Friday, July 31, 2009


One of the weird things about going to the movies these days is sitting through the trailers for upcoming releases. Sometimes they seem to be actively attempting to turn you away from the movies they're ostensibly promoting. In most cases, they're so formulaic you never want to go to the theater again. Often they're jaw-droppingly awful. And once in awhile, they actually make you think, "Holy crap, I can't wait."

Consider this.

I have very mixed feelings about this. As a huge fan of stop-motion animation, my initial thought is that I hate this--the characters move in a generic, uninteresting way, as if the animators were only interested in moving the models from Point A to Point B and didn't care about such niceties as characterization.

On the other hand, this movie is a unique case: the first animated film directed by Wes Anderson. The acting in his films is always particularly stylized, designed to be part of a larger aesthetic, coordinated with his very particular use of settings and camera set-ups. That seems to be what he's going for here, in a radically different context, and there's no way of knowing whether his experiment will be successful until we see the final film.

This trailer, however, is mostly awful. From the generic "Based on the book by the author of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" credit--Really? They think nobody will recognize Roald Dahl's name?--to the emphasis on the big name voice cast to the forced light-hearted tone, this is made to look like a standard issue Dreamworks animated picture, full of wacky action and zany characters. But it's a Wes Anderson picture, which means it will most likely be more melancholy than anything else. I understand why the studio may not want to promote it that way, but I can easily imagine lots of pissed-off kids and parents complaining about this movie when it opens, feeling that the movie advertised wasn't the movie they were given.

Two thoughts on this one. The first time I saw this in the theater, I was with Paul, who, when the title appeared, asked, "Are they actually saying all this is going to happen in 2012?" When I told him yes, that's the idea, he shook his head and said, "I don't think so." When a nine-year-old is mocking your very premise, you're in trouble.

But my other thought is, if you look at old school disaster movies, the two that work best--to the extent that they work at all--are The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. The reason for that is, they are about very specific situations: A cruise ship turned upside down, a skyscaper on fire. Everything that happens follows from that premise: How do we get out of this ship? How do we put out the fire? Another movie from that era that tried to ramp up the disaster formula to near-apocalyptic levels was Earthquake, and aside from terrible acting and a laughable script, its main problem was that there was so much going on, floods and fire and falling debris and runaway elevators and collapsing houses, that it became too much, and the sheer overkill became laughable.

Multiply that problem by a million and you have 2012, the movie that boldly assumes that, when the whole world is ending, we actually care what happens to John Cusack.

Oh, dear God. This, more than anything else, is the type of trailer I hate sitting through. It's utterly generic, reveals all the plot points, robs the movie of any and all surprises. And worse, it's for a movie that will clearly be utterly generic, have an easily-predicted plot and have no surprises to reveal. It's the type of competent, formulaic crap (and, of course, a remake) that seems to be the only thing Hollywood knows how to turn out anymore. There's not a hint of wit or originality to be found here, and enduring three or four similar previews in a row is enough to make anyone want to never go out to the movies again.

Ah, but then there's this.

Look, I could go on for days about Joel & Ethan Coen (Have I mentioned my theory that they're the cinematic equivalent to Steely Dan? Have I mentioned that's the highest praise I can muster?), but what's worth talking about here is the trailer itself: Whether it was put together by the Coens themselves or farmed out to some boutique, it's a thing of beauty. It has its own rhthym (literally--the thump thump thump against the wall), it shows plenty of footage from the movie itself and yet somehow reveals nothing of the plot, it is funny and disorienting and a little bit sad. And more than anything else, it makes me really, really want to see the movie.

Which is what a trailer should do, of course, but as we can see, almost never does.