The Passion of Movie Trailers

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The usual assortments of movie trailers paraded past me before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Suck last night, and they’re an interesting jumble of images that are sticking with me today as I think about inspiration and passion. Now, naturally, a film trailer doesn’t include all the suck as it is meant to get your butt into the seat, and ostensibly it communicates some impression of what the film is like so as not to surprise you too much when you arrive. But it is a great trailer that communicates some of the passion involved in the project.

I used to write out trailers for books before I wrote them as a means of encapsulating the book into a couple minutes worth of image and thematic voice-over. The idea being that I could come back to the material in a few years and figure out in a short time what I had wanted to do with the book. It was a way to compress and file ideas away, but it’s always a way of pulling together all the reasons I want to write a project too. Typically, half or more of the material never makes it into the book, and I got to a point where I would write them in screenplay or comic script format so as to allow myself to write notes out in authorial shorthand without worrying too much about the language. The trick was, after all, about imprinting something on the brain, not necessarily about getting all swoony with the language.

This also means I get fascinated by movie trailers and will go back and watch them on the DVD to see what has changed between sales pitch and execution and why, and also what effect the trailer had on me versus the film itself. Just another tool, after all. The trailer is, then, the passionate pitch, the seductive lure that brings you in, that says, “Oh, yes, I am filled with all manner of magic.”

So, what did I see the other day? Australia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Kung-fu Panda, The Dark Knight, and Hancock. Let’s dispense with the easy ones: Kung-fu Panda is a Jack Black kid vehicle done by the Ice Age team. Silly, predictable, and filled with the sort of animation-fu you’d expect. Plus Jack Black makes “schooshz” a kung-fu sound effect. Bonus. I will probably just buy it on DVD and watch it a thousand times with the kids. Easy. The Dark Knight is a given, as well: Nolan, Bale, Ledger, Caine, Eckhart, Oldman. Everyone bringing their ‘A’ game to a variation of Moore’s The Killing Joke. Ledger’s death is all the more tragic and stupid in that he seems to have figured out how to harness all of the psychotic creepiness of Nicolson’s Joker without any of the arch egocentrism that Nicolson can’t seem to let go of, especially when he’s doing something so iconic as The Joker.

The rest are a mixed bag, but interesting in how they present their passions. Australia seems to be the sort of overwrought epic that Ed Zwick does in his sleep, and it’ll play to that sort of history-loving crowd well (and the trailer hits all the notes you’d expect it to). And it seems like the sort of film that would bore me completely. But it’s a Baz Luhrmann film. Now, Baz piques my interest as both Moulin Rouge! and Romeo & Juliet were films that SHOULD NOT HAVE WORKED as pitched. Yet, we own both and I’d watch ’em again in a heartbeat (and, frankly, every time Harold Perrineau gets all overwrought on Lost and starts screaming “WALT!,” I wonder what the fuck happened to the guy who, as Mercutio, made Leonardo diCaprio seem like a tongue-tied 1st year drama student?). So, Baz does a sweeping epic about his homeland with a couple of his fellow Aussies. That, at the very least, says no one is fulfilling contractual obligations. It may still be overwrought and self-indulgent, but it’ll do so with all the right sort of fervent intensity.

Julie Taymor is another director that gets points for effort, but she needs the right project. Titus was a mess, but Across The Universe was a smashing success for me. More so because I was dragged to that one against my will, sure it was going to be an utter disaster, but I found it completely captivating and filled with all manner of brilliance. Like Baz, she has a vision, and conventional storytelling methods just aren’t necessary. benpeek was talking about Southland Tales the other day, and I’m in agreement with him: it’s more interesting to see a failed experiment, especially one that reaches far, than something that is by-the-numbers safe. Ben links to the Justin Timberlake video that creeps into the film, and that’s worth checking out, just to see what could have been if the whole movie had kept up that manic intensity.

And, as an aside as this is stream of consciousness Friday, let’s talk about The Rock, er, Dwayne Johnson. It’s clear the man can act, and can do more than be a hulking brute on the wrestling circuit, but he’s still making safe choices. Southland Tales was a stretch, but not enough. Johnson is trying to put his wrestling career behind him by doing tame Disney flicks or safe glad-handing comedy roles, and it’s clear he’s got a good sense of timing, but he’s still got his safety net. The man has a thousand watts of charisma and, really, it doesn’t matter what he does, we’ll watch. For example, Peter Berg is thinking about doing a remake of Dune. What if they recast the Harkonnen family as gen-modders–a family obsessed with physical perfection. Put Lynch’s gross physical brutishness behind us and go to other extreme. Make the Harkonnens so primed for perfection that it becomes a psychosis. Cast Johnson as Baron Harkonnen, tighten the screws, and watch him come apart.

Come on. You know you’d be glued to your seat, hammering through that tub of popcorn as Johson’s perfect mein started to come apart. Cast Gerald Butler and Daniel Craig as the ying/yan sons, and the whole family would be ultra-creepy. Couple that with casting the Bene Gesserits as ultra-young next-gen actresses (Elaine Page, Dakota Fanning, and so on), and . . . yeah, it almost writes itself at that point, and none of us would ever sleep right again.

Speaking of pretty faces, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the tale of a man who lives in reverse, born as a wizened old man, and growing younger as time passes. Filled with a number of A-list actresses who look like they get their hearts broken time and again, the protagonist is played by Brad Pitt, and the only reason the film won’t completely suck is that Pitt gets to NOT BE PITT.* Anytime he gets to get out from the yoke of being the “pretty one,” his acting chops actually start to surface (Fight Club, 12 Monkeys). He looks like he’s having a grand old time, playing a shrunken geezer, and that’s definitely a great deal of the allure of this film. Not so much playing against type, but being freed from type, being freed to make your own way.

And, in a roundabout way, is where I ended up today, thinking about PSYCHOBABEL. I’ve been caught up in some of the expectations of this book: what it will be, what it will be compared to, what it has to accomplish. You know what? None of that matters. It’s a book I never expected to write, an outgrowth of another project no one ever expected to see. It will work because I want to know if it is possible; I want to know how it ends.

It will work because it is mine, and it will be filled with my passion. That’s what I owe everyone, and that’s what you are going to get. This is the Fool’s answer to the question of the World, after all.

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*The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is also directed by David Fincher, which isn’t something that cropped up in the trailer. Interesting oversight, I think. However, now I’m about six hundred times more eager to see this film. The man hasn’t done a bad film. Ever.

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