Movie Trailers –
Did I Just See What I Think I Saw?
By Bert Ehrmann
July 16, 2010
I had a conversation with a friend a few weeks back about his experience with the movie Splice (2010). He said that the trailer for the film made Splice out to be a combination of films like Alien (1979) and Frankenstein (1931) when in fact though the movie did share certain elements with those films Splice was something wholly different.
I've always felt that the mantra of the movie marketing exec is to sell whatever film they're charged with selling at all costs. Which sometimes means that these execs have to make a tough decision; should they try and sell the public a finial finished film as-is, which the exec might not think the movie-going audience is interested in, or should they try and sell the film as something different, something they THINK this audience might want to see? Here's just a few examples I found of movie trailers created by movie marketing execs aren't exactly selling the same movie as the finished film.
It seems to me that the trailer to the movie The Way of the Gun (WOG) (2000) is what hurt that movie the most at the box office -- it grossed just $6 million on a estimated $21 million budget. The trailer to WOG makes the film seem like a zany action-comedy about two inept crooks dumb enough to try and kidnap and ransom a woman for $15 million to the turn of Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff." From the trailer, I assumed WOG was a clever mash-up of films like Pulp Fiction (1994) and Trainspotting (1996).
In reality, WOG is a bleak, uncompromising and violent film more in line The Wild Bunch (1969) than any of the other films mentioned above. In WOG, the two low-life career criminals are willing to do whatever it takes in order to get their $15 million for the kidnapped woman and her unborn child's return. They murder anyone who gets in their way and have no qualms about torturing people in some brutal ways in order to glean information they might need.
It's no wonder a film like WOG was shunned at the box office and virtually forgotten since -- it's tough to root for characters in a movie where even the "good guys" would be the "villains" of just about any other film. Still, I've always wondered if the trailer to WOG were more in-line with what the movie really was if more people would've taken a chance with this film rather than ignoring it?
After seeing the film Zodiac (2007), I felt a bit bad about the people who had to cut together the trailer to the movie. They must have had a tough time trying to figure out how to market a film like Zodiac which isn't just a movie about serial killers, cops or investigations -- it's a mish-mash of all three. I think they figured their best course of action was to pick one of these topics and focus their marketing materials on that. With the Zodiac trailer, the focus is squarely on the serial killer aspects of the film making it seem more in line with a movie like Seven (1995) than any other.
In fact, most of what makes up the trailer to Zodiac is contained within the first half of the film; the part that contains all of the blood and violence. What's left out of the trailer is almost everything that makes up the last half of the movie where Zodiac turns from standard serial killer fare to more of an investigative film after the killer has taken his last victim.
The most egregious trailer in recent memory that was selling a completely different film than the final movie turned out to be has to be the trailer for Inglourious Basterds (2009). The final trailer for Basterds features Brad Pitt leading a special team of American commandos during WWII charged with "killin' nazies" set against explosions and lots of gunfire with Brad Pitt saying hilarious things and did I mention Brad Pitt stars?
In fact, the trailer to Basterds only really portrays what's covered in about 25% of the final movie. In Basterds, there is really many stories woven together about several different groups; Americans, French, English...all gunning for the high ranks of the Nazi command and Hitler. And though Pitt does play a major role in the film, it's not nearly as important as it's made out to be in the trailer.
In the case of Basterds, however, it didn't seem as if these differences hurt the finished film. Basterds was widely hailed as a great success and was a winner at the box office.