Monday, April 02, 2012


I don't read Salon.  It's the type of thing aimed at well-off kinda-sorta liberals, a slightly more interesting online version of The New Republic and not my sort of thing.  So I can't tell you if their political articles are any more well-researched or knowledgeable than this piece, a hugely uninteresting article with a questionable premise that is just wrong in every conceivable way.

Author Michael Barthel details the way movie trailers have changed in the digital era.  For the first century of film, even into the late nineties, movie previews were staid, hidebound things, designed to put seats into asses but certainly nothing innovative.  Trailers today, Barthel argues have changed in so many ways--where they used to rely on stentorian narrators, now they use onscreen text.  Whereas they used to feature dull soundscapes, now they are far more sophisticated in their aural design.  And most of all, trailers have become marvels of fast, innovative editing.  All in the last twenty years!

Uh-huh.  Here's a trailer from 1963.

Almost subliminal cutting, an inventive use of sound, no narrator (except to give the title, and even that's done as a joke)--pretty much gives the lie to everything Barthel claims, doesn't it?  Of course, maybe I'm being unfair.  Dr. Strangelove is one of the greatest films ever made, and director Stanley Kubrick personally obsessed over the ad campaigns for his films.  Barthel, presumably, is talking about more obviously commercial movies, big blockbusters, popcorn entertainment.

Specifically, he seems obsessed with the ad for Ridley Scott's upcoming Prometheus.

"It is amazing," Barthel gushes.  "There's no narration...few shots last for more than a second, and it builds from a quiet beginning to ear-shredding shrieks accompanying micro-second glimpses of huge effects shots."  That's an accurate enough description of the Prometheus trailer (though I don't find it particularly "amazing")...but it would also--right down to the shrieking soundtrack, something Barthel claims "simply didn't exist twenty years ago"--describe the 1979 trailer for Scott's Alien, the movie that inspired Prometheus.

In other words, Barthel doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.  There's been a "revolution" (his word, not mine) in the crafting of trailers in recent years, but not in the way he suggests.  Where ad campaigns used to be carefully tailored to each individual movie, the same generic style is used for pretty much every movie made these days.  Barthel's breathless description of the Prometheus trailer could as easily apply to The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers or any Michael Bay movie ever. 

In fact, sitting through the trailers has become one of the most painful aspects of moviegoing, a joyless slog through the same overly familiar editing patterns, the same library music, the same thing over and over and over again.  This type of thing doesn't make me want to see the movie.  It makes me want to run in the other direction.