22 January 2010

Formulaic Film Trailers

Four reasons I stopped going to the cinema:

1) Fellow patrons who have forgotten their manners completely if they ever had them to begin with. Mobile phone users this means you.

2) Commercials before films. I'm hardly the first to say it but the idea of paying to watch ads is the kind of marketing-run-amok madness that brings together the worst excesses of commercialism: loud, scatterbrained and abusive of its captive audience's intelligence. The PSAs are worse with their herky-jerky camera and hackneyed nu-metal music.

3) The films themselves. There are supposedly creative people producing, directing and acting in films; we are told this every year during award season. Why, then, are there so many remakes, sequels and shameless ripoffs? 'Reboots' are a hot trend - granted it's interesting to see how different filmmakers present already-familiar stories (mostly of comic book superheroes) but if you know the origin of a hero then you already know most of the film's plot. Political correctness has all but killed the entire comedy genre - the only individuals allowed to act like buffoons and suffer injury or humiliation are young white males.

4) Finally there are the trailers. After you have been assaulted visually and audibly by commercials the trailers come on. There must be some sort of unspoken competition between the editors of these previews to see how many cuts they can insert into a 30- or 60-second spot. It's the cinematic equivalent of an epileptic seizure. I daresay a trailer editor could make a Merchant-Ivory period drama look like a Michael Bay smash-em-up. The over-the-top husky-voiced narration has been parodied mercilessly for years yet they continue to contract with the same voice talent regardless of studio or film genre.

These days the trailers are also spoilers. In an effort to pique audience interest those making the trailer can't resist inserting some of the impressive effects shots from the film's climax. But in doing so they make it very easy for experienced (if cynical) audiences to deduce the protagonist, antagonist and plot. If I can watch the film in a minute why would I sit through two hours of it?

But the worst part of the trailers are the zinger lines. In the context of a complete film they are glaringly obvious when suddenly there is a pause in the action or the dialogue and Character X utters the zinger line. It's usually generic i.e. not a reference to any character or situation within the plot of the film and it's usually a pathetic attempt by the screenwriter(s) to coin a catchphrase. In part I blame Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wooden 'acting' had his various writers scrambling for something he could deliver in deadpan style since he had no other style to offer. Hence 'I'll be back' went from a throwaway line in the first Terminator film to a touchstone in T2 and the rest of the franchise. The zinger line is generally placed at the end of the trailer or just before the end when split-second of action (a vampire or zombie alighting on a character's neck, an explosion triggered, a shot fired, etc.) is shown with an immediate cut to a black screen. These aren't clever lines like 'We're going to need a bigger boat' (which was an ad-lib anyway), they are simply pointless momentary ego trips for the actor, writer and director.

One could probably invent a party game (and maybe someone already has) with real and fictional zinger lines from films. Let's play!

"Here we go!"
"You can't do that here"
"Hang on!"
"Where is your brother?"
"Where did they go!?!?"
"I can't believe it!"
"Full power now!"
"This is what it's all about"

Which are real and which are fake? It doesn't matter - and that's the point. They are cheap irrelevant throwaways employed by 'creative' people who should know better. The game of oneupmanship may be fascinating to them but it has driven me from the cinema completely.

No comments: