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When good movie trailers go bad

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


A few years back I learned a high school classmate of mine was working in Hollywood cutting movie trailers together. Let's call him Steve, though that is not his real name because I canít remember what his real name is.

Being the movie junkie I am, his career choice piqued my interest. I'm interested in all aspects of movie making - from trailers to posters to the finished product. I like movie trailers so much that I find myself downloading them from the Internet and archiving them onto CD. I've done this for several years now and estimate my movie trailer collection to be somewhere in the hundreds. (And people say not having a girlfriend is a negative.)

As a kid I'd find myself more excited about the movie trailers before a movie than the movie I was in the theater to see. Although I might have made the mistake of seeing Madonna's Who's That Girl over at the Georgetown Cinemas back in the late 1980's, the trailers before the feature more than made up for it. (Yes, I saw Who's That Girl in the theater and not on TBS like everyone else.)

Anyway, I have a message for Steve; I think I have the solution to making movie trailers better - stop using the same ideas that have been popping up in trailers and movie marketing for decades now.

For example, stop using the word "forever." As in "the events depicted in this movie will change the world... forever." (And there's always that pause built into the phrase. I guess it helps accentuate the fact that the trailer's announcer really means it.) Though "forever" might have been a good choice for use in The Passion of the Christ, which it could be argued the events depicted within changed the world, I doubt that a movie like Charlie's Angels can get away with "forever" in the trailer. Unless it's along the lines of "that seven dollars you spent seeing Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle will be gone... forever."

A phrase that should never be used again is "a new kind of hero." Lots of movie heros, especially the super-variety, are "a new kind of hero." But aren't these "new kind of hero's" usually just another "old kid of hero" in different pants? When the character Van Helsing in the movie of the same name is introduced as a "new kind of hero," I was at a loss to understand what exactly was new about him? He looks a bit like the character The Shadow with the wide brimmed hat, and acts a bit like Indiana Jones who also sports a brimmed hat though not nearly as wide (Not that the Indiana Jones character is all that original.) What's so new about borrowing traits from old characters and mixing them up into new ones? I think a better description for Van Helsing would have been "a Frankenstein like character made of parts and pieces of other more successful characters."

Almost as bad as a "new kind of hero" are the characters who are delivering "their own brand of justice." As in The Punisher, he's dealing out his "own brand of justice." Not that I have anything against the movie The Punisher, just that if anything the character in The Punisher, like Van Helsing, is a mix-mash of previous characters. Take the Vietnam War experience of Thomas Magnum (Magnum P.I.), mix it with the vengeance factor of Dirty Harry and the ultra-violence of a Tarantino movie and you have The Punisher. If anything, a character like The Punisher is really delivering "everyone else's brand of justice repackaged for the 21st century."

My major gripe with trailers, and movie marketing in general, is when the marketing behind the movie tries to connect the movie's theme to something timely. It's usually done to present the movie as delivering a warning or showing the "dire consequences of continuing on our ways." (And the last time I checked the main goal behind every movie was to make lots and lots of money for the movie studio.) Though I may love the movie 28 Days Later it is guilty of this practice. The marketing for 28 Days Later tried to cash in on the then recent SARS epidemic and tie that into the disease ravaged London of the movie.

And this summer the new movie The Day After Tomorrow is presenting itself as a dire warning for the future. A sort of "if we keep mowing our lawns with gas lawn mowers and not carpooling to work, the ice age presented in The Day After Tomorrow could REALLY happen." Just like The Poseidon Adventure in the 1970's was a warning that ships could suddenly flip over in the open ocean. How many times has that happened?

Since these words and phrases keep being used over and over again in movie trailers, I suspect that they must be working and bringing people into the theaters. I suppose if Steve (not his real name) ever got the notion, he could cut together a trailer that would be guaranteed to bring the masses into the theaters like Mormons to a genealogy convention. The words to the trailer would go something like this, "He/She is a new kind of hero, delivering his/her own brand of justice. And if (Insert Character's Name Here) has his/her way, they'll change the world forever."

Gold baby - pure gold.

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