The things in this world that give me goosebumps aren’t exactly myriad.
Sure, if I chow down on a particularly impressive piece of peanut butter fudge or really, really get into Airplanes pt. 2 (featuring Eminem and Hayley Williams), my arms tend to get bumpier than the crappy streets in downtown Richmond.
But it takes something really special to make this happen when I’m in a room filled with moviegoers. Something like, say, the newly released trailer of Super 8.
It’s old school Spielbergian: awe-inspiring, chill-inducing, middle-America discovery story full of familiar familial fluffiness. (Note: fluffy isn’t derogatory but merely an adjective to compare Super 8 to the hardened ways of, say, Saw 8.)
Oh yeah, and because J.J. Abrams is directing, it’s gonna be at once dark, hip, scrumptiously sci-fi-ish.
It was the best part of seeing Battle: LA in theaters. (Sorry, Aaron Eckhart, your chiseled jaw isn’t quite as amazing as a Spielberg/J.J. Abrams collaboration).
Personally, I can’t wait. They had me hooked when they released that courageously cryptic trailer 10 months ago that only showed us an explosive train wreck and cut to black mere moments before we could see the super-sized monstrosity breaking free of its transportation. (I distinctly remember hearing people in the theater screaming “WHAT???” which prompted me to rush in screaming, perhaps in defense, “AWESOME!!!”)
But let’s use this as a springboard for something else: how come most trailers aren’t that great? Surely it has to do with the fact that, for the most part, a lot of things just aren’t. Whatever the piece of entertainment, it takes a certain skill set to set something apart from the crowd.
And trailers are no exception. 90 percent of ‘em are garbage, and the 10 percent that seem like they aren’t usually owe it to the actors or the directors attached to them. “Ah, that trailer wasn’t anything special, but Tom Hanks/Will Smith/Sasha Grey is usually in good films, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt”. Our love for the participants blind us to the rather pedestrian nature of it all.
Except when they’re actually good. I mean, goosebumps-giving, erection-incuding good. (Lookin’ at you, Sasha Grey! Sorry, just saw The Girlfriend Experience, and boyyyy oh boy.)
I remember around September, there were some really freakin good trailers around. And I found that there was sort of a link between them all: every one of them had killer music (not necessarily action packed, but fresh), interesting images and a certain restraint – they didn’t give everything away.
First example: The Social Network
I remember first seeing this trailer and falling in love with it immediately. The use of “Creep” as sung by a chorus of children more than lives up to its name, especially as used to tell a story of greed, betrayal and creepy social communication in the 21st century.
Combine that with a great mix of dialogue and images, and you’ve got a trailer that’s been viewed over 5 million times on YouTube (around 4 million of those were me). I’d argue a great trailer is as powerful as any 90 minute film, and this one is just that for me: it seemingly has that key 3-act structure complete with a great climax (Sasha? oh wait…) when Eduardo screams “Mark!!!!!” and subsequently smashes his lappy to smithereens. (You also gotta know that’s Aaron Sorkin mutilating his much-maligned image of the internet in a fit of emotional catharsis.)
More than anything, though, a good trailer holds all the keys to making a movie succeed or fail. Before The Social Network‘s full trailer was released, it was seen, with idiotic snickering, as The Facebook Movie and nothing more: a way for Hollywood to mooch off the 500 million users of the networking site by getting them to come to the theater and watch their computer savior get born.
I think this trailer changed all that. It’s classy, edgy and sets the tone with utter perfection: this isn’t some tale of a kid who couldn’t connect to his parents and therefore decided to connect to the rest of the world. It isn’t sophomoric, it’s subtle.
Not to mention infinitely interesting.
As another example of a great trailer, let’s check out Inception.
The jury is seemingly out on whether or not the film will remain as heralded as it was when it stormed the screen (the erosion has already begun, so I’m thinking not), but I’ll always have a soft spot for the trailer.
It not only gets across the sorta-outlandish concept (incept? LOL!), but it refuses to give away most of the film. The music is thoroughly kick-ass (Hans Zimmer, you’re the man!) and the images are spectacular.
I think what most trailers need is L-O-V-E LOVE. Not some hack whose job it is to create interest with a homogenized bastardization of a trailer that shows explosions and corny dialogue in an effort to grab the 70 percent of the public who have come to expect that as the norm.
No, trailers need the visionaries who volunteer their time to make the advertising as original as the films they craft. So where we’d normally get cookie-cutter crap for an Inception trailer, we get a Christopher Nolan-approved masterpiece of marketing which is purposefully enigmatic and proudly energetic: it has a magnificently slow build that gives way to booming music and truly spectacular visuals.
Can you imagine the same hype that surrounded Inception happening had the trailer not been as successfully ambiguous as it was? Sure, Leonard DiCaprio’s God-carved mug helps make the proceedings handsome and Nolan had The Dark Knight under his belt, but all that contributes in as much as it gets the fan-boys and -girls there. The trailer is what the masses eat up, and this one was perfection.
Let’s backtrack and look at what preceded these trailers:
The Social Network (Teaser)
Its worth noting that the top two comments on this trailer are “Oh my fucking god, this trailer actually gave me chills” and “I always get chills watching this trailer”.
Why? Because it’s fresh, it’s exciting, it’s different. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a trailer like this before.
Which is a crazy kind of amazing, considering the face value: all it is are a bunch of words with speech coming under them. But the format stems from our existence in the 21st century: everyone and their mother knows the format of instant messaging, whether it’s on a smart phone, AIM or facebook messaging. And that not only makes this trailer rather awesome, but wickedly recognizable.
How about that slow build we mentioned earlier – it’s here in spades. It slowly goes from being interesting to engaging to downright scary. And some great lines are there, too – among my favorites “The internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.” and “We have groupies.”
Hot damn, we’ve got ourselves the Most Plain and Blank original and downright sexy trailer of all time.
OK, maybe that’s taking it too far. How about the teaser for Inception?
I think it’s a great teaser (the music gets a little annoying at the end there), complete with a quarter dose of what made the official Inception trailer so exciting: a dollop of concept explanation, really freakin’ cool images (that hallway fight scene remains, for me, the best scene of the film) and DiCaprio’s menacing thousand yard stares.
Never gets old.
There’s one more trailer I want to showcase, and perhaps not coincidentally, it’s another David Fincher one: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
To me, it embodies something that all great trailers do: a flawless mix of sound and sight. Every rhyme and verse coincides with the music, and the effect is something akin to visual poetry. (Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt are some pretty people.)
So what do you think? Am I placing too much emphasis on trailers? Or can they be works of art just like the entirety of a film?