Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Trailer Trashed

One of the many things I wish to do with my life is to write the screenplay to a motion picture, preferably a horror/sci-fi bloodfest with feminist overtones and a gratuitous lucha libre fight scene. Despite my enthusiasm, I have yet to get any of my scripts past the "explain the plot in vivid detail to my friends on Livejournal and never mention it again" stage. I think a likely culprit for this is my faulty conceptual progress.

When I think about a script, I don't pester myself with the concerns and questions of other writers, like "how do I get the perfect balance of love/hate tension between my protagonist and antagonist" or "who could I imagine playing the caustic sidekick". No, I like to focus more on the bigger issues, like "what will the trailer look like?"

I'm everything you hate about going to the movies. I am trailer trash. I'm the friend who will make you wander around Borders for an extra hour and a half because we got there late and we missed a preview.
I do research before we leave for the theater to find out what trailers will be playing at our showing, and if I can't find out for sure, I'll spend the whole car ride irritating you with my predictions. I once went to a James Bond "double feature" where the first two hours was EVERY Bond trailer ever produced.
And yes, you bet your ass I booed at the New Moon trailer when I saw Transformers 2.
Now it's time, I feel, to take my irritating obsession to the next level.

What you are about to see is not for the weak of stomach. This is not an illusion or simple sleight of hand. This is real. As real as it's ever going to get. I dare say it may never be this real again.
I will now critique the trailers (dun dun dun!)

1. Ninja Assassin

When I first came across this trailer, it was one of a couple films being passed off as Uwe Boll's adaptation of Ninja Gaiden (the other being Scott Adkins' Ninja). After seeing a "behind the scenes" special featuring an interview with the director at my local cinema, I was both ashamed that I had been tricked in the first place and relieved that I had not inadvertently enjoyed something created by Uwe Boll. Because I would've seen it anyway.

I've been waiting for a good ninja movie for a while now. I'm sort of pirate and zombie'd out, to be honest. And while the Amateur Ninja game from adultswim.com is addictive and easy to play, it simply doesn't sate my inner homicidal psychopath.

All that being (perhaps unnecessarily) said, I don't think this is the movie I/we've been waiting for. I'm not even sure this is a ninja movie. Sure, there might be ninjas in it...ones that fight in oncoming traffic. And was that an RPG? And like a jeep/warthog/SUV thing crashing into a wall? Are you trying to tell me that the hero spends his whole life training to be a graceful, silent killer so that one day he will master the art of dodging cars? Who's bringing all these guns to the fight? “Well, our target is a master of stealth who hides in the shadows and carries a weapon that makes no sound, does not jam or need to be reloaded, and only needs a second to kill you. So I'm guessing our best bet is shotguns, semi-automatics, and other guns that we don't have to like, aim and shit, since we can't see him anyway”.

I'm not trying to get all “art school graduate” here, but doesn't such heavy use of CGI undermine the “ninja” premise? Ninjas are supposed to be clandestine and low-key. That's why they're so popular with our imaginations. They are a foil to the “both pistols blazing” heroes of Western culture. You promise us a movie about ninjas and then give us two minutes of unrealistic over the top effects. You're not selling me on this.

2. Legion

Heresy hasn't looked this good since I convinced my girlfriend to dress up as a nun for “roleplay night” (jk...she wasn't my girlfriend). Dennis Quaid and Paul Bettany shoot up a bunch of angels and beat the shit ouf ot the guy who played Blob in the Wolverine movie. This is one of the few movies that actually benefits from a wikipedia entry. Because at first you're like “wait, is Paul Bettany supposed to be lucifer? The Devil as a good guy? Who's directing this, Kenneth Anger?” But then you look it up on wikipedia and you learn that Bettany is actually supposed to be the archangel Michael. It's like a face heel turn, but instead of turning on his tag team partner, he turns on GOD! That shit is so real, yo! Normally I find that “absence of character identification” to be really pedantic and trying, but for once I think it provides an interesting bait and switch effect on the viewer. I will say, though, that you probably could've foregone the whole “the first time God lost faith in humanity, there was a flood” narration and have the “we're fighting angels” angle be like a shocking reveal, but hey, you don't tell me how to make baby Jesus cry, I won't tell you how to make the Pope cry.

I'm so in love with this premise that I'm willing to ignore the tediously ironic “desert in the middle of the apocalypse” setting, bush league lighting effects and the involvement of MTV hearthrob Tyrese Gibson (who seems to be the only character featured in the trailer who doesn't speak a single audible line). You know what I've noticed about Dennis Quaid? Every time I see him in a trailer or imdb article I think “wow, they got Dennis Quaid, I guess this movie can't be too bad”. But then I remember that I've hated every movie he's been in before, but it's too late because I'm already hyped about the movie. That is Dennis Quaid's ENTIRE career. Michael Bay needs this guy's publicist.
(All of the videos on youtube for this trailer have had embedding disabled. If you find one that will embed, let me know ^_^)

Everything old is new again. While many see horror and sci-fi remakes as producers simply cashing in on a famous idea, I see the potential for improving upon old ideas, by allowing artists with a passion and love for the source material to expand upon and embellish a previous idea. People who complain about “not letting the work speak for itself” should try to watch “traditionally performed” Shakespeare—that is, no costumes, no lighting, no choreography or rehearsals, and no actresses. Yeah. If you can sit through that for ten minutes without stabbing yourself in the face you probably aren't in the audience to begin with because you're still at home wondering where the toast comes from.

What's most remarkable about this trailer is that it makes full use of the reputation of its actors. Anthony Hopkins wouldn't have to speak a single line. You can see and feel his identity as a tragic/sinister mentor figure. It's all within his sheer presence. Ditto Del Toro as the “quiet protagonist about to erupt into a tempest of intensity” and Hugo Weaving as the “cold, calculated thinking man's antagonist”. There's none of this viewer reluctance like what happened when people found out that Heath Ledger was the Joker (or, more recently, Seth Rogen as The Green Hornet). I'm not saying that comedians shouldn't take on dramatic roles, just that a mishandled trailer can inadvertently affirm people's suspicions about a dubious casting. See also: Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. The Wolfman is not something you "take a gamble on" to try and "challenge people's opinions on an actor's range". There's already a standard set for this film, for this mythos, and while some people might scoff at the typecasting, they should stfu because this is horror, and no genre has benefited from it more. Lon Chaney Jr was one of the original character actors. And played the Wolf Man in an Abbot and Costello film. Yeah, I think it's safe to say that the remake can't deface the legacy any more than the original franchise already had.

At some point people will have to acknowledge that while the black and white film of the old movies gave them a different feel than current movies, that doesn't mean they were better. Limitations don't a masterpiece make, old college instructors who drove me away from theatre. Looking at the color, the art direction, the cinematography, the special effects (let's face it, what Del Toro does in the trailer alone is what all those effects guys in the old movies were coming up short on making), I think it's possible that this could be better than the original, although it's “remake” label will prevent it from receiving any genuine critical acclaim other than “contains the spirit of the original 1941 film...”, though I'm sure the millions of dollars it reaps in will be more than enough of a consolation prize.

While I'm pissing on film heritage, I would like to say that, like queer comic fans who've expressed hope that Disney will polish up Marvel's image and bring everything back to the “buy war bonds” styles and morals, I find myself confused at queer horror film fans who regard the movies from the 40's and 50's as pure or untouchable compared to modern films. When you consider the archaic gender and sexual norms present in older media, one wonders if an attachment to nostalgia could possibly be an expression of repression, self-phobia, and shame. To prove my point in a very vicarious fashion, here's The Nostalgia Critic with homo/transphobic reviews of all our childhood favorites.

2 betches:

Jason said...

But Rain's in Ninja Assassin! I kinda just wanna watch it for the drool factor.

Kuhnsy said...

Trailer editor must be the hardest, most tedious, and most rewarding job in Hollywood!

Also, ditto on the script planning. I have a notebook devoted to my idea for an Emma Frost movie that has not even a single line of dialogue or "stage" direction. ;-)

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