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.


14 Responses to “trailers and expectation”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I hope PR does provide a good basis to move forward with Robotech and the others. If they green light Robotech, I really hope they put it in good hands. I know they probably would have a hard time justifying using the F-14 as the baseline for the veritech, but I really hope they stay true to the original story. And keep Michael Bay as far from it as possible.

  2. Imbri Says:

    One thing I thought was interesting was that in a bunch of interviews that del Toro references Pacific Rim not as a war movie but an adventure movie. He’s said in a couple-few different places that he’s using old West language of ‘rangers’ and ‘marshals’ and making sure that the world of the story is coherent. Most of the worldbuilding stuff I’ve heard about it I’m /drooling/ over. Shock absorber movement in the Jaegers! Multi-national storyline since it’s a global threat! Making something del Toro wants his daughter to be able identify with main characters in! Love of kaiju and taking it to the logical extremes! *bounces excitedly* Like, like, all the destruction of the cities is with empty buildings because everyone’s in their bunkers underground where they’re safe as part of evacuation protocol and… just…

    Everything I heard gives me SO MUCH CONFIDENCE that he knows what he’s doing to make it something I can enjoy without restraint, whereas stuff like Lone Ranger I’m thinking ‘oh my gosh this is such a terrible portrayal of Native Americans’ most of the time which just ruined even wanting to go see it for me. I’m not worrying that ten billion people are dying everywhere like in Superman. I’m not terrified that he’s going to undermine the female lead’s agency.

    World… building. *drools* Man, sci-fi movies with worldbuilding turn me into a puddle.

  3. Blastr Says:

    I’ll grant you that the “Lone Ranger” promos weren’t all that promising…however, I actually felt the same amount of dread re: “Pacific Rim”. Not being a giant-monster fan, I didn’t (and still don’t) have the same warm, fuzzy feeling that some others I know of bad. And yet, I plan on seeing it anyway, hoping against hope that del Toro proves me wrong. Given some of the other comments about it, that seems unlikely. And so it goes..

  4. something that really can happen…but which is made to look more like a cartoon that defies all laws of physics.

    You say that like it’s a bad thing. 😛

  5. Kyle Says:

    A movie I did like when I saw it earlier this year, Ultima, is probably the opposite of everything you reacted to as wrong with TLR.

  6. Kyle Says:

    oops that’s Bless Me, Ultima

  7. Carrie V. Says:

    I’ve actually read the book! Didn’t know there was a movie…

  8. Elke Weiss Says:

    I think for me, Pacific Rim was going to be an overblown, loud, overstuffed action adventure monster film, it knew it, it didn’t hide it and it basically said “Welcome to the party.” The Lone Ranger was trying to be a hero film, but it was clearly not one, it was an overblown action adventure over-stuffed film, but the creators didn’t seem to see that. Basically, I’ll buy a ticket to Disney World, if it’s a train going to Disney world. But if I buy a ticket to Colonial Williamsburg, it better not go to Disney world.

  9. Carrie V. Says:

    Elke — yes, definitely. John wasn’t even written as a heroic character, but more like a Seth Rogan type buffoon. Ugh.

  10. Brian Hiebert Says:

    Pacific Rim met all my expectations and more. A sense of joy fills me right now that rarely comes along. Such fun.


  11. Celeste Says:

    I’m taking my son to see Pacific Rim in a few hours. This will be his first ‘in theaters’ movie experience. Giant robots fighting kaiju luchador style! I’m so excited I can barely sit still, and only hope my son can approach it with the same utter glee.

  12. Tim Schmidt Says:

    I won’t go see the Lone Ranger as the trailers don’t seem very promising. It seems Disney only makes mega hits or mega flops with its blockbusters. I did like John Carter of mars. Its a shame it didn’t fare better.

    I did go see Pacific Rim. It is a very, very cheesey movie in much the same way the old Japanese monster movies were, although with much better special effects. Altogether, it was a lot of fun. I think Godzilla would be proud.


  13. rayearthix Says:

    I’m going to see Pacific Rim tomorrow, so I can comment more on it then, but what the trailers reminds me of the most is Neon Genesis Evangelion, minus the religious aspect. That’s exactly why I’m going to see it, because it reminds me of the cartoons I watched when I was younger, and sometimes still watch.

  14. RobertL Says:

    For westerns you need less CGI and more grit. Westerns are not about explosions and crazy stunts they are about larger than life tough guys. Less Wild Wild West, more Magnificent Seven.

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