Friday, May 21, 2010

The Trailer as Mini-Movie

The other day on Facebook I put up a self-made trailer for Citizen Kane with the idea of making it a spoiler trailer of the kind that does everything but show you the climax of the film, frame for frame. As such, Rosebud is quite obviously hinted at throughout, effectively spoiling the mystery for anyone who hasn't seen it. It seems like a modern dilemma but actually trailers have been doing it for decades. Neil Sarver mentioned the trailer for The Searchers as among the worst offenders and he's right, it does play like a mini-version of the film itself leaving little surprise for the viewer in the theatrical setting. Another mini-movie is the original trailer for Jaws.

But for me, it's not just the spoiler quality of modern trailers that makes them so awful but the by-rote editing style everyone is now familiar with as exemplified in this now famous and widely seen parody of modern day trailers, found here. But it's this trailer for Avatar that I had in mind more when making mine as it has the same old action/thriller trailer editing schtick down pat: Intro to characters, slow build to story followed by short montage with quick cuts and music building towards crescendo. Then title and sometimes, as in mine, a short post-title scene before credits. And this method of trailer making is, to me, an anti-sell of the movie. I was no big fan of Avatar (see my lukewarm review) but it was better than the trailer would lead one to believe. The trailer looks like a bad sell of one of the worst video games ever conceived.

I don't watch trailers much for this very reason. They never quite sell me on a movie and make movies I might otherwise find enjoyable seem really bad. And in some cases, as mentioned earlier, Pleasantville and What Lies Beneath being two notable examples, they practically show the viewer a condensed version of the entire narrative making seeing the actual film virtually pointless (which, in the case of What Lies Beneath was probably a good thing).

Because of this "tell all" nature of the theatrical trailer I much prefer the teaser trailer, the one that gives but a hint of the movie and actually makes you want to see it. My favorite of recent years is probably Inglourious Basterds. It's entertaining and fun and most of all, once you see the film, you realize it gave away virtually nothing. But teasers don't have much of that quality anymore and seem as bad as the full trailers that often follow. And somehow, in a kind of perverse celebration of this, I plan on making more trailers for classic movies, in part to keep my editing skills up to task and in part just to see how to best make a bad trailer for the purely creative aspect of it. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy making them. Probably not but what the hell, I'm going to make them anyway.

Here's the Citizen Kane trailer for those who didn't see it on Facebook. The sound quality's not as good as I'd like (my narration is a little too echo-chamber sounding) but that should, hopefully, improve with time. Enjoy.