Rating This Summer's Many Trailers.
By Stacey Richter
THERE'S NOTHING LIKE promotion for its own sake! Whatever you call them--previews, trailers, teasers--the theatrical ads for coming movies have a charm all their own. I used to like previews a lot more until I became annoyed, then obsessed, by The Sentence. The Sentence explains the film to come in simple terms, using a combination of visual and standard grammar. The Sentence might go: "There was a man..." Then, we would be shown a shot of a man. It might continue: "...who had a dog," (we see the dog); "...that hated cheese." (Shot of a dog refusing a chunk of cheese.) Most previews now use The Sentence. Also, most previews are accompanied by "swelling" string music, or stylized tribal drumming. Beyond that, they vary wildly. I've rated some recent ones below.
The Negotiator: This old bag of tricks makes the mistake of telling us the entire plot in three minutes. Samuel L. Jackson plays a bad cop. The Sentence: "Now to clear his name, he's taking the police hostage...and demanding his own negotiator!" There are a lot of different pieces of film here, but the funny thing is how everybody is always lit by slats of light gushing through Venetian blinds. The music is swelling. I like it when Kevin Spacey hangs up on the gunman, and I enjoyed the close-up of magnetic actor David Morse. Grade: C-
Mulan: The preview for Mulan is disorienting, because Mulan doesn't sound like the name of a cartoon, and at first it's hard to tell what you're looking at. This is spare animation with simple backgrounds and long shadows. Probably a few minutes of this is enough for a grown-up, though the princess fantasy will appeal to the pretty princess in all of us. The music is tribal/drumming. There is no Sentence! Grade: B
Something About Mary: I am prepared to like this movie, but the preview sucks. Comedy seems more difficult to promote in short clips--the gags all end up being slapstick. There is a penis-in-the-zipper bit here, and a shot of Cameron Diaz being spied on while she removes her bra. If these are highlights, I don't want to see the bad parts. I do like it when the lap dog sails out the window. The music is by The Carpenters. The Sentence is painfully obvious, and reinforced by colorful intertitles (in case you can't read, or conversely, in case you can't hear), i.e.: "From the directors of Dumb and Dumber...." Grade: C
Armageddon: There are lots of explosions. Explosions are being used pretty much exclusively to promote this film. The music is Exorcist-style choral chanting. The sentence goes: "You never know what the future holds...until it hits!" Expect explosions. Grade: B+
Jane Austen's Mafia: Perhaps I just like the title, but I suspect this movie is better than its dumb preview. Again, comedy seems to suffer when compressed. The jokes make fun of Italians, or the Godfather movies, in a way that's embarrassing. There are many, many pratfalls. The sentence goes: "When a simple florist...discovered his destiny..." and the music is the disco classic "Hot Stuff." Grade: C+
Searching for Private Ryan: Tom Hanks' face fills the screen in grainy black and white. This preview is so earnest and slow and corny that there's no way the movie could be anything but torture. There's very little dialogue--just big heads rotating in slow mo across the screen. There is a Sentence, but it was so boring I didn't bother to write it down. At the very end, as a special treat, they let you know it's a Steven Spielberg movie! The music is swelling. Grade: D
Dead Man on Campus. Alternarock accompanies shots of college boys cracking open brewskis. The Sentence would be too intellectual for this preview, but there are words, spoken and printed on the screen in green, Mountain Dew-style letters: "No gratuitous sex," etc. It is largely unintelligible. Grade: C-
A Night at the Roxbury: The Sentence for this one is stunningly strange. "When the sun goes down, and the lights go on, out come all the hotties the night has to offer." Who wrote that, and why? The music is disco, and the film seems to be disco related, though I think I can safely say this preview is completely unintelligible. Not that that's a bad thing. Grade: B
Snake Eyes: A visually juicy preview of a Brian DePalma movie. Multiplying images combined with surveillance-cam POV gives this an edgy, paranoid feel. Nicolas Cage is always gazing up into some secret camera. I have no idea what this is about, but it looks so great I want to see it anyway. Apparently, in Snake Eyes, "the hardest thing to spot...will be the truth!" The music is also noteworthy--a tense and spare piano score. Grade: A-
The X-Files: This preview is excellent. The clips tell the story without relying on narration. The pace begins slowly, but then the images begin flying at us faster (urged on by tribal/drumming music), in an insistent MTV-style montage. The images themselves are also striking. I like the glacier caving in on itself. I like the backlit kid climbing a fence. I really love it when a guy says, "So much for little green men." There actually is a Sentence here, but it's snuck in at the end and is unobtrusive. Grade: A
Six Days, Seven Nights: "Sometimes the best vacations...are the ones you don't plan!" An initial string of dumb innuendoes set the tone for this slick preview, as Anne Heche and Harrison Ford talk about an aging plane in explicitly sexual terms. The preview is meticulously put together, however, and effortlessly shows the good parts while explaining the basics. The music is tribal/drumming. Special Sentence bonus points for "Find adventure in the most remote place in the world," uttered while Harrison Ford's hand is lodged inside the lady's pants. B+
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