The Envelope, Please. And Make It Quick.
Posted May 25, 2018 5:47 p.m. EDT
I’ve got a couple of favorites for the Golden Trailer Awards.
Yes, these are awards for movie trailers. The nominees were announced in Hollywood this month. They come after the Golden Globes and the Oscars and all the rest, which feels historically accurate, since trailers used to follow movies.
I’m not going to make an argument here for trailers as high art. But I’m at the stage of life where I rarely go out to the movies. What I do actually get to see in the theater is mostly not even my choice, since I’m just being deployed as a chauffeur and chaperone. Not that I mind. I do some of my best and deepest sleeping at the superhero movies. (I’m looking at you, Avengers.)
So you can understand why I feel more invested in trailers as an end in themselves. They’ve certainly become a cottage industry, with specialty trailer houses and an important movie metric in the number of downloads in the first 24 hours. Right now, trailers for “Avengers: Infinity War” — yes, I’ve seen it — hold two of the top three spots, with more than 400 million downloads combined, according to IMDB.
I’m paying particular attention this year to the documentary category. My heavy favorite is the spot for the forthcoming movie about Fred Rogers. You know, Fred Rogers, from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”?
This is definitely a movie I will not see in the theater. I like to imagine trying to convince two teenage boys this is a good idea: “It’s a documentary about a guy who, uh, he had a show for years on public television where he wore sneakers and sweaters that his mom knitted — it was sort of a thing,” I say.
Blank stares. “And he talked about feelings a lot.” Headphones are going back into their ears. “He sang a song about being ...” They’ve left the room ... “neighborly.”
In the trailer, we get Rogers back for a moment, getting philosophical as he talks about compassion. “The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved, and capable of loving,” he says. It doesn’t sound like much to write that down, but put a soaring orchestral backdrop behind it, and it makes an impact in an age of Twitter trolling.
I’ve watched it. More than I care to admit.
Movie trailers have a heavy lift these days. Television plots have become more interesting and complex, with story arcs playing out over seasons instead of a couple of hours. To keep up, the trailer business is becoming more creative, with tightly wound teasers targeted to different global markets and attention spans. Some are as short as three seconds on mobile devices.
“They are getting shorter,” said Monica Brady, one of two filmmaking sisters who puts on the awards. “Now, a two-minute trailer feels like forever.”
The classic trailers of years past deployed narration like they were handing down commandments. Subtlety was largely undiscovered. That seemed fine at the time. For my money, one of the best, for “Mad Max 2,” included the perilous lines: “In a world without gas ... this is a land that prays for a hero.”
It doesn’t work like that now.
“Most trailers nowadays don’t use narration,” said Matt Brubaker, an executive at Trailer Park, one of the leading producers of movie trailers, which has cut the likes of “Dunkirk” and “Wonder Woman.”
“The dialogue from the film, or the characters, does the narration for you. It’s more natural, and you don’t feel the marketer’s hand directing the messaging like it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s.”
The American movie trailer is even becoming a global phenomenon.
“There’s a trend for bigger Chinese films to have American trailer houses to do Americanized trailers,” said Brubaker, whose company made trailers for the Chinese blockbusters “Monster House” and “Monster House 2.” “Their trailers are a step or two behind,” he added of the Chinese market.
I’m not sure that our trailer supremacy is going to erase our trade deficit, but we’ll take it while it lasts.
Personally, I can get fixated on a trailer in the same way that I’ll listen to a song until I never want to hear it again. I’ll dabble in the frame-by-frame breakdowns of “Star Wars” trailers. I’ll even sometimes watch how fans recut trailers. (Try “Terminator” turned into a romantic comedy.)
My favorite Golden Trailer category is the Golden Fleece award, celebrating trailers that make the best of bad movies that have either come out or are soon to debut.
“You have to look at the Golden Fleece really as the pure art of cutting,” said Evelyn Watters, executive director of the awards. “They use what they have to the best of their ability. It’s artful storytelling.”
I reviewed the latest Fleece nominees. There was one for “Proud Mary,” where Taraji P. Henson plays an assassin with drawers full of armaments. There was another for a “Flatliners” remake that looked ill considered. (Don’t remake Kevin Bacon movies, people.) A third featured a serial killer who makes snowmen — wait, what?
But my pick for best Fleece is for “The Meg.” As I understood it, there’s a giant, ancient shark, a megalodon. It’s going to sweep up a lot of people in its serrated smile. There will be blood. There will also be Jason Statham, the Brit from “The Transporter” movies, looking grim and a tad confused, like he’s trying to work out how his usual karate street fighting grab bag is going to work in this film. And Rainn Wilson (Dwight from “The Office”) cracking jokes.
The bar is high for shark movies. You can’t top “Jaws” for seriousness, and you can’t make one campier than “Sharknado.” But two thumbs up for the trailer. Mixing in Sinatra singing “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” was a nice touch.