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'Civil War', 'Logan', 'Apes' or: How I Learned To Not Watch Movie Trailers Anymore

By Petr Knava | Think Pieces | March 31, 2017 |

By Petr Knava | Think Pieces | March 31, 2017 |

Friends, I have a confession to make.

I’ve been struggling with something for a good number of years, and I think it’s about time I came out and admitted it to you all. It’s for my own good, really. The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.

Here it goes…

*deep breath*

I have a capitalism addic-… Monica Bellucci fixa-… problem with movie trailers!

I have a problem with movie trailers.

Yeah, I’ve talked about it before, so what, wanna fight about it?

In short: Trailers—I don’t like ‘em, but I can’t stop watching ‘em.

‘Why is Knava thinking about this now?’ I hear you clamour breathlessly. Well, because of this:

As you can see, that’s the latest trailer for the final part of the new Planet Of The Apes trilogy. That trilogy began with 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and continued with 2014’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (because apes always rise before dawn. Planet.) Rotten Tomatoes has Rise at 81% and Dawn at 90%. Very healthy numbers. Numbers full of lies. I’ve seen both movies, and they’re okay. They have some elements that rise (*snigger*) above okay—Andy Serkis’ Caesar being a genuinely impressive achievement—but for the most part they’re just fine. The trailers, though? Man, I love those trailers. They’re compelling, they set your mind a-buzzing with some quite big questions, and they let your imagination create a story. And then the movies buckle under the weight of those questions and fail to live up to the narrative expectations.

In no way is that a phenomenon unique to the Apes movies.

Because that’s the key word here isn’t it: expectations. That’s what trailers are all about. They’re designed to create expectations. Positive ones. That’s their job and that’s what they gotta do; I’m no fool, dreaming of a trailer-less utopia; I know they’re not going away or changing form.

I mean, shit, it would be great if they could all be like this careful, restrained trailer for Gareth Edwards’s fantastic debut, Monsters:

But that’s just not gonna happen very often. Certainly not for the big tentpole productions on which mountain-sized stacks of cash are spent and so much risk hangs. For those movies, we know what to expect from their trailers: too many of the story beats to be fleshed out, a bunch of the best jokes ruined, some of the big spectacle shots telegraphed. But precisely because you expect that from those trailers you can learn to avoid them. I certainly have. Usually when it comes to a ‘big’ movie that I’m looking forward to I will check out the first teaser, and maybe the first proper trailer. The former is often a relatively safe bet—it’ll show some visuals and hint at the tone—while the latter can be a riskier proposition—maybe it’ll err on the side of restraint, or maybe it’ll blow its load. Pot luck. Enter at your own risk.

But sometimes, sometimes it does something even worse.

Here’s one of the best trailers for anything in a long time:

Yeah. We all went cock-a-hoop over that one didn’t we? How could we not? I mean, yes, Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ is like a cheat code designed to crack open your heart, but still, even without it that trailer is dynamite. Emotional and raw, it tells some quite incredible stories in its margins. It reaches into the viewer’s brain and causes sparks to flare. ‘I gotta see that thing,’ it makes you think. ‘I’ve projected a story onto this, but it’s got gaps in it. I need those gaps filled.’

And herein lies the rub.

I saw Logan just under two weeks ago. It’s taken almost that entire time for me to realise how much I liked the movie. The blame for that lies squarely at the foot of that beguiling trailer. No, it did not misrepresent the tone of the film (one of the other sins most commonly committed by movie trailers); on the contrary it was remarkably faithful to it. But I loved that trailer so damn much, and my brain conjured up so many infinite ways that the story could go, that when I saw the movie I was initially disappointed with the actual story being told. And this was not a judgement of the quality of the finished product—the abundance of which was pretty clearly and immediately obvious—rather it was simply the disconnect between the narrative that my trailer-stoked febrile imagination conjured up, and the one the filmmakers ended up delivering.

The differences between My Idealised Logan and Actual Logan, to be honest, were not even that great. I would probably not be able to describe them without some serious thought. That’s because they never solidified into any proper form. All they ever were was a series of briefly illuminated corners, glimpses of shapes of a larger, unseen whole—but they gave me a feeling. When the movie then failed to mirror this feeling my subconscious judged it as a partial failure. It’s only now, two weeks later, that Actual Logan has had enough time to settle in and make a home in my mind that I accept it as the Definitive Logan. Now I can see it for what it is: Not a hypothetical, ill-defined work of personalised perfection, but a real, warts-and-all actuality. The only one that matters because it’s the only one that happened.

The thing is, I would have loved that acceptance to have been immediate.

Here’s the bit where I would love to point a finger and decry. But the truth is I can’t. The makers of that Logan trailer did their job fantastically. It made me want to see the movie; it didn’t misrepresent the tone; and it didn’t give too much away. Shit, that’s three for three. Well done! The only thing I can really attribute blame to here is my own imagination. Because the same thing happened with another big Event movie, Captain America: Civil War.

Again the trailer was three for three. And again I dig the movie, now. But at the time, when I walked out of it a part of me was somewhat deflated. Because my imagination, in the space of a minute or two, wrote and directed my perfect Civil War movie, which the Russo Brothers then somehow didn’t give me. The bastards.

I have come to the point of acceptance where I recognise that I may have to adopt and adapt what I call the Coen Brothers Maneuever. The Maneuever goes thus: ‘Oh, the Coen Brothers have a movie out? What’s it called—don’t care. What’s it about—don’t care. When’s it out—I’m there!’

Well, maybe that’s a bit of an extreme to adopt for the majority of cinema.

But I could certainly try giving trailers of any sort an even wider berth from now on.

At least for a little while.


Petr Knava
lives in London and plays music

Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.