Lukewarm take alert: I really, truly love movie trailers. Nowadays, the ever-increasing price of a movie ticket also gets you an ever-increasing number of trailers shown before your feature film of choice. Many people are upset about this – I’m paying money just to be advertised at for half an hour? But personally – and I mean this – I’ll take as many as you can give me.
The movie trailer is an art form unto itself, but an even more manipulative one than feature filmmaking. It has one goal: to make people want to see a movie. There are, of course, lots of different methods available to trailer-cutters. Story-explainy, or vague and mysterious. Try and accurately communicate the movie’s tone, or misdirect and fool the audience. Certain types of movies are easily made into trailers, while other are much more difficult (comedies are by far the trickiest).
One of the most important aspects to consider about trailers is the context with which they are received. Nearly every movie coming out will be related to another film or property in some way, and so another entire argument appears: does the trailer reinforce existing fans’ expectations, or try to win over new fans with a different approach? The truth is, most trailers play it pretty safe: you get the general gist of the story, maybe the first big twist, the faces of its stars, and many of the film’s most interesting visuals.
I thought I’d begin this series to celebrate some of the best movie trailers ever made. This includes convention-busting, unexpected ones as well as tight, efficient traditional ones. But the best trailer to start us off is for David Fincher’s 2011 remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
This trailer isn’t underrated by any means – it’s been celebrated since its release in June of 2011. It was audiences’ first look at Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel of the same name. A Swedish-language film adaption of the book had come out in 2009 and received critical acclaim, and so audiences were (rightly) skeptical about the necessity of an “American” version. This trailer, therefore, had the double duty of winning over fans of the novel/original film and non-fans who had no notion of the story.
It’s a simple concept: every shot is the same length, cut rhythmically to the beat of a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” by Karen O. The images are so brief that every single one leaves you wanting more- what’s that person looking at? What is he running from? What is the significance of the framed flower? A few times, when they want us to really absorb a shot, they cut back to it repeatedly, while not interrupting the consistent pattern. Daniel Craig takes off his glasses, having a revelation. The bright white snow leads us to the ominous mansion. While it may seem counter-intuitive, a trailer with such short shots actually does a great deal to highlight cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth’s stark, bleak photography.
Here’s what is most amazing to me, even still: this trailer is instructive as to the power of the cinematic instant. There are so many shots in here that, even though cut short, feel complete. This is particularly true of many of the close-ups: a great actor (like Craig, Christopher Plummer or Rooney Mara) only needs an instant to communicate something, and the time before and after that instant is really only included for the sake of a natural-seeming progression. The cinematic language doesn’t usually allow for a reaction shot to be half a second long, but if it were, you’d still get the point.
The finished film is among Fincher’s more divisive, praised by many but not usually present in the discussion of his best work (for what it’s worth, I think it’s terrific: sleek, scary, thrilling, with just enough substance to merit its stunning craft). Although I certainly can’t speak to Fincher’s direct involvement in this trailer, it’s worth mentioning that his films have had terrific trailers before, including another that may earn a spot in this series.
The bottom line is this: the trailer for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is so good that it actually earns the full-cheese tagline “The Feel-Bad Movie of Christmas,” which astonishingly was not already taken by Bad Santa. And at least for me, it accomplishes that primary goal: after writing this, I kinda want to watch the movie again.