Many of us enjoy going to the movies—hell, some of us (myself included) love it. Sure, we all know that filmmaking is a rarely mastered art form, but even a film that is mediocre by most standards can resonate deeply with its audience and earn the ten or so dollars each of them spent to see it. The trouble is finding that audience. Few of us make the trip out to our local Cineplex without knowing which film we’re going to see. And we often make that choice because the preview, or trailer, for that film piqued our interest. Without a trailer, a film has to depend on word of mouth to find its audience, which is all rose petals and daffodils if you’re last name is Spielberg or Tarantino, but empty pockets if it’s not.
Originally, trailers were shown at the end of a feature film screening (hence the name). But, you guessed it, few people stayed after the credits; to get more bang for their buck, the powers that be decided to do the ol’ switcheroo, showing the trailers before the feature, and the practice has stuck ever since. These days, you’re likely to sit through at least ten to fifteen minutes of previews before the film starts
But let’s cut to the chase. Trailers are advertisements that exist solely to turn a profit. But that doesn’t mean they’re not an art form in and of themselves. Sometimes, the trailer can be better than the film it’s promoting; other times, it whets the pallet in all the right ways, teasing us with a taste of what’s to come.
There’s an often-used formula to these things, sure enough, but that doesn’t depreciate their value. Some trailers are awful, yes, and some are pure mediocrity, but there are a few that are truly astonishing in how simply and deeply they resonate.
Here are a variety of different trailers, showcasing how the medium can be used in different ways to meet different objectives.
PERFECTION: The Tree of Life
Here’s the trailer for The Tree of Life, the upcoming film by Terrence Malick (director of The Thin Red Line and The New World). For me, this trailer is perfection. As far as plot goes, it only hints at what the film might be about. But that’s beside the point. What this trailer does, and does so surprisingly and achingly well, is set the tone. I cannot explain why or how this trailer affects me the way it does; I can only revel in the experience of it.
GREEN BAND vs. RED BAND: Your Highness
As mentioned above, a good trailer will set the tone of a film. The trouble arises when the tone relies heavily on content that is not appropriate for all audiences. The solution is simple: release a red band trailer (i.e. a trailer with profanity, graphic violence, nudity, etc, and which can only be shown before R-rated, NC-17, or unrated movies). How much of a difference is there? Consider both the green band and red band trailers for the upcoming film, Your Highness (among other things, note the change in bikini bottoms for Natalie Portman’s bathing scene).
FAKE TRAILER: Hobo With a Shotgun
When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodreguez released Grindhouse, their horror/exploitation double feature, they sandwiched their two films between a series of fake trailers. To support the release of Grindhouse, they held a fake trailer contest. The winner was Hobo With a Shotgun, which has now been made into a feature film and has a real trailer, which you can view here. (Both trailers are NSFW).
RE-CUT TRAILER: Shining
What if the trailer for a movie was re-cut with different scenes and different music? Could it change the tone of the film entirely? You bet. From horror to comedy and vice-versa, the re-cut trailer is a parody trailer, made by fans for fans, and often to humourous effect. My favourite is the re-cut trailer for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Enjoy.
Rowing for Pleasure is a weekly opinions column written by Z S Roe. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.