Movie trailers have the difficult job of convincing people to see a movie even when it isn't marketable (or good at all). So it's easy to understand the little tricks marketing pulls, like editing together unrelated lines of dialogue, or including the movie's only two funny scenes in their entirety.
But sometimes the trailer editors decide that if nobody will want to see the actual movie that got made, well, they'll just pretend it's something different entirely.
It couldn't be simpler. Ryan Gosling drives. Ryan Gosling shoots. Ryan Gosling punches and stomps and kills. He flips cars and commits robberies and makes out with hot girls:
Hell yeah! He's the best driver in town, but the bad guys want him dead! Vroom vroom, bang, vroooooom! Bryan Cranston! Explosions! Ron Perlman! Vroooom! Drive!
The trailer is the equivalent of piecing together all of the tornado action from The Wizard of Oz and selling it as a Twister prequel. Drive is, for the most part, a slow, classy art film with occasional scenes of intense action perforating long shots of Gosling driving around the city, gazing silently ahead and contemplating life. Oh, sure, the actual film does feature car chases and guns -- but if you came for the last two, you might as well just watch the trailer. The marketing team carefully pieced together pretty much every frame of the Fast and the Furious-style mayhem from the film's runtime and said, "Hey, young males -- if you want to see more of this, buy a ticket, brah!" Those dudes then found themselves watching a movie that is about as far from fast or furious as you can get -- the film's lack of dialogue, elongated pauses, and lengthy music sequences gave birth to both critical acclaim and silly Internet memes.
Don't get us wrong -- as a film, all of this plays to Drive's advantage. The contrast between long, silent gazing shots and Gosling stomping a man to death in an elevator is memorable stuff. But anyone who showed up looking for the advertised high-octane action movie had to feel like they were the victim of a prank. One woman was so pissed off that she filed a lawsuit that demanded a refund on her ticket, as well as an end to the practice of releasing misleading movie trailers. Yeah, good luck with that, lady.
"Next you're going to tell me Ryan Gosling doesn't actually own that car. Do your lies ever end, Hollywood?"
While legal action may have been uncalled for, it's clear that many audience members expected less avant-garde statements about what it means to be human and more of Gosling teaming up with Vin Diesel to drive a car through a truck through a plane through another car. Ironically, Gosling's 2012 film The Place Beyond the Pines tried hard to advertise itself in the vein of Drive, with Ryan Gosling driving around on a bike and contemplating the abyss, even though he's only in about a third of the movie. The outcome of Cracked's lawsuit on the matter is still pending.
In this gory period drama by Tim Burton, Johnny Depp is a happy barber who has his life destroyed by the mysterious They. Horror ensues:
Depp's character returns for revenge years later looking suspiciously like Edward Scissorhands, reopens his barbershop, and starts slicing throats, while Helena Bonham Carter makes her mandatory appearance as ... someone.
And co-starring stupid hair.
Don't get us wrong -- the trailer accurately sums up the plot, showcases the principal characters, and provides dialogue in a satisfactory context. However, it leaves out one key element of the movie: It's a full-fledged musical. And we're going to guess that a whole bunch of goth kids looking for a dark period slasher film were confused as shit the first time somebody broke into song.
To be fair, Sweeney Todd is an adaptation of a popular Broadway show, but the trailer's absolute refusal to even allude to a musical component is awfully suspicious. After all, it's not like successful movie musicals were unheard of at the time -- 2007 also saw theatrical releases of Rent and Hairspray, but apparently John Travolta in drag and a fat suit serenading Christopher Walken is somehow more marketable than Depp accompanying his throat-slashing with a jaunty tune.
He even poses like he's about to break into song.
The studio's tricky advertising (which included TV spots equally lacking in musical theatricality) was apparently due to marketing figuring that a gory revenge flick where Johnny Depp plots to slice up Professor Snape might appeal to the average audience more than a period musical where Jamie Campbell Bower, best known as Minor Vampire #4 from the Twilight films, won't stop singing about how in love he is with some girl he saw the other day. But that's the kind of decision that the filmmakers have to make. You don't get to pretend your movie is a different goddamned genre at the promotion stage.
Actually ... you totally do. The film was a box office hit that received three Oscar nominations. Tim Burton, having learned the valuable lesson that blatantly lying with your trailers pays off, went on to make movies with trailers that falsely suggested they might not be terrible.
"This time he's a vampire locked away by another vampire!"
"Fine, whatever, just let us know how much money it makes."
Inspired by 2009's What if Kevin James Was a Fat Mall Cop? 2009's What if Seth Rogen Was a Fat Mall Cop? asks a bold question: What if Seth Rogen was a fat mall cop? Get ready for wacky hijinks, kids!
The trailer for Observe and Report opens with wacky male nudity, cuts to a stereotypical "dumb blonde" character, then in succession gives us a wacky foreigner saying a catchphrase, a shot of the blonde's boobs, Seth Rogen shooting a cartoon man in the crotch, Seth Rogen in a comically tiny car, and the dumb blonde vomiting, all of which finally culminates in a rapid-fire slapstick montage that includes the obligatory wacky Taser shot and Seth Rogen falling down.
Prepare for some highbrow comedy.
Observe and Report is a comedy, sure, but oh man, is it ever darker than the trailer implies. Inspired by Taxi Driver (you know, Martin Scorsese's classic laughfest), the movie follows Seth Rogen as Ronnie, a mall cop with delusions of grandeur and what almost certainly has to be some sort of serious mental disorder. Ronnie's attempts to stop a local flasher, romance Anna Faris' Brandi, and become a real cop are played for comedy, but the tone is less "This guy is uncharismatic and clumsy" and more "Holy shit, this guy has a serious problem, someone needs to take his gun away."
And if he insists on doing this, chop off his arms. It's the only way he'll learn.
Ronnie's story of "heroism" isn't a dopey underdog proving himself -- it's a cautionary tale told through the perspective of what looks like a rapidly deteriorating victim of mental illness. His quest to be a hero results in property damage, criminal charges, and the endangerment of the lives around him. He makes racist assumptions, does a ton of drugs, assaults a bunch of teenagers, and generally acts in a way that isn't "ha" funny so much as it's "maybe nervous laughter will make this less awkward" funny.
None of this would have happened on Paul Blart's watch.
Oh, and that gag in the trailer where Brandi has too much to drink on a date? The trailer suggests that he still gets a romantic kiss from her. But it quickly cuts away from the rest of the scene, where Ronnie has sex with a nearly unconscious Brandi while styling himself as the plucky hero who has finally gotten the girl. He date-rapes her, basically.
Prepare to regret choosing this as a date-night movie.
Oh, and later Ronnie humiliates Brandi in public for "cheating" on him with a man who has the audacity to fuck her when she's lucid.
Whether or not the scene went too far was the subject of much critical discussion, but that's the point -- this is the story of an unbalanced hero with a violent streak date-raping his love interest. It goes to an awfully dark place for a movie whose trailer implies its R-rating was probably due to too many jokes about boners and weed.
James Franco joins the Naval Academy with dreams of flying planes and doing boat stuff. His superior officer doesn't like him, but Franco works to earn his respect. You've seen this movie before, only the first time it was Tom Cruise overcoming his personal flaws from behind the stick of a fighter jet:
It's all there -- conflict among the cadets, a sexy yet tough lady officer, and lots and lots of pushups. Planes fly, boats blow up ... it's pretty clear that if you liked Top Gun, you'll love Annapolis!
"Freeway to the hazard area!"
It's a boxing flick.
Annapolis opens with Franco losing a boxing match. He then goes to the Naval Academy and starts boxing. Franco's superior officer is tough on him, but Franco earns his admiration in a boxing tournament. Planes and boats exist, but Franco doesn't get in them because he's too busy boxing. "Guys," says a confused dude in a Top Gun hat, over his popcorn, "I think this is a fucking boxing movie."
The trailer includes some quick cuts to what might be boxing, in the same way that Top Gun's trailer contains a wisp of volleyball. But the combined boxing footage features in less than 10 seconds of the trailer's 2:25 run time.
Character Whose Face We Can't See #1 and Character Whose Face We Can't See #2? They'll probably be important!
The trailer voice-over talks about how Franco will do whatever it takes to become a naval officer, and that's technically true. It just neglects to mention that "whatever it takes" means doing well in a boxing tournament, prompting his superior officer to recommend that a disciplinary board not expel him for causing trouble (because he's good at punching ...?). Oh, and he patches up his rocky relationship with his father. The one that doesn't even appear in the trailer.
Because why show an important character when you can show an out-of-context and ultimately irrelevant explosion?
The misleading promotional campaign goes well beyond the trailer -- if you view the theatrical poster or even the DVD cover and disc art, you'll find no hint whatsoever as to the film's boxing nature. The closest you'll get to an accurate advertisement is a minuscule screenshot on the back of the DVD case ... of the foreign-language editions.
Maybe those "deleted scenes" include naval action and/or something entertaining.
We understand why they were so misleading. Back in 2006, James Franco hadn't cut off his arm in a canyon, fought intelligent monkeys, gone on spriiiiiiing breeeeeeak (whoo!), or even appeared in a Judd Apatow film. His film credits included yelling at Spider-man, Bar Guy #1 in The Wicker Man, and either Tristan or Isolde in Tristan and Isolde. But come on, would it have killed them to at least utter the word "boxing" at some point?
"These two characters will settle their differences in a pugilistic polygon!"
While the trailer promises a movie more exciting than Franco boxing, flirting, and sweating, it still bombed horribly. So there go our chances of seeing a true Top Gun remake where Seth Rogen mourns James Franco's death by contemplatively riding his motorcycle, eating Cheetos, and battling Danny McBride in a volleyball match.
Cillian Murphy flirts with Rachel McAdams at the airport. They hit it off, he buys her a drink, and they end up sitting next to each other on the plane. It looks like it's going to be a romantic comedy, but then oh shit, Murphy's eyes turn red and "From Wes Craven, director of Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street" is revealed:
Holy shit, Rachel McAdams is trapped on a plane with a demon and will have to escape supernatural terror at 20,000 or so feet!
"On planes, people can hear you scream, and they think it's really goddamn annoying."
The first twist, where the trailer pretends to be romantic and then switches to horror, is fine. It's effective, and it's far from the first horror movie to use a love story bait-and-switch.
Coming this summer: Cillian Murphy farts on a plane and then tries to hide it.
But that part in the trailer's climax where Murphy's eyes glow red, suggesting there's an inhuman terror within him? That title-appropriate Photoshop effect never happens. There's nothing supernatural about his character or anything else in the movie. The title refers exclusively to the plane being an overnight flight. The only time Murphy's eyes are mentioned in the film is in reference to how blue they are.
Much like the sea, which is also not mentioned in the trailer.
So at the very least, you'd suspect that Murphy is a crazy killer, if not an outright otherworldly evil. But he's actually a terrorist involved in an elaborate plot of Die Hard-esque proportions. See, McAdams works at a hotel where an important political figure is staying, and Murphy wants her to transfer the VIP to a waterside room so they can fire a giant missile into it from the ocean, because Murphy is apparently the kind of terrorist who is OK with political assassination but horrified at the thought of collateral damage. Oh, except he'll have McAdams' father murdered if she doesn't cooperate. So ... wait, what?
What does this have to do with flight again?
OK, whatever. It's your standard cat-and-mouse thriller pitting attractive people on a commercial airline flight against each other, which is fine. The problem is that the trailers hint at exactly none of that. So the whole time you're watching this by-the-numbers movie, you're thinking to yourself, "If Cillian Murphy actually had terrifying supernatural powers, it would be a lot easier to stay awake."
That's doubly true considering the pedigree of the director. The trailer emphasizes the fact that we should expect something along the lines of A Nightmare on Elm Street Part Whatever: Freddy Is on a Plane This Time, We Guess, not hotel reservation-based political murder schemes.
It's a pretty standard fantasy template at this point: Lil' Peeta from the Hunger Games and his intrepid blonde friend swing across a magic river and end up in Terabithia, a Narnia-like fantasy land full of fairies, giants, and all sorts of other magical creatures!
Looks pretty cool! When our plucky protagonists are threatened by monsters, our hero even summons a mechanized power glove for some serious punching capability, so you know a bunch of awesome fantasy shit's going to go down.
The trailer has a bridge in it, how much more accuracy do you need?
There is no fantasy land, only the harsh pain of being a lonely fifth grader.
The 2007 film, based on the classic Newbery-winning novel, follows elementary school students Jesse and Leslie. The outcasts become fast friends and begin visiting a nearby forest, where they escape their daily problems by imagining a magical world called Terabithia.
That's right: Every piece of expensive CGI in the trailer, from the tallest giant to the tiniest fairy, is a product of the kids' imagination. While the trailer shows the kids swinging into Narnia's non-union equivalent, their imaginary creations never take on a life of their own in the film. Each "fantasy" sequence serves as a device for Jesse and Leslie to work through their childhood problems -- for example, the giant in the trailer represents a bully that picks on the pair at school.
So it's less "epic fantasy battle" and more "this dick keeps stealing our lunch money."
"So what?" you're probably saying. "The Wizard of Oz was technically all a dream, too! And 'Narnia' was probably just a wardrobe full of the old man's stash of hallucinogens! That doesn't detract from the wonder!" Sure, but these fantasy moments, as grand and pretty as they appear in the trailer, take up only a fraction of Bridge to Terabithia. Most of the running time is spent on Jesse fawning over his cute music teacher, drawing pictures, and getting yelled at by his dad for losing his keys.
The most exciting fantasy epic of 2007.
The trailer also leaves out any hint of the film's serious plot twist and tonal shift, aka the most memorable part of the entire story. When Jesse skips out on a trip to Terabithia so he can go to the museum because he's hot for teacher, Leslie goes by herself, falls into the river, and drowns. The rest of the story is about Jesse dealing with her death and his guilt, as he struggles with depression and withdraws into his fantasy world before finding the strength to move on.
There aren't even any fairies at the funeral.
It's a poignant, down-to-earth story about escapism and loss, not the feel-good fantasy of the year the trailers portray. But as its successful marketing campaign and The Hunger Games prove, what sells is Josh Hutcherson punching CGI wolves in the face.
In addition to knowing too much movie trailer trivia, Jonathan Persinger is the founder and editor of Remarkable Doorways Online Literary Magazine. You can find his fiction publications at Persinger's Pages, or his wasteful reviews of children's television at Blog with a Dog.
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