5 Things Movie Trailers Need to Stop Doing
At a movie studio, once the pesky task of actually making a movie is out of the way the guys in the suits go to work. Their job is to bend and manipulate the movie footage into a short trailer that will tell you exactly what they think you want to hear. And it should be noted at the outset, they think you're retarded.
Here are five things we'd ask them to kindly stop doing, and why we know they never will.
Show Scenes That Are Not In The Movie
Superbad's 30 second trailer promised that "Every generation has one iconic movie that is... quoted non-stop... Superbad is that film." That's high praise for movie producers; while we might mutter "douchebag" when a grown man emerges from a public restroom, fans his crotch and says, "Do not go in there!" in his best Jim Carrey inflection, the marketing community considers that shit free advertising.
What makes less sense is why, in a movie that's chock full of quotable nuggets, they chose "McLovin, sounds like a sexy hamburger!" to be the one line that turned up in the trailer that bragged about quotability. You know, since that line was so memorable that the filmmakers left it out of the movie altogether.
It didn't matter that the line was in no way quotable since it was a response to a name that doesn't exist anywhere outside of the movie, nor did it matter that both Jonah Hill and Michael Cera had funnier TV-friendly lines that were actually in the film. The studio wanted a line by Seth Rogen since he was in the previous summer's "once in a generation" quotable movie, Knocked Up. So the suits rifled through the footage left on the cutting room floor until they found a Seth Rogen line that didn't contain the word fuck, and we got a preview that did a great job hiding the fact that Superbad was actually pretty funny.
"This is a line in a movie!"
But what happens when marketing folks don't have an over abundance of good material to discard in favor of a deleted scene? The trailer for Black Christmas got around that problem by featuring a few moments that were shot just for the trailer. And by a few moments, we mean just about everything you see in the trailer was shot just for the trailer.
According to the IMDB page, the list includes:
An unknown caller saying, "All is calm, all is bright, who is in my house tonight?"
A woman rubbing the snow off her car and a hand reaching through it.
A woman falling off the roof tangled in Christmas lights.
A woman being dragged through the snow by a Christmas lights machine.
Melissa in the hallway with a flashlight while Billy is on the ceiling ready to strike with an axe.
For all of the actual film footage the trailer shows us, Black Christmas very well could be a remake of A Miracle on 34th Street starring Danny Glover and Webster.
Use The Same Damn Songs Over And Over Again
Soon after it was released in 1989, Ton Loc's "Wild Thing" was put to use in the trailer for Uncle Buck, which actually made sense because the movie was about a wild man played by John Candy, and also because it was still 1989.
Since that time, Mr. Loc's anthem has been used in trailers for every fish out of water comedy that has been released in the last 19 years, including Undercover Brother, Garfield: The Movie, Bedazzled and the Rob Schneider vehicle, The Animal.
So why continue to use a song that had quickly become shorthand for "No matter how low your expectations, get ready to lower them!" Well, Hollywood thinks you need to be told exactly what sort of movie you're going to be getting. When you need to communicate that the main character is a live wire, why use cliched dialogue when you can use a cliched Ton Loc song instead?
The voice of several generations, apparently.
If the comedy has a big enough budget, they might even go with the nuclear option: Smash Mouth. Hollywood loves the shit out of some Smash Mouth; presumably because their songs are genetically engineered to get stuck in your head like some sort of incurable mind-AIDS. Also, they all sound the same, so instead of using that "All-Star" song like Shrek (and Mystery Men, Inspector Gadget, Shrek 2 and Shrek 3), you can get the exact same effect by using one of their many other identical-sounding songs; like in Made of Honor, Can't Hardly Wait, the two shittier Dr. Suess Movies and the shittiest Austin Powers.
In fact, every comedy genre has a preset approved-for-trailer list that runs about two songs deep. Romantic comedies get The Cranberries "Dreams" or the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin.'" Feel good comedies almost always use "Walking on Sunshine" or the most overused song in movie trailer history.
Yes, the only way to communicate that your film is the "feel good comedy of the summer" is to play James Brown's "I Feel Good." Apparently, Hollywood believes that you not only need to be trained like a Pavlovian dog to know what kind of movie to expect, you need the lyrics to literally tell you how to feel.
Just Go Ahead And Ruin The Entire Goddamn Movie
When they're not lying to audiences, trailers are telling them too much. Hollywood has been known to treat films with a unique plot, or a surprising twist ending with all the delicacy of Lenny in Of Mice and Men.
"I see dead people...wink."
Take, for instance, one of the first genuine twist endings in the history of Hollywood cinema. The studio knew they had a twist that would leave audiences head spinning if they could just get them to watch it. The whole trailer teases you with the mystery at the heart of the film's mind blowing ending, asking "What is the secret of Soylent Green?"
You'd just have to watch the movie to find out. Or, you know, keep your eyes open for the part of the trailer where Charlton Heston breaks into the factory and sees all the bodies moving down the conveyor belt. If you caught that, then don't worry about showing up, you can probably put it together from there.
With time, this became common place. The trailer for Ransom was geared around a dramatic scene in which Mel Gibson's character announces that he is offering his own ransom as a bounty on the kidnapper's head, a plot twist that kills any suspense you might have felt during the first half of the movie. The trailer for Wild Things ruined the first half of that movie by giving away the fact that the sexual harassment suit against Matt Dillon is a hoax.
A sexy hoax.
And of course there's Cast Away's trailer that shows the plane crash that lands Tom Hanks on the island...
Tom Hanks battling the elements, and then Tom Hanks being rescued by his friends who tell him, "You've been gone for four years."
They actually end the trailer with the final shot of the film, but commendably show the restraint to cut things off before the credits start to roll.
Lie About Who The Star Is
So you're a studio exec, and you just greenlit a $70 million movie called Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to be shot entirely in front of green screens. You're planning on using CGI to fill those screens with giant robots trundling around 1930s New York. Unfortunately, your focus group results just arrived, and the majority of the audience tells you all they really wanted to see was a sexy hamburger.
Where's the fucking beef people?
As you're preparing to clean out your desk, you notice that one of the focus group members mentioned Angelina Jolie for some reason. After re-watching the film, making sure not to blink the second time, you confirm that Jolie does in fact make a brief cameo. But since she's the most bankable star in Hollywood, you release a trailer that uses that cameo like Native Americans used a buffalo carcass.
She isn't kidding when she tells Gwyneth, "It's a pleasure to finally meet the competition," as they meet an hour and two minutes into the movie, resulting in Angelina getting slightly more screen time than Sir Lawrence Olivier, who was cast as the villain using stock footage recorded before he died.
Can we imply that Angelina has sex with the dead guy?
Using a star's brief cameo as bait in a cinematic bear trap is nothing new. The trailer for Star Trek: Generations seemed to promise Kirk and Picard standing shoulder to shoulder saving the universe, like a galactic 48 Hours if Eddie Murphy was also old and white. Of course, in the actual film they unceremoniously drop a bridge on Kirk so fast he might as well be wearing a red shirt.
But devotees of the Star Trek and Angelina Jolie's remarkable boobs have nothing on the apparently sizable, and oft-mislead talking-animal fanbase. The trailer for the 2002 movie, Snow Dogs, featured Cuba Gooding Jr. playing second fiddle to a team of wise cracking sled dogs to the strains of "Who Let the Dogs Out." Look Who's Talking fans marked their calendars, while the rest of us wondered just how the fuck Cuba Gooding, Jr. had gone from Best Supporting Actor to comedic foil for a team of jive talking huskies.
Well, he didn't. The scene with the talking dogs is actually from a brief dream sequence. The film is a zany comedy, sure, but it's a zany comedy about Gooding's emotional quest to find out who his real parents are. As mortified as Gooding must have been when he saw the trailers had hidden him behind CGI animals, imagine how depressed he was when the dogs opened at #1 in the box office. Actually, that makes us a little depressed too.
That, by the way, reminds us of the single most annoying thing trailers do...
Just Completely Lie About What Kind of Movie It Is
As should be clear by now, Hollywood hates new things. They might reluctantly let a successful enough filmmaker take on a movie that's a little different than the ones he's made in the past. Just don't expect the trailer to tell you that.
Just your typical Spielberg awesomeness, folks.
When E.T. was released, the trailer used a creepy POV shot to make it look like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the hit supernatural thrillers that Steven Spielberg was known for churning out up to that point.
Of course, E.T. went on to become bigger than all of his previous films, so when Gremlins was released four years later with Spielberg as the Executive Producer, the campy horror film was made to look like a tale of a little boy and his furry alien friend.
It works the same way for stars. Giving Robin Williams some coke and setting him loose in a light-hearted family comedy used to be one of the few ways a studio could ensure their movie would shit solid gold at the box office. However, Williams's desire to play dramatic roles has led to an incredible resume of lighthearted trailers for depressing films:
But what if nobody in your movie has ever made anything good before? What sort of movie are you supposed to pretend you've made then? In 2004, Jerry Bruckheimer was pitching around an R-rated buddy comedy as Midnight Run in Australia, which would have been an apt description if the stars of Midnight Run were Kush from Jerry Maguire and that fat comedian nobody likes.
No, the black one.
Frantically searching for an unoriginal idea to steal, Bruckheimer found his answer in a Cuba Gooding, Jr. film that had tricked audiences into theaters with talking huskies. A dream sequence was added featuring a rapping CGI kangaroo wearing shades and performing "Rapper's Delight" with a sassy Australian accent. Then the ads for the movie featured basically nothing but that.
The film's name became Kangaroo Jack, a play on the slang term "to steal" that was clearly meant to trick audiences into thinking the Kangaroo was the star. Fans of talking animals, most of them under five-years-old, were duped once again. But where Snow Dogs had tricked them into seeing a light-hearted family comedy, Bruckheimer had tricked them into seeing a raunchy, boob and gay joke-centric action movie.
The results? Kangaroo Jack took the #1 spot at the box office its opening weekend, Jerry Bruckheimer's balls got a little closer to bursting forth from his scrotum and everyone in Hollywood once again learned that no matter how much the Internet bitches and moans about their evil trickery, that shit works.
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