approved for all audiences

a critical and rhetorical look at the art and artifice of the movie trailer



It may still be difficult to see what, if anything, delineates the trailer from more conventional forms of advertising. The most innovative commercials are, after all, now available on the internet, and may soon be downloading to an iPod near you. Like many things we encounter in the pop-culture environs of the early twenty-first century, trailers have a remarkably short shelf-life. Once the feature-length film hits theatres, the trailer is quickly forgotten. True, DVDs will now offer a movie’s theatrical trailer as one of many obligatory “bonus features”, to be potentially viewed and re-viewed as often as the feature presentation itself, but I would still like to reassert my conviction that trailers are beginning to outstrip the appeal of their now daft and overlarge motion-picture parentage. With the average running time of feature films pushing two hours, and because directors and editors seem incapable of discerning what is truly nonessential to narrative efficacy, the 150-second trailer is a welcome relief. Perhaps the trailer will be to the feature film, what the two and a half minute pop song has long been to the late-romantic symphony.

Enough talk. Here’s the trailer that got me going in the first place:

It’s been several months since I first saw the trailer for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette in the theatre. There is another, longer trailer available now, and it seems like my predictions were all too accurate. Somehow Coppola - or some overqualified and underpaid “Hollywood Hack” - managed to accomplish in a minute and a half, what is completely ruined with the benefit of one more minute. I can only imagine what two and half hours will be like, when the two and half minutes are so disappointing.

What’s my problem, and what’s the big deal? Given the simple choice of music – New Order’s “Age of Consent”; intertextual enrichment, anyone? – the original trailer manages to accomplish quite a bit. It helps to tell the story of Marie Antoinette, the historical personality: her marriage at fifteen, the rumors surrounding her long un-consummated marriage, her decadent lifestyle, and her place in the public eye. It illustrates the character of the director and her previous work. It appeals to the retro-80s sensibility that is selling just about everything lately. And… it does something that I’m not sure I’ve seen a film do before. It takes something that would otherwise be unappealing to a younger generation, and puts it in a context that they can more easily relate to it.

Wait! What am I talking about? Movies have been doing that forever, haven’t they? Well, yes and no. I’m sure we can come up with any number of adaptations of Shakespeare intended for younger audiences – Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet, the Othello/high school basketball drama “O”, and of course 10 Things I Hate About You, the Julia Stiles’ high-school-teensploitation Taming of the Shrew – but all of those films take the artifact out of its original context and drop it into a modern setting and. What appears to be different about Coppala’s Marie Antoinette is that it leaves everything in its original surroundings, but changes the soundtrack. It is as if the trailer is screaming “No, it’s not different. This is you, us, NOW!” At least that’s what I hear the hot pink punk rock font screaming. And doesn’t that hot pink punk rock font – circa the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols – say almost a little too much? The complicated mess of public and private that was Marie Antoinette’s life may be very “right-now”, but so is the purple spiked mohawk and safety pinned nose of 1977... apparently.

But, I digress. And before I dig a hole larger than I can crawl out of – if, in fact, I haven’t done that quite along time ago – let me make one last appeal on behalf of the trailer. A few weeks ago I indulged in watching one of the more high profile summer blockbusters: Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest. Somewhere, about and hour an a half, into that two and a half hour fiasco, I felt the sneaking suspicion that things weren’t going to come together very neatly, even with another 60 minutes left to go. An hour later, much to my annoyance, I discovered that I had been exactly right. Instead of spending 10 dollars and wasting almost three hours of my rapidly waning life to watch the latest installment in the Pirates of the Carribean franchise, I had really been suffering through the trailer for what is, as yet, the still to be next installment in the Pirates of the Carribean franchise. Dead Man’s Chest may never officially hold the title for world’s longest trailer, but given the enormous build up without any resolution, not to mention that sly to-be-continued wink at film’s end, if by “end” you mean anything that happened after the first 30 minutes of the movie... Let’s just say, it would have been far more, well, honest – not to mention a stroke of pure genius – if Dead Man’s Chest had done without the credits and simply cut to black instead, ending with these simple words, displayed promisingly onscreen: Pirates III – The movie you thought you were just watching – Summer 2008!

Trust me. Who needs movies?

Let’s go out to the trailers.


At 8/04/2006 8:26 PM, Blogger Mattyd said...

Hey Eric, Matty here. Just found this blog and like it a lot. I'll be linking and recommending you to my blogging audience.

Hope tings are well.

At 5/28/2007 12:52 PM, Blogger Walt D in LV said...

I agree whole heartedly. Nice teaser-type trailers come out, e.g. Transformers the Movie (the teaser with the Mars rover), then a normal trailer, THEN the over-the-top tell me the whole story trailer. I've been very vehement about these spoiling trailers and avoiding them to the point where if they're shown in the theater, I put my fingers in my ears, close my eyes and start humming or singing so I still don't hear anything from the screen.

Very frustrating!

Walt D in LV


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