Scorsese for the Critics, Marty for the Masses
Plus: an early Nolan assigned!
I’m fascinated by the art of trailers, those little mini-movies used to advertise full-length features to the masses. A great trailer can lead to great success for even the worst of movies: see, for instance, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” trailer for Suicide Squad, which not only helped propel that movie to a $133 million opening weekend despite abysmal reviews but also reportedly led the studio to ask the trailer company to recut the whole film to be more in the style of the trailer.
Then there are the terrible trailers that tank great movies. A perfect example of this genre is the trailer for Edge of Tomorrow, aka Live. Die. Repeat. Now, this movie—which is genuinely great, part of a fantastic run of Tom Cruise sci-fi movies that we didn’t appreciate nearly enough at the time—had a couple of strikes against it from the get-go, including the original name, Edge of Tomorrow, which tells you absolutely nothing. But the trailer did it absolutely no favors at all: from the somber music to the generic look of the action, you’d have no idea it’s frequently very funny, almost gut-bustingly so. The movie sold to audiences looked like a generic slog. Big mistake!
A trailer’s sole goal, really, is to sell paying audiences on the idea that the thing they’re going to see is worth their $15. That’s why Drive was marketed not as a character-driven study in human connection but as a Fast and the Furiousknockoff (and why some ticket-buyers sued as a result). Which brings me to Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese’s new movie for Apple and Paramount. The movie has had two trailers over the last month or so, and it’s interesting to think about how they’re different. Here’s the first:
This teaser is, I think, aimed mostly at sophisticated audiences, the sort of folks who hear the movie is premiering at Cannes and want a look at a great director’s latest. It’s a little more subdued, a little more muted. The music underneath is less rhythmic, more tones and moods than beats. DiCaprio’s voiceover is a little stilted; he’s reading, a low-key reminder that this is based on a book that the audience has heard of, maybe they’ve even read it. It’s by that New Yorker guy, after all. What’s his name? No matter. It won prizes. And the final shot—a repeated voiceover of the line “Do you see the wolves in this picture?”—accompanied by a bunch of white fat cats in suits was tailor-made for virality on Film Twitter.
It’s a great trailer, but not necessarily one that’s going to connect with the audience needed to recoup the $200 million budget. Enter the second trailer:
If you watch these back to back, you’ll see a fair number of the same shots and sequences. But the whole thing is cut together much differently, much more rhythmically, with greater pace and heightened liveliness. The cars zoom; the violence comes quick and dirty; the whole thing ends with a house blown to kindling and ears ringing from the blast. This is the sort of trailer you put together if you need to convince fence-sitters that they’re coming to a Scorsese Gangster Movie rather than a Scorsese Meditation on Society. (That both descriptions apply to movies like Goodfellas and Casino and The Departed and Mean Streets is neither here nor there; I’m simply describing how the average moviegoer might categorize them.)
I get the sense that some on Film Twitter were a bit underwhelmed by this second trailer, but I think it’s pretty well calibrated to do what it’s trying to do: remind the audiences who loved The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street that Leo and Marty make a great team and that their films are fun and vibrant, even when the material is dark.
Didn’t send out an email for Across the Movie Aisle this week since the episode went live on July 4, but it was a good one. We debated the future of Turner Classic Movies and reviewed Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Today’s episode is about the New Republic’s list of the most “significant” political films of all time. Give them both a listen!
This week I reviewed Past Lives, which is getting a lot of buzz from critics as the best movie of the year. I dunno about that, but it’s a nice change of piece from the CGI-laden summer, that’s for sure.
I also reviewed the second season of The Bear, and used that space to air one of my grievances with recapper culture: You can’t understand the full arc of a season of TV if you critique it on an episode-by-episode basis. David Simon was right, you should review a full season at a time or nothing at all.
I have a hard time imagining anything more counterproductive than demanding criticisms of your boss be scrubbed from a website if you don’t want people to see those criticisms. We have a literal name for the way this tends to backfire, The Streisand Effect. We might have to rename it The Zaslav Effect. What are the people at Warner Bros. and GQ thinking? Insanity.
Speaking of my writings elsewhere: Over at Commentary, J-Pod asked me to write about modern movie stardom, and I was happy to oblige, as it’s a concept I’ve been kicking around in my writings and on my podcasts for the last few years. I really think Chris Pratt might be the platonic ideal of the modern movie star, at least as far as we still understand “movie stars” to be a category that exists.
Assigned viewing: Following (Tubi, AMC+)
Christopher Nolan’s debut feature is very much a student film—put together on the fly, filmed when its participants could all get together, etc.—and yet it’s both self-assured and you see the seeds for so much of the rest of his work within it. From the complicated chronology to the protagonist who dresses like Nolan himself to the central question of identity and how we see ourselves, it’s all there. There’s even a Batman sticker on a door! You can find it on streaming, but the Criterion Collection Blu-ray is 50% off as part of Barnes and Noble’s semi-annual Criterion sale. I’d say it’s only a must-own for die-hard Nolan fans, but I’ve probably watched it four or five times over the years. It’s a really interesting historical document if nothing else.