The Best and Worst of Trailers [2016]

Hear the writers discuss this subject on the Secret Cave Podcast!  And another time!  And even another time!

At first I was going to make this piece an overview of trailers in their entirety, using two from this year as examples.  Instead, it occurred to me that i’d simply be stealing an upcoming subject from fellow writer, Ben Mulholland.  As such, I thought it more befitting of me to look in depth at the two examples.  One staggeringly bad, another breathtakingly good, there are a lot of meaty tangents to go off on from both.

Trailers, on the whole, are mere promotional tools to rally the populous.  While they can be sometimes woefully inaccurate, it wouldn’t be unfair to judge a film or game by them.  The tone that comes across, with exceptions, is usually indicative of the eventual product in some way.  Indeed, the trailer to Sausage Party was enough for me to know i’m not in its demographic.  On the other hand, short gameplay snippets of Final Fantasy XV from years ago had me convinced there and then of the opposite.  While pinches of salt must be on-hand when watching a trailer, they’re certainly reflective of their subjects.

With that in mind, what does this trailer reflect about upcoming science-fiction film, Passengers?:

Now.  A science-fiction film is something very difficult to put me off.  It’s my favourite genre by some distance.  However, I couldn’t feel more aversion to this tripe if I tried.  I won’t lie, it’s also very difficult for me to like anything with Chris Pratt in it, but I could put that to one side for the right release.  This, clearly, isn’t it.  It would all have been saved by Michael Sheen’s character, if he wasn’t a direct lift from the set of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

There are so many cliches in this trailer alone that I can’t imagine how dull the end product is.  The entire plot is practically spoon fed to you throughout anyway.  Why anyone would want to go and see this is beyond me, besides the possibility of seeing Jennifer Lawrence in her bra and panties.  Coming from a single male in his mid-twenties, with a perfectly virulent sex drive, it’s saying something that I couldn’t give less of a toss about that.  Pratt must be there for his pure swoon factor too.  That idiot’s hopscotched around Hollywood, cranking out wank on his charming good looks, for half a decade now.  You can bet your left genital he’ll be playing the same cheeky-chappy he always plays too.

From the ugly ship to completely uninspired design, I see nothing of the magic that makes a classic.  Before you leap on me and say that some films can just be fun, let me make it utterly clear that I agree.  It doesn’t even look mildly entertaining.  Stodgy environments frame tired devices until predictable characters reach a conclusion seen from miles off.  With a pitch like that, how will Passengers survive?  The only way this will make money is by riding on the coattails of its stars and genre.  Perhaps that’s why i’m so angry.

Science-fiction should be a genre that works hard to innovate and bring fresh ideas to the table.  I’m not naive enough to think that will be the case, but i’m idealistic enough to see it as a feature of the approach.  I get saddened by the creators’ lack of imagination every time a new science-fiction comes out resting on laurels.  Personally, I don’t see a single stroke of innovation in any frame of this trailer.  Audiences deserve better.  Even a gesture towards it would have been enough.  The very best of trailers should leave you wanting more, scratching your head in a way that’s a credit to the work.  It should leave you with questions that aren’t immediately obvious.  Fortunately, where Passengers has failed, Hideo Kojima’s upcoming PS4 release (Death Stranding) has excelled in spades:

This bad boy has had me a little obsessed.  The Mads Mikkelsen reveal isn’t even the main thing; in all honesty I’ve never seen anything with him before.  What excites me about these masterful few minutes is… just about everything.  Despite my ambivalence towards Mikkelsen, he still plays an excellent role as the game’s antagonist.  While only on-screen for a little over a minute, his presence is staggering.  This speaks not just to the quality of his facial acting, or the potential of his character, but the strength of the trailer too.  In essence, I know nothing more about this man than his umbilical connection to four skeletal troopers.  Precisely because of that, and the excellent and evocative way he’s designed, I must have more information about him.  Everything in this trailer has that polished mystique, making Death Stranding a must-buy from laughably small amounts of promotional material.

We don’t even truly know anything about the gameplay that has to back up these visual feats.  The power of the game’s trailers is undeniable, and surely deliberate.  It’s not simply a question of whether it’s mysterious enough to leave you with questions either.  Every second of the trailer shines with creativity and original thought; exactly what was lacking from Passengers.  I’ve never seen anything like it, and that’s all I need to follow it with keen interest.  What it all means becomes a meta-game you can speculate on before its release, adding to the experience at every step.  Cliches are nowhere to be seen in Death Stranding, and it’s left me on the edge of my seat.

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I can’t deny the possibility that the trailer will just be hype though.  Conversely, Passengers’ trailer may be severely underselling it.  That would be a surprise in the former and wishful thinking in the latter, though.  Pinches of salt taken, it’s obvious which of the two is trying to make a unique and interesting artistic statement.  Thing is, it’s entertaining and fun as a result.  I could be easily proved wrong on both counts, but from trailers alone the verdict is fairly clear.  Passengers will come and go, ending up in the occasional DVD collection of less discerning middle-agers.  Death Stranding may end up a spectacular disappointment.  However, “spectacular” is a word that wouldn’t go anywhere near Chris Pratt.

British fellow consumes media and regurgitates back what you should think about it.