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Friday, November 7, 2014

Trailers: Into the Woods and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Trailers are movies unto themselves. Okay not really, but they can be fascinating things. An editor has about three minutes to convince a viewer to spend ten dollars on seeing a film, and by this point there's a definite technique behind how they present their material.

Count on seeing an atmospheric beginning, a brief introduction to the film's main characters, the establishment of its general premise, scenery porn of the big set pieces, a few lines that were written especially for the trailer (and may not even make it into the film's final cut), focus on the best-looking/most famous actors, BIG LOUD ACTION SEQUENCES, all the best gags, a faint gist of the ensuing plot, and then the title appearing slowly/spectacularly/perfunctorily in an appropriately-themed font.  

In the last twenty years, trailers have changed totally. Back in the Nineties (which wasn't that long ago, little 'uns) film trailers were remarkably different, often with voiceover narration from some random guy to explain the plot and introduce all the characters. Don't believe me? Here's the original trailer for Interview With The Vampire:


These days we're given a tad more benefit of the doubt when it comes to figuring out what's going on; furthermore, someone somewhere also twigged to the idea that it probably wasn't such a good idea to give absolutely everything away in a trailer, months before the movie is actually released.

Of course, there are some that would argue that trailers have become more spoilerific in recent years, casually giving away major plot-points or assuming that the audience has already read the book (it's bemusing that The Two Towers initially tries to hide the fact that Ian McKellan is in it, since the trailer sure as hell didn't bother).

What I'm trying to say here is that trailers are mini-movies in themselves. They have something important to tell you (watch my big sister when she's released!) but they have to be very careful about what it is they want you to see.

Two new trailers were released today, for movies that I'm almost certainly going to see on the big screen, so just for fun I thought I'd break them down. First up is Into The Woods:


I know very little about Into the Woods beyond the fact it was a Broadway show in the Eighties that deliberately subverted the "happily ever after" of most fairy tales: the first act was all about characters finding their traditional happy endings; the second act had everything fall to pieces. And it was a musical.  

So this trailer, first and foremost, wants you to know that Meryl Strepp is in this movie. MERYL STREPP IS HERE AND SHE SINGS.

As for the rest, it's a bit of a jumbled mess. The focus is on the ensemble cast, in which Anna Kendrick looks the most interesting, James Cordon is somehow married to Emily Blunt, and Johnny Depp appears to be playing himself playing all his roles of the last decade simultaneously.

Storywise, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out just what's going on here, beyond the fact that everyone goes into the woods. The opening sequence (characters whispering "I wish" to varying degrees of acting talent; side-eying you Jack) and the tag-line ("be careful what you wish for") provides a clue as to the subversive nature of the story, but the only real evidence we get of this is in Anna Kendrick's Cinderella scenes.

Between the sight of her fleeing from the palace, admitting to Emily Blunt that "it wasn't quite what I expected" and her exchange with Prince Charming: "if you love me, why did you stray?"/"I was raised to be charming, not sincere", she emerges as the film's protagonist (even though it stars Meryl Strepp) by dint of having the most interesting lines.

And this film might just make me warm up to Chris Pine. I can only just tolerate him as Captain Kirk – though that's partly the fault of the scripts – but if you're going to play a douche, you can at least be a self-aware douche. Such seems to be the case here.

It's obviously a musical, though there's little indication that it's a dark comedy. The fact that it's coming out at Christmas time means they're pushing a family-oriented tone (I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the line "if we're going to get through this, we're going to do it together!" is nowhere to be found in the original screenplay) so whatever teeth or claws the show once had will almost certainly have been filed right back.  

So the atmosphere isn't quite what I expected. It's like they're going for lightweight and spooky at the same time, to the point where it's a little surprising that Tim Burton's name isn't splashed all over it, and a few of these actors appear to be performing in a totally different film from the others (okay, just the one: Johnny, of course).

And then there's that ending. Treating Meryl Strepp in the same manner that our following trailer treats Bilbo putting on the One Ring (as the big draw-card), it fades out on a decidedly vague note, with the Witch singing to Rapunzel about being a child. Er, okay. Perhaps this scene has familiarity-with-the-source-material significance that I don't know about yet.

(Minor fun fact that I couldn't fit in anywhere else: this is the third time in her career that Lucy Punch has played Cinderella's wicked stepsister.)

Then there's The Hobbit: There And Back Again The Battle of the Five Armies:


Now this trailer definitely knows what it's doing, even if what it's doing has very little in common with Tolkien's book (but hey, it's the third instalment, we know that by now).

I found it interesting that the introductory sequence focuses almost solely on Thorin's pride and failings as a leader, suggesting that his choices are going to be a major turning point in the film itself. And sure, in the book this aspect was there and it was important, but because Tolkien stuck so closely to Bilbo's narrative, we never really felt its full impact.

Speaking of whom, would you believe that Bilbo is meant to be the protagonist of this trilogy? If the change in title hadn't clued you in, this trailer would have, though they at least give him the dignity of the opening voiceover and the closing shot.

What the trailer really wants us to focus on is the fact that this is the very last instalment in The Hobbit trilogy, the very very last instalment in The Lord of the Rings franchise, and it's going to be an all-out, no-holds-barred, CGI slugfest.

Tauriel's tearful face tells me that they're sticking with the book deaths (c'mon, you knew there was a reason they made Kili and Fili the cute ones) and that Tauriel herself may not make it out alive. Actually, scratch that, I think she'll be okay. The shot of her being flung by an orc into a stone wall felt too calculatedly present to be fatal.

Disappointingly little Galadriel (please tell me they're pre-emptively letting her destroy Dol Guldur) and Elrond manages to unsheathe his sword before disappearing entirely, leaving it to Thranduil and Legolas to represent the elves. I'm going to get lambasted for this, but between the damn moose and the dramatic posing, Lee Pace is only just managing to tiptoe along my suspension of disbelief.  

And of course, the portentous trailer lines set to blaring music and panning shots of CGI armies. I honestly think the actors themselves must know on receiving their scripts that these are the sound bites that'll end up in the promotional material, leading them to up their game accordingly. Which was your favourite?

This was the last move in a master plan; a plan long in the making.

These bats are bred for one purpose: for war.

You started this. You will forgive me if I finish it.

When faced with death, what can anyone do?

I will not hide while others fight our battles for us!

You have but one question to answer: how shall this day end?
 
***
 
Despite my snark, I'm looking forward to both films. Fairy tales and Tolkien, what more could a girl ask for? Although Peter Jackson's take on The Hobbit was never going to be the cultural milestone that the original trilogy was, I've enjoyed it as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings rather than an adaptation of the book, and however Into the Woods turns out, it's at least galvanized me to track down recordings of the original stage production. I'll sit on them for now, but comparisons will be imminent come the Christmas Day release.

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