Now, I want you, if you'd be so kind, to spend the next 3 and a bit minutes watching the trailer below for the upcoming Rom-com 'What If', starring Daniel Radcliffe, to be released in UK on August 20th. Pay close attention - you will be tested.
Did you make it through? More power to you. Now, at the risk of spoon feeding you your opinion, let's go over what we think is wrong with it all. Is it the wholly unfunny tumble weed gags shoe horned in there? Sure, but trailer editing is so jumpy and erratic in general that it's often a cinematic miracle that a trailer should siphon anything more than a slight chuckle from its audience. Or is it what the supremely creepy peaking ol' Potter does in the lady's changing rooms that presumably is supposed to be born from and portrayed as boyish and affectionate curiosity? Whilst a legitimate point, it's doesn't quite get to the crux of it. No, the key issue is that, after a mere 3 minutes, I now know pretty much all you need to know about the film... more or less.
Take a look at what we know. Two attractive adults meet to find they have electric chemistry. Sparks are flying between them, only to be quashed by the realisation that the woman is already in a relationship with an apparently meat-headed and less attractive male, much to the man's dismay. They resolve to be friends nonetheless, yet their only too evident rapport becomes more and more bloated until jealous feelings, mawkish speeches about the nature of love and inappropriate moments in confined gender segregated spaces ensue. The "all is lost" moment comes when the woman declares that she's been offered a job overseas and poor Harry is left with his nacho eating, loud and brutish room-mate and wondering "what if?" (see what I did there?). On the backdrop of catalogues upon catalogues of Rom-coms who employ this dusty old frame work, what's the betting that in the end, the girl ditches the old boyfriend and trades him in for the lovable and pocket size teenage wizard? I'd hazard a guess and say overwhelmingly high.
Admittedly I'm going to look a fool if, come mid-August, What If turns out to be a deeply satirical and generically self-referential piece, employing all the old Rom-com tropes we've come to know and love only to blow them to smithereens with a non-sequitur and postmodern explosion of cinematic irony as an ending. The Cabin in the Woods of romantic comedies. The credits will roll and a smug "We told you so, Washbourn" will slowly slide its way down the screen as I'm sat there, awkwardly fiddling with my arm rests. However, whilst this outlandish eventuality remains a possibility, the ineptitude of the film's trailer in revealing so much of itself before release still stands, and a shame it is too.
The question that stems from all this is what a trailer should do and what it should hope to achieve. The glaringly obvious initial response to this is that it should persuade you to part with a fair buck and go to see the film. Perhaps now more than ever, with cinema ticket prices at astronomic highs, trailers are of increasing importance. For most people, a trailer will be the first impression one gets from a movie. Implicit in this is the need to entice your audience in, by feeding them just enough that they get a sense for the overall tone of the film and leave wanting more. A movie trailer is much like a burlesque strip tease (bear with this ill fated analogy for just a moment more). It needs to first show a subtle bit of ankle, give a cheeky wink and a lick of the lips before moving to the main event. A trailer shouldn't stand outside in its Y-fronts in broad daylight, swinging the script over its head and screaming the ending at the top of its lungs. Not that I have any personal experience to attest to the nature of a strip tease, but you see my point.
Take, for example, the following trailer for Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece The Shining.
The minimal nature of the trailer puts itself in stark contrast to any trailer I've seen before. At base level, the trailer is nothing more than a stationary camera capturing an opening set of lift doors give way to a cascading blood red wave which gushes out into the corridor, set to a dissonantly cloying backing track. However, despite its minimalist approach, the trailer ingeniously establishes the tone of the movie in instilling a sense of ambiguous macabre spirit and impending doom, ensnaring my intrigue and allowing the wave to wash over me. All of this, and essentially no insight into the plot of the film. Of course, Kubrick is so canonical that he could have issued a trailer consisting of him sat on the toilet, ordering me to see his film whilst Jack Nicholson hands him toilet paper and I would still fork out the money. Come to that, I'd probably go and see any film if it was prefaced with such a surreal trailer. I digress.
Perhaps a less predisposed reflection comes with the trailer for the soon to be released Richard Armitrage thriller Into The Storm.
Whilst the trailer doesn't suggest anything new or innovative with the film, it strikes directly at the audience's curiosity by simply not giving much away. Sure, it smacks of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, but look at what is left unknown. What is the cause of the storm? Where is this all taking place? Who are any of the characters I've been presented with? Coupled with great images of exploding planes and fierce weather and sporadic use of stark and abrasive sound, the trailer makes for a film that I would guess will spark a lot of interest.
To some, trailers might just be that 20 minutes before the film starts, but as a marketing tool to film companies they are invaluable. A well made and cleverly executed trailer can make or break a film's commercial success. So remember, when you're trying to make an effective trailer, always think to yourself, "What would Dita Von Teese do?".