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Watch This Trailer: How 'Django Unchained' and 'To the Wonder' Sell Themselves

It's multiplex versus art house in the battle of modern auteurs' projected appeal.
December 21, 2012, 4:40pm

People tend to complain that modern trailers spoil the films they're advertising. Though I don't necessarily agree with this statement, I also understand where these viewers are coming from. Take, for example, the recent trailer for Django Unchained.

This tells us a few crucial bits of information that probably would have best been saved for the film itself. Thanks to the trailer we know that Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) are able to find Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), but not before Calvin J Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio) discovers their ruse thanks to Stephen's (Samuel L Jackson) suspicions. I mean, come on.

Not that we didn't see all of that coming, but that's a whole lot of the movie right there. It also spoils what I assume is a funny little cameo by Jonah Hill (similar to Mike Myers' unexpected cameo in Inglorious Bastards no doubt) as he is listed in the credits as "Bag Head #2" and does not have top billing as he has for almost all of his recent work.


It's refreshing then, that two trailers have emerged recently that tell you almost nothing about the films they are promoting. It also doesn't hurt that both of these trailers are fucking gorgeous.

If you're Motherboard reader, you've probably seen Shane Carruth's $5000 indie sci-fi darling Primer, and if you haven't you should add it to your queue right now. After causing a big to do (including a Sundance Grand Jury Prize) with the film's release back in 2004, Carruth did something incredibly strange in the world of up and coming filmmakers: He took his time.

Whereas others might have jumped at the chance and the money associated with the attention that comes from a little Sundance love, Carruth instead continued to work on his own projects, the oft-rumored A Topiary, and another less spoken-of film, Upstream Color. He also helped Rian Johnson out with some time travel consultation on Looper.

Then out of nowhere (compared to the recent and, in my opinion, idiotic trend of releasing previews of trailers) two teasers, seen below, appeared for Upstream Color, along with the announcement that the film would premier at Sundance 2013. Both of them are brief glimpses into the world of the film, driven by out of context yet powerful lines spoken by the two main characters. The scenes depicted seemingly have nothing to do with each other or the narration, but are undeniably beautiful and create a palpable feeling of anxiety. Also note the stunning level of symmetrical movement present in almost every edit of teaser #1.

Based solely on these two previews I have literally no idea what this film is about, but quite frankly I don't give a shit. The beautiful cinematography, cryptic writing, reserved performances, and elegant editing have piqued my interest. The real question is, will this work on the average movie goer? My guess, probably not. Then again, Shane Carruth probably isn't too concerned with that demographic.

Shortly after Carruth's teasers dropped, again seemingly out of nowhere, a teaser for seminal big budget art house director Terrence Malick's new film To The Wonder surfaced. Once again the auteur succeeded in sending all of us hopelessly romantic movie nerds into a familiar existential panic attack/moment of ecstasy recalling that cold December, 2011 day when he dropped the Tree Of Life trailer on us.

The teaser is somewhat similar in style and tone to Carruth's (particularly the second UC teaser) in that we are given a brief glimpse into the world of the film that is driven by an out of context yet powerful monologue from one of the film's central characters. The main difference here is that around :40 seconds, after the haunting and at times anxious build, this preview bursts forth with beautiful energetic celebratory music and moving imagery that kind of drives home the "it's all going to be OK" feeling. I wouldn't be surprised if they used the trailer for The Tree of Life as a template.

These three filmmakers all qualify as incredibly skilled artists. None of them has ever "sold out" and they have always worked diligently, and carefully to ensure that they make the kinds of films that they want to make and nothing more. The difference between them arises in their accessibility. Carruth and Malick make films that aren't necessarily accessible by a broad audience beyond the art house, and for the most part do not have an ambition to appeal to the masses. To put it bluntly, their movies aren't fun, not in the popcorn sense. I mean that in the best possible way.

Tarantino, on the other hand, has always possessed an uncanny ability to woo a good chunk of the art house crowd along with a broad swath of the mainstream moviegoing masses. His hyper-kinetic genre blending and love of action and snappy dialogue just appeals to a broader swath of people. And in the end that's exactly what trailer marketing is all about: projected appeal. A movie like Django Unchained is being sold to the folks who've never been beyond the multiplex, while the folks behind the marketing of Upstream Color and To The Wonder are happy enough to garner awards, critical praise, and strong receipts from independent theaters, video on demand, and home video.


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