Half the fun (sometimes literally) of attending movies in theaters derives from watching trailers. The Internet age allows us to watch trailers on the day they come out, and dissection often begins that moment.
Finding a surprise trailer, much less a surprise movie, is very hard when you plant your butt in a likely-stained theater seat, but we still try. Below are some of the trailers that excited me, plus two that awed me for 2015 movies.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Guy Ritchie all the way. From the start it’s stylishly funny and slapdash. Jared Harris is in it. I love Jared Harris. The trailer sells the movie as two brothers trying to get along, rather than a Cold War spy thriller. They sell plenty of sex, too, a welcome respite from all that bloody violence.
Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation
Any time Tom Cruise hangs from a plane, I am on board. Yeah, I just landed a plane pun. This trailer showed off all the stunts and delivered an EDM-ized version of the classic M:I theme. Setup, comedy, action–all were in the right place, but at about 2:00 someone remembered to tack on the whole underwater sequence, subtracting from the trailer’s continuity.
Hitman: Agent 47
I have not yet seen this movie, but Zachary Quinto is enough to sell me on a trip down reboot lane, and I’ll walk right past the mega hit that started the whole series. You know the one, Timothy Oliphant was in it. It came out a couple years back. Yeah, you remember.
This is a tight trailer that gives away less than the second one does. The song choices work well, because Hitman is a guy you rock out to, as long as he’s on the screen and not in your neighborhood, because it appears he destroys all neighborhoods.
It’s Bond. It’s cool. It’s got Christoph Waltz, who has spent a lifetime bordering camp. I dug the creepy octopus logo and the Day of the Dead celebration. The teaser trailer for Spectre was first and best. It lets you know immediately that this film will continue (conclude?) the Daniel Craig Bond stories. Mr. White and remains from Skyfall are shown, and James still has a past.
This trailer, the first for the Earth-shaker, matches the super serious tone of the film. Like, so serious dude, not California-serious, but, like, Earth serious. The editors wisely chose small images of the Earth literally cracking before showing off the big gun effects that helped the movie succeed.
Paul Giamatti speaks gravely. When he does, you listen. That “California Dreaming” song haunts throughout the last minute. The trailer even surpasses the film’s stakes, insinuating that the Hoover Dam cracks after San Francisco and Los Angeles shake.
“You will feel it, on the East Coast.” I never care about stuff unless I feel it on the East Coast.
The previous trailers were fine, not memorable, like a lightly fried basket of wings on Sunday afternoon. The final two trailers rivaled their movie’s in quality.
2) Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller’s fourth Max film was a symphony of chaos, and its trailers fully promoted that. All three are terrific, but I prefer the first one, which Miller unveiled at Comic-Con in 2014. The trailer begins with images of Max standing, waiting, beside his car. Audio clips of newscasters explain the gas and water problems that have created Max’s world. We are calmed, but not soothed, in these opening seconds. Also, there’s a two-headed lizard.
(Side note: what percentage off of my car insurance could a two-headed gecko save? Initially I thought 30%, but they aren’t two geckos, just two heads on one body. The head is doing most of the negotiating of lower rates, but how much work does the body do? Between 20% and 25% seems like the best choice. Max certainly needed the water that reptile provided, but might he not have needed the increased savings on his car insurance? He had a wreck shortly afterward.)
Cue the cover of Cat Stevens’s “Wild World” and some fireworks. So many trailers suffer from Chop and Mix syndrome, when editors throw whatever tasty bits of the film they can find into the trailer. That’s what happens here, but the slow jam cover of “Wild World” tempers the frenetic imagery and wraps around the shots like a soothing blanket. The choir works perfectly with the wide shot of the huge sandstorm.
The War Boys catch Max and torture him, tattooing his blood type on his back in a major invasion of privacy. Furiosa is glimpsed. The song continues. It’s ethereal and haunting. At the midway point the sound editors weave in car and gun sounds from the movie, creating a musical selection that rocks you as the images frighten you.
The trailer is light on dialogue and heavy on explosive, quick-cutting images, exactly like the film it sells.
1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Oh my midi-chlorians. The movie underwhelmed me, overstuffing the narrative with setups and send-offs. The third trailer for the film overwhelmed me. The soundtrack begins with single piano strokes. You think you are in store for a low key, image-driven trailer. Finn and Rey speak their prime motivations, their justifications for being the center of the saga. They think little of themselves, are wracked with doubt and confusion.
When the Lucasfilm logo hits the screen, the score introduces a subtle, chilling bass before showing dozens of block-ranked stormtroopers. Horns accompany Kylo Ren’s modulated voice and Darth Vader’s crushed mask. Unlike the film’s heroes, Kylo knows exactly who he is and what he’s doing.
Kylo uses the Force to torture Oscar Isaac, whose screams ignite the symphony and Millennium Falcon through a firewall leveling a forest and a dogfight with a TIE fighter. The score is hopeful, but not triumphant. Also, a TIE fighter scream is only slightly less menacing a sound than Darth Vader’s breathing. Han explains to Rey and Finn of the tales of the Star Wars saga. “It’s true, all of it.”
Oh yea, what fun we’re going to have! Nope. Cue Imperial horns and terrible, terrible drums. You can practically see the drummers wailing the hell out of those drums. Kylo and his cronies and his lightsaber are waiting for everyone in a lightning storm. “The Dark Side. The Jedi. They’re real.”
Laser blasts, Luke’s metal hand, tears, explosions–they’re coming. Both Imperial and hopeful themes combine as we watch the images of battle. More TIE screams, more lightsabers, more lasers. And the Force, it’s calling to…someone.
John Williams, cinema’s master symphonic artist.