The Best and Worst of Trailers

Micah Osler, copy editor

I have learned from over a decade of assiduous movie-viewing that there is no middle ground regarding trailers. A trailer can either be a beautiful spectacle that simultaneously sells you on a film and takes you on a sort of mental two-minute rollercoaster ride (except with less vomiting and more stale Mike & Ikes), or it can be so bad that you wonder if perhaps the filmmaker let his socially awkward six-year-old son make it as an excuse to get him out of the house for five minutes.

In that spirit, I now present for your entertainment the best of the best and the worst of the worst: three trailers so great they’ll make you believe in the power of filmmaking or something like that, and one so utterly awful as to make you immediately lose that belief and fall into a deep depression as you weep for innocence and mankind.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”: This is a trailer for an upcoming Ben Stiller picture wherein the director adapts a Depression Era short story for the modern day and also resurrects Life Magazine for some reason. So yeah, there’s that, but this is also the best use of music in a trailer I’ve seen in quite a while. Not only does the tonal contrast in the song belie the same thing in the movie – the big turnaround from semi-melancholy to anthemic comes when the titular Mitty starts living in his own imagination instead of in the world around him. The cinematography is beautiful, the premise is concisely introduced without giving anything away, and, once again, the music is great. It makes me want to see the film, which is the highest praise I can give a trailer.

The Wolf of Wall Street”: Then again, I’d see “Walter Mitty” even without the trailer. “The Wolf of Wall Street” manages to make me want to see a film I’d otherwise avoid, Martin Scorsese pedigree or no. Generally, the two things that fail to interest me in a movie are youthful hedonism and lots of people in business suits, but despite having both these things in spades, “The Wolf of Wall Street” manages to hold my attention with a pretty simple maneuver: it doesn’t define heroes and villains. While it establishes its basic premise – the amoral lavish lives of pre-Recession Wall Street geniuses – this trailer caught my eye by introducing characters without giving away their ultimate destiny.

Gravity”: This is a trailer that usually I’d hate. It has that annoying auditory cliché of a slowly building industrial noise, not-super-great intertitles, and explosions. But, that cinematography! A trailer should play up a film’s best aspect – a great preview for a comedy would show off the repartee between the leads, or a great drama would show a few choice moments of acting. In that same vein, “Gravity” plays to its strengths by juxtaposing tragedy and drama with absolutely gorgeous images. I have no idea how Alfonso Cuarón, the film’s director, got these shots, and frankly, I don’t care. This trailer works because it tells me why, specifically, the film it advertises will be great.

Riddick”: Boy, this trailer is awful. Seriously. I have nothing against hard sci-fi, but… wow. It’s nearly a Buddhist koan – how can something at once tell me nothing and tell me everything? Every key scene of the film, I’m guessing, is revealed in the trailer, and yet I have not the slightest idea what any of the random explosions, deaths, chases, or CGI alien-fests meant. Yes, part of a trailer’s job is to leave me with questions, but not this many questions. Like, who decided to let Vin Diesel do a voice-over in the most annoying voice I’ve heard this side of Adam Sandler? How many seconds did it take to think of “Fear the Dark” as a tagline? Is there any sci-fi/horror movie for which that doesn’t work? What is everybody wearing? Is this supposed to be some sort of post-ironic commentary on the blandness of Hollywood fare, or is it, alas, genuine? Most importantly, was someone actually paid – paid money – to make this thing?