trailers and expectation
July 12, 2013
I’ve been thinking a lot about movie trailers and the expectations they raise. Specifically, why the trailers for The Lone Ranger filled me with such dread while the trailers for Pacific Rim, which by all rights ought to be the exact same kind of overblown outrageous summer FX extravaganza, fill me with such transcendent joy. So this is me, thinking out loud a little bit.
My first thought is this is comparing apples and oranges. Ranger is a western, Pacific Rim is a monster/mecha movie. But no, it’s not — they’re both intended to be summer blockbusters. They’re both genre movies — I mean, both of them got their own homage issues of Planetary, that celebration of all things genre. (Planetary’s Lone Ranger homage is discussed here, its kaiju homage here.) They both have things I love and ought to push my buttons and light up my brain.
So what about The Lone Ranger trailers suggested that the movie was going to be overblown dreck? And what about the Pacific Rim trailers have me so excited I can’t even sit still?
It turns out, I’m much more willing to believe CGI depicting something that can’t possibly happen — giant mecha suits battling unlikely giant monsters — than I am something that really can happen — a train crash — but which is made to look more like a cartoon that defies all laws of physics. Because the train crash in TLR trailers looked so cartoony, it suggested that the filmmakers were going to be treating the whole thing as a big cartoon.
Johnny Depp’s Tonto reinforced that impression.
I do not want a Lone Ranger that is treated like a goofy-ass cartoon. The filmmakers did not seem to take the character seriously. And to everyone who says the Lone Ranger can’t possibly be taken seriously in our modern cynical age, I once again direct your attention to Captain America, which took an old-fashioned character, played him totally straight and earnest, and everybody loved it. In fact, I think modern audiences may be hungry for old-fashioned earnest heroes.
Pacific Rim has been dismissed by some as nothing more than “Transformers v. Godzilla,” or “loud awful CGI monsters whatever.” But here’s the thing an old-school geek like me sees in the trailer: I see a live action version of this, and this, and this — all things I never thought I would see done well in live action, ever. (The links go to YouTube clips of Robotech, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, and Voltron.) This movie is getting the aesthetic of mecha anime, modernized and updated, exactly right. Which tells me the filmmakers understand what they’re doing, know what their audience wants, and know how to give it to them.
The Lone Ranger trailers showed me things I’d seen before — goofy action, western — on steroids, which is not something I necessarily want to see. I ended up seeing The Lone Ranger partly because I was curious to see if my assessment of the trailers was accurate. It was.
The Pacific Rim trailers hint at a story. Maybe not much of one, but it’s there — threat to the Earth, a unit of super-trained mech warriors, an obstacle to their success, will they win? The Lone Ranger trailer had a lot of action scenes, and relied on audience knowledge of the story already attached to the franchise — the Ranger and Tonto will team up and do stuff. Yay. The Pacific Rim trailer actually makes me want to see what happens next.
And there it is, an off the cuff analysis of trailers. Now, plenty of people seemed to like The Lone Ranger just fine, and I can’t really fault the trailers because they delivered exactly what they promised. I’m hoping Pacific Rim will do likewise. And I think I may have finally learned my lesson: if a trailer fills me with existential dread, don’t go see the movie! I’m planning on seeing Pacific Rim at some point this weekend. I’ll let you know how it measures up to my expectations.