Let’s just watch the trailer first: A guide to different film trailer styles

Amy Lewin

‘Let’s just watch the trailer first.’ Oh, those words, harbingers of doom. At least in my case. Chronically indecisive, my personal best for time taken to choose a movie would surely make the Guinness Book of Records. Trailer follows trailer, each no more grabbing than the last, until I plump for one, feeling more hesitant than a first-time bungee jumper, the hours spent deciding weighing down heavily upon me. Inevitably, it will be rubbish, or insufficiently funny/moving/thrilling/thought-provoking to alleviate the stress brought on by the decision process, or I will simply be too exhausted at the now late hour to make it to the end.

Well, that was how I felt until recently. Now, having seen In a World, Lake Bell’s comedy about a female voice-over artist, I’m starting to see each trailer as a work of art in its own right. And, as with all forms of art, trailers are being made about trailers, art talking about art.

Trawl through Google for long enough and you’ll find that bedroom filmmakers have been on the case for quite some time. Earlier this month, Chet Desmond, whoever and wherever in the world he is, added his Blade Runner trailer à la Classic 1940s Film Noir to YouTube. Slow jazz playing from a crackling record, scenes fading one into another, a heroine in a fur coat; this isn’t quite shaping up to be the film we remember…

Blade Runner is already very “Noir”’, Desmond comments on YouTube. ‘I just wanted to take those aspects of the film and accentuate them into something hopefully interesting.’ This trailer doesn’t fabricate a film which doesn’t exist; it tells a lesser told story within that film.

Contrast that with the scary Mary Poppins trailer. A dark screen, chilling music, an ominous bell tolling; we call already tell that this is a film that it would be ill-advised to watch alone with the cat. Cue frantic scene cuts, screaming faces, inexplicably moving objects, children running down a deserted street. All it takes is some haunting music, cunningly re-cut scenes, and this is a different film altogether. True, some people might find Uncle Albert, who levitates with laughter a tad unnerving, and Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent is shocking, but not in the same way as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The Shining re-cut plays the same game. Take some jaunty music, introduce us to the main characters in the same overenthusiastic way as a strained dinner party host, then link their stories together with a clichéd phrase and finish off with a cheery montage. And suddenly it’s a Rom Com.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is given the cinematic equivalent of deconstructive facial surgery by Stéphane Bouley. His modernised trailer features a lot of slow-mo, dramatic drum rolls and hectic violins, pithy lines and expanding (Star Wars-esque) white credits on black backgrounds. This is the Holy Grail before it got Pythoned. The valiant statements detached from the moment seconds later when fecal matter is poured on the speaker’s head. The knights in shining armour before they blow raspberries at the camera. It tells us more about the trailer trends and film preferences of this decade than the 70s.

Parody, modernised, fakes, re-cuts, call them what you will, these trailers are clever, at least for attuning us to the marketing tactics of big movie makers. BriTANicK’s ‘Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer’ weaves together just about every trailer technique, reducing most trailers to more or less the same thing.

We’re suckers for the same storylines, over and over again. We just can’t get enough of heart-wrenching scenes in the rain, or inspirational death bed speeches, or soaring orchestral music. Why? Joe Nicolosi’s ‘HELL NO: The Sensible Horror Film’ asks; we always know what’s coming next after all. His trailer sets up a medley of generic horror films; teenagers on a road trip, a deserted cabin the middle of the woods, a videotape you sure as hell know you shouldn’t watch. Problem is, the characters aren’t game. They go to the beach instead.

Maybe I’ll face a new problem next time I try to pick a film to watch; trying too hard to thwart the trailer’s attempts to give me what I want, too engrossed in my pseudo-analysis of the features of the trailer to even consider the feature itself.

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