One thing that has occurred to me often since my recently renewed interest in my local cinema is the fact that the construction of film trailers has, in its own way, become as much of an art as the making of the films themselves. To the extent that the average quality of film trailers is currently much higher than that of films.
In other words, the vast majority of trailers are better than the films they are advertising. And if that idea sounds a little far-fetched, think about how many times you’ve come out of a cinema thinking “hmmm…it wasn’t as good as it looked in the trailer…”
This applies particularly to big budget Hollywood fare, largely because you get to see all the exciting explosions without having to sit through the badly-written talky bits. A particularly notable example would be Godzilla, which constructed its four different trailers essentially as short films, beautifully tense and full of character but without the excesses (which is a polite way of saying crapness) of the film itself. I’d say the trailers for the Lord of the Rings films are also far more watchable than the films, because they’re shorter (and it turns out the Howard Shore actually did just about write enough music to cover a two minute trailer without getting unbearable, so well done him).
Same goes for the current relentlessly reworked American teen/spoof/gross-out comedies – the advantage of a trailer is that you can show all the funny bits in quick succession and people are left thinking it’s going to be the funniest film ever, whereas in fact it’s just all the jokes you’ve already seen spun out by a couple of hours. Barry Norman often used the example of The Nutty Professor to demonstrate his point, having laughed his socks off during a ten-minute preview and been utterly appalled when he finally saw the whole film. (I would point out that if you see a trailer for a comedy of this nature which is not funny, it bodes very badly for the film indeed. If you happen to glimpse the trailer for Date Movie you’ll see what I mean.)
A less mainstream example that springs to mind is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – the film might have been pleasant enough viewing with occasionally inspired moments, but those of us who have been listening repeatedly to the original radio series since the womb were all uncomfortably aware of what the film was missing. The trailer, however, was done as a Guide entry on film trailers which managed to send up the Hollywood format beautifully – and stood out as two minutes of material that was actually worthy of Douglas Adams. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about movie trailers,” Stephen Fry announces, taking us through the opening stages of a trailer (“often this section is preceded by the words ‘in a world’…”) all the way through to “lastly there is a final montage, often accompanied by rock music that is simply designed to blow away whatever synapses you have left in your brain.” When I first saw it I almost wept with excitement over a film that turned out not to be in the least bit worthy of any tears.
Oh, and speaking of Stephen Fry, there’s the trailer for Gosford Park, which is actually a trailer for a completely different film in which the short bit featuring Fry’s detective has been expanded to make him the main character; as such it makes the film come across as a raucously funny British slapstick romp. I remember a cinema full of people virtually applauding it when it came out. I also remember being a bit disappointed by a film which, though full of magical moments and beautiful ensemble acting, is altogether less hilarious (and also less consistent) than the trailer suggested it would be.
Oh, I could go on… The Passion of the Christ, because in the space of the trailer the violence is genuinely horrific and not just ridiculous. Possibly even Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-rabbit, again because it contains all the best jokes from the film but mainly because it has Tom Baker’s voice on it.
It’s almost de rigeur for DVDs of films to come with the trailers these days. How long before we get compilation DVDs of just trailers? Could that be the modern equivalent of those old compilation films in the It’s a Carry On vein? Perhaps directors will even start making trailers without films to accompany them, in much the same way as when Jorge Luis Borges had an idea for a novel he’d just write a review of it to save himself the effort of writing the novel itself.
Since I’m on the subject of films, I’ve also started making a list of films I shall never see on principle. They currently stand at the following five:
The Da Vinci Code (and I’ll be starting a club for people who wish to join me in feeling superior)
The Wicker Man remake (no Christopher Lee in a dress? not interested)
The Ladykillers remake (I love the Coen brothers dearly, but what were they thinking???)
The Pink Panther remake (it’s not like the original is a great film to begin with – but Steve Martin as a Peter Sellers for the 21st century? perleeese…)
Matrix Revolutions (as it is I’m pissed off that I wasted three hours of my life watching the first sequel)
I know that’s not a long list, but like the Pope’s list of forbidden works, I think it’s essentially a pretty negative thing to have films that one won’t see on principle. That said, life’s too short to waste on rubbish, and I feel my choices pretty much justify themselves. If you have any suggestions for further films I should avoid, I will certainly consider them.