Episode 2: The Art of the Movie Trailer
Remember back in grade school when you had to do a book report? Right, I know, that was a LONG time ago. The gist of the book report was to summarize a story, whether that be a written, oral or (start the time machine) diorama presentation. If you were anything like me, you tried to strategically time the purchase of some new Air Jordan’s to the due date of your 4th grade diorama.
But basically the book report was to tell the story in a few words and have someone be able to understand the purpose of the story. Movie trailers set out to do the same thing, but if a modern movie trailer was submitted as a book report to Mrs. Cushing in 4th grade, I would have gotten a D-, maybe even an F. And that is what makes them great.
A movie trailer only shows you the best parts or, if they are really good, they allude to the best parts. Trailers usually are great examples of outstanding sound mixing, editing and storytelling, or maybe the lack thereof.
Trailers have gone through a big transformation since they were first shown to audiences. The first widely seen trailers were usually fairly long and in book report terms would probably have gotten an A. Here is one for the 1963 movie “The Great Escape”.
If you have seen the movie, and you should it is a classic, the trailer for the most part gives away the entire film. They even show Steve McQueen’s sweet motorcycle jump over the barb wire fences. But it is pretty apparent that they do not escape capture after the camps.
Here is an example of what could be considered the stereotypical movie trailer for Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
It has the voice of Don LaFontaine, quick cuts, big music and a lot of “bangs.” Somewhat tells the story, but doesn’t give it away. We don’t know what happens in the end. Does John Connor live, which Terminator is victorious in the end, do Skynet take over the world? On the book report scale, this one probably gets a solid C.
Modern day trailers have taken on a little bit of a different look, feel and structure. Now it almost seems the lower grade you get on the book report scale, the better the trailer. The trailer for Tim Burton’s “9” is a great example of this. (embedding was disabled, so click on the link to watch it directly at YouTube.)
No voice over, but multiple cuts of dialogue from the movie that maybe tell the story. Also, LOTS of quick cuts, a commercial music track in Coheed and Cambria’s “Welcome Home” and big booms and bangs. About the only thing I can get out of this trailer is that there is apparently an end of the world scenario, a group of cloth dolls who seem to be fighting whatever it is that is in control, and, well, that is about it. I do know that is has the voices of some major Hollywood stars. Book report grade – D. Trailer grade, A.
There are also teaser trailers, which make no apologies for not telling us anything. Here is James Cameron’s long awaited look at “Avatar.”
Do you know what this movie is about? Not by watching this. The only dialogue is the one line from the big blue alien saying “This is great.” Book report grade – F.
So what is the art of the movie trailer? At its rawest form the trailer is supposed to make you want to go see the movie. It is meant to evoke excitement. We all know that sometimes the trailer for a film is better than the actual film, but if you went to see said film than the trailer did exactly what it was supposed to do. Sometimes there are trailers that do exactly the opposite of the film, and here is one of my all time favorites.