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What’s In A Trailer?

by  in Comic News, Movie News Comment

Public interest in John Carter is seemingly minimal – despite some outstanding reviews – in large part, if not entirely, because of the trailers that made the movie look like some generic SF movie we’ve all seen before, but this week’s release of the Avengers trailer prompted widespread excitement about what’s facing Thor, Captain America and Iron Man this summer. How much power does a trailer actually have… And what makes a good one?

What’s in a trailer? Public interest in John Carter is seemingly minimal – despite some outstanding reviews – in large part, if not entirely, because of the trailers that made the movie look like some generic SF movie we’ve all seen before, but this week’s release of the Avengers trailer prompted widespread excitement about what’s facing Thor, Captain America and Iron Man this summer. How much power does a trailer actually have… And what makes a good one?

I’ll be honest; the latest trailer for Avengers really doesn’t do it for me, because by focusing on the slam-bang action sequences and special effects, what I am interested in in the movie – Joss Whedon and his dialogue, to be brutally honest – gets entirely minimized, with the result seeming like a particularly generic action movie. The post-title reveal of Iron Man being chased by some flying robot worm at the end of the trailer just underscored how non-Avengers-ish the trailer feels in comparison with the original comics, and also how similar parts of the trailer feels to the Michael Bay Transformers movies.

To me, there’s not a massive amount of difference in terms of structure or content between that Avengers trailer and the John Carter trailers that have been much maligned online in light of the atrocious pre-release tracking of the movie (Is Carter this year’s Green Lantern? I wouldn’t be too surprised, to be honest, although it looks as if it may be a better movie than Lantern ended up being). That isn’t to say that I think that the Carter trailers are better than most people think, because I don’t; I simply find both to be similarly underwhelming, filled with action and dialogue that don’t really sit together well, glimpses of familiar faces, and sound effects that sound like a tractor burping being slowed down really far (You know the noise I mean, right…?). So why is one successful in getting people psyched up, and the other isn’t…?

I’m tempted to say that it’s because the Avengers trailer correctly identifies the selling point of the movie for most people: “It’s all these guys in one movie! Look! There they are, standing next to each other and frowning to prove it!” That you can’t really tell what’s going on in the plot or what’s going on is entirely secondary, but that’s okay, because it’s entirely secondary to the movie, too; this is a movie where the selling point is “It’s all these guys in one movie.” By comparison, if you’ve never read any of the original John Carter books, what does the name mean to you…? Noah Wyle in er, if anything, and there’s nothing even vaguely medical about the trailers we’ve seen.

The value of John Carter is hidden in the trailers because, I suspect, it’s a much harder sell; it’s that it’s a well-executed epic adventure, and… well, how do you get that idea over in a couple of minutes? The latest round of trailers is probably the most likely one to succeed, because it not only emphasizes the historical importance of the story, but also has the all important one word reviews to grab attention. Even this, though, isn’t any different from what we’ve already seen before, and even the worst movies – Last Airbender, anyone? – can seem to dredge up promises that it is “outstanding” or “breathtaking” from one tiny-type source or another, so perhaps it’s a case of too little, too late.

But maybe I’m being too narrow in my idea of what works in trailers and what doesn’t. Can over-the-top special effects sell you on a movie, regardless of any hint of plot? Does JJ Abrams’ “mystery box” approach work without the JJ Abrams brand name? Use the comments section, people: What are your favorite trailers – and why?