inspire them.

Special Quicktime trailer

Historians like to say that the early Egyptian pharoahs were “open behind,” meaning that they were both god and man at once. The god was a sort of magic shell that could be inhabited by many people over time. It wasn’t seen as a trick or a deception; that’s just how it worked. Unfortunately, being a god/man meant that you could only reign for a short period of time; after that, your subjects would ritualistically kill you in order to demonstrate reverence for the natural rhythms of nature. Eventually, the pharoahs changed that ritual to keep themselves alive, but they were no longer open behind; they were simply men claiming to be gods.

The point is: Everyone wants to connect with the supernatural. Everyone wants to be the supernatural. If you don’t have a myth that breaks the fourth wall and invites us inside, then we are going to find a way into it ourselves.

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The Reader / Valkyrie

The Reader quicktime trailer

Valkyrie quicktime trailer

There are two types of movies about the Holocaust: those that offer to take us back to a simpler time, when it was easier to distinguish between good and evil; and those that offer to comfort us for our own modern sins with the knowledge that Nazi Germany contained just as much moral ambiguity as anywhere else.

This second idea is more palatable as we gain more and more chronological distance from the events themselves. But it also has increasing appeal for Americans who have the disturbing feeling that they are living in the belly of a beast that has the potential to do a lot more damage than Hitler’s machine. The fact that Berlin, is becoming a thriving cosmopolitan cultural center, doesn’t hurt either. People want to convince themselves that it’s okay to like Germany again, and movies like these help.

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Drama

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Tropic Thunder/Rain Of Madness

Tropic Thunder trailer

Rain Of Madness trailer (requires iTunes)

A lot of interesting stuff going on here. Tropic Thunder is a parody of, among other things, Apocalypse Now. So Rain Of Madness, the non-existent documentary about Tropic Thunder, is a parody of Hearts Of Darkness, the documentary about Apocalypse Now.

It’s an interesting time to make a comedy about the war in Vietnam, given that the US is currently involved in another endless police action. But Tropic Thunder isn’t, on its face, a comedy about war. It’s a satire of the whole idea of making a movie about war.

This extra level of remove insulates the audience from having to think directly about what this movie really is: a sophisticated comedy about the war in Iraq. Not just the war itself, but the perceptions that surround it: the way it’s imagined vs. the way it’s realized, what it’s like to really be in combat vs. what it’s like to feel so immersed in war toys, imagery, and information that you feel you might as well be there, even when you’re not.

If you pay attention to the Tropic Thunder trailer, you’ll see that the heart of it is just the old Seven Samurai formula: A group of misfit performers find themselves having to actually do what they previously only pretended to do. For them, the comedy becomes serious. The audience gets the chance to laugh at a situation that’s both serious and funny, but above all, pathetic. In this context, it means that Americans can laugh at how ridiculous it is that we’re still sending troops to Iraq.

The same trick is being used to make jokes about racial stereotypes. If I’d told you last year that Robert Downey Jr. was going to do a movie in blackface, you might not have believed it. But now, ha ha, he’s doing a movie about an actor doing a movie in blackface, so that’s okay, because it’s not really Robert Downey Jr. doing a movie in blackface. But it is.

Isn’t it?

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Comedy
Documentary

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Stephen Colbert Endorses Trailers Undone

Well, not explicitly. But if you saw his interview with Will Smith last night, you know what I’m talking about. Colbert’s final question to Smith was whether Hancock is a metaphor for the United States - powerful but reckless - and Smith came about as close as he will ever get to squirming.

See my discussion of Hancock from months ago, where I suggest the same thing.

I’ll embed the YouTube clip of the Colbert-Smith interview as soon as someone posts it…don’t see it yet. Anyone else?

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Comedy

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Wanted


Here’s the Quicktime trailer.

The trailer’s voiceover says: “I used to be just like you. Until I met her.” The implication is that you, the viewer, would be a much more interesting person if only Angelina Jolie would recognize that you and she are meant to be together, and Morgan Freeman took you under his wing and identified the hidden skills that will make you a superhuman.

The deeper implication, the one you’re not meant to examine, is that this will never happen to you, and if there was any chance that it would, then you wouldn’t need to see this movie as a substitute.

This is a “meant for greater things” story, with the attendant fantasy of discovering that your real parents were actually much more interesting than the ones who raised you.

It’s likely that the protagonist ends up doing battle with his new mentors. That’s how this kind of story works. The protagonist doesn’t really come into his own until he takes the gifts he’s given and makes his own decisions about how to use them. Morgan and Angelina probably killed his father. The guy who is ostensibly after him in the drugstore at the beginning is probably an ally.

About the images:
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