Trailer Tracking: ‘Skyfall,’ ‘Gangster Squad,’ ‘The Campaign,’ ’The Master’
CHICAGO – Thanks to the internet, movie trailers are having a bit of a golden age recently. They’ve never had a wider reach and, as a result, they’ve never had a bigger cultural impact. The first online trailer for an upcoming movie can make or break the pre-release buzz and having a cool teaser trailer has just become table stakes for any big release on the horizon.
Case in point – this month saw the release of a teaser trailer for “Anchorman 2”, even though they won’t start filming the actual movie for MONTHS. BUT, as soon as the project was announced, the filmmakers KNEW that they had to have a teaser trailer online as quickly as possible to make audiences excited and ensure that the film was on everyone’s radar. And I think it was the right decision. At least 15 people have emailed me the link to the “Anchorman 2” teaser since it was released, so, with one minute of footage of the characters in costume talking to the camera, the filmmakers have already been able to mobilize their fan base to jumpstart their marketing efforts for them. It really does speak to the power of the modern movie trailer.
That’s a nice segue into our monthly look at the best and worst in recent movie trailers, where we’ll be sampling the previews for another Will Ferrell comedy, the new James Bond film, a star-studded period police drama, and some unexpected footage of Joaquin Phoenix fondling a sand nipple (seriously). Enjoy.
Best Parts of the Teaser: The fact that it’s an “actually show footage” teaser trailer rather than an “Anchorman 2”-esque “just getting everyone excited for the concept” teaser trailer; few previews use the word “provocateur” so well; Is that Ralph Fiennes? Yay!; It seems the word “Skyfall” is far more relevant to the plot than, let’s say, a “Quantum of Solace”
Worst Parts of the Teaser: Reminds us of how long it’s been since the last Bond movie; Not decided if we love the villain tease – silhouetted against a flaming background – or if it annoys us.
OUR TAKE: The James Bond franchise reboot, which director Martin Campbell kicked off in 2006 with “Casino Royale”, is possibly one of the most successful film reboots of all time. “Casino Royale” not only gave us a new Bond (something we’re used to), but it also completely recontextualized Bond for the modern era (something we’re not). Campbell and his screenwriters had the guts to strip Bond down to his core, removing everything unnecessary – the puns, the gadgets, the cartoonish schemes, the more blatant misogyny, etc. – but leaving intact all of the elements that have made Agent 007 such a film icon for the past 50 years. Bond suddenly became relevant again in the world that had moved on and embraced spy heroes like Jason Bourne, but, unlike with Bourne and his ilk, there is still this sense of over-the-top mischievous fun to the Bond movies that, in my personal opinion, make them 10 times more entertaining to watch than the dour Bourne franchise. I like Bond movies, I always have, so I was definitely excited to see the first footage from the long-developing next chapter, particularly since it’s directed by “American Beauty”’s Sam Mendes.
The teaser is more of a mood piece than anything else, giving only glimpses of plot details and reveling in teasing out little snippets of words and images to whet our appetites for another Bond adventure. But I was impressed at how much Mendes did with so little in this trailer. First and foremost, he established that “Skyfall” is going to be a beautiful film. While the revamped Bond franchise has, at times, aped the trademark Jason Bourne visual style that director Paul Greengrass is largely credited for creating – grainy shots, shaky camera, quick edits – the footage in the “Skyfall” trailer looks meticulously composed and undeniably cinematic in scope. We get gorgeous shots of Daniel Craig looking over the London rooftops, Judi Dench standing over a series of coffins draped with the British flag, a woman slowing shaving Bond’s face, a man falls from a great height in a pose that makes it look like he’s posing for the “Vertigo” poster, a man, whom we assume is the villain, walks in silhouette in front of flames… the images are very lush and sumptuous both in their design and execution. My particular favorite one is the image of Bond and M, standing with their backs to us, with a classic 007 Aston Martin in the foreground, as they consider a misty valley in front of them. That shot alone has so much mood and texture that it looks like a painting that a Bond fan might have hanging over their fireplace. And Mendes really teases out these images – giving us long, slow looks at them – for the large majority of the teaser trailer. It’s not until the 1:14 mark of this 1:23 minute trailer that we get the kind of hypercut action montage that dominates most spy thriller trailers. It’s an interesting strategy for an action teaser trailer and I think it works surprisingly well.
And Mendes doesn’t just score with his economy and skill in teasing out the images from the film. There is relatively little dialogue in the trailer, but, with a few words, Mendes establishes a whole lot about “Skyfall.” For starters, in the word-association scene in the trailer’s opening, we see Bond being somewhat politely interrogated by the MI5 – Judi Dench and the great Ralph Fiennes watch from behind a two-way mirror – and his answers tell us a lot about the world Bond is living in. For example, when given the word “murder”, Bond replies “employment”, which is both cheeky and very keeping with the way that Bond was reestablished in “Casino Royale” – a spy who is very aware that he is also seen as a blunt weapon and will sometimes be asked to use his license to kill. Then the interviewer gives Bond the word “Skyfall” and, from his reaction and the reaction of those watching, we immediately know that “Skyfall” is something major. Bond refuses to answer – he responds “Done” – and, with those two tiny words, Mendes sets up a BIG mystery for the viewers at home. “What the hell is Skyfall?” It’s obviously something significant and, with two words and no other plot details, Mendes has us asking our own questions and imagining our own answers. It’s a FANTASTIC tease. With just the title of the movie and a few shots of cast members looking concerned, he’s created an entire mystery. I’m very impressed with what Mendes was able to do with his “Skyfall” teaser. He firmly establishes that Daniel Craig’s Bond is back, he sets the mood, he gives us a taste of some action, and he even hints at a plot with the barest minimum of exposition. That’s what a teaser trailer should do. Consider me hooked.
QUICK ASIDE: The prevailing gossip is that Ralph Fiennes is in line to replace the aging Judi Dench as “M”, i.e. 007’s boss. What do you think? Would Fiennes make a great M? Or is the gossip wrong? Maybe Fiennes is someone else – some have argued that he could be the new Q – Bond’s gadget-loving quartermaster who was dumped in the reboot – or that he could secretly be the evil Ernst Blofeld, the cat-stroking super-villain best remembered as the inspiration for Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil. We’ll have to wait and see.
TRAILER OUTLOOK: A very elegant, very cool teaser trailer that raises more questions than it answers. More please.