Matt Rodgers on the best trailers of his lifetime…
Trailers have always been a huge part of my film-going experience: making sure you arrive in time in order to watch them in silence, and if someone has been lucky enough to accompany me to the cinema, reaction to the teaser is limited to a thumbs up or down response, or the excited exchanges between trailer transition. Heck, back in the days of dial up broadband I once waited nearly two-hours for the Shrek trailer to slowly Wreck-It-Ralph its way down a remote Dorset phone-line, only for it to freeze and crash during the first play through. Inevitably, I started the download process again.
Now more than ever we’re stuck in a stasis of perpetual anticipation, waiting for the Hollywood dream factory to start delivering that sweet escapism on that magical cinema canvas at a time when we need it most.
With Bond, Wonder Woman, and Mulan social distancing from multiplex screens for the foreseeable future, all we have is excitement generated by the trailers. Maybe it has added a weight to the art-form of the tease, one that’s been lost due to the over-exposure and multiple platforms upon which we consume film previews these days. There was a time when the only place to see a trailer was on the big-screen. It commanded a hushed auditorium, and in some cases was so incredible that the impact removed you from the film you were about to watch.
This got me thinking about the best trailers of my lifetime. Those two minutes, that regardless of the quality of the film that they would expand to become, got the geese-bumping in the same way a brachiosaur standing on its back legs in 1993 did.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
While we’re on the subject of Jurassic Park, it’s the teaser for Spielberg’s much-maligned sequel that kicks off this retrospective. The original meant so much to me, having seen it 9 1/2 times at the cinema. As teasers go, it does achieve that rarest of feats by not actually spoiling anything, and features some wonderful audio triggers, but in all honesty it’s not really that good, with a poorly rendered T-Rex, and a tag-line that tells us something we already knew.
The self-indulgent inclusion of this on the list is largely down to the fact that it was a sequel to a movie that made me, and the only occasion on which I have paid for a cinema ticket just so that I could see a trailer. So what you say? Well, the nearest cinema was a forty minute drive, and the film in question was Space Jam. I rest my case.
Suicide Squad (2017)
There will be a few instances on this rundown of trailers that were infinitely more entertaining than the final movie, but the first look at David Ayers Suicide Squad stands head-and-shoulders above them all as a mini-masterpiece. Doing a better job of introducing the characters than the opening thirty minutes of the finished film, and edited with a coherence of action that’s completely absent from the two-hour and three minute feature, this is an incredible piece of art.
The use of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, particularly during the ammo-loading sequence that’s punctuated by Jai Courtney opening the beer can, is inspired. INSPIRED! I don’t actually mind Suicide Squad, but that’s not something I’d ever think I’d write in association with it. James Gunn’s reboot will have to go some way to release a tease that gets me as excited as this did.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
The unveiling of the trailer for The Phantom Menace is probably the moment my Star Wars fever midichlorian count was at its highest, and this comes from someone who has unwrapped an AT-AT walker on Christmas morning. For a generation this was the first taste of any new Star Wars content, the manifestation of years of their own imagination playing out adventures with the action-figures. A chance to queue around the block on opening night, see that crawl up on the big screen, and excitedly deconstruct it on the car journey home and in the playground for weeks to come.
Anticipation was matched only by the stunning trailer. The Dagobah evoking swamp sounds to open, the shift in pace at the first glimpse of the pod-race, the Anakin and Obi-Wan meeting, and all of the weight that carries for a Star Wars fan, Yoda’s “fear is the path to the dark side” speech, and Darth Maul’s double-ender. Even seeing it now gives you enough feels to make you consider a “it wasn’t that bad, was it?” revisit, that is until you remember that there’s no mention of “trade federation” talk in that teaser.
These days it’d be almost impossible to achieve what Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams managed to do with their covert blockbuster, Cloverfield. Dropping a trailer for a film that nobody had heard of, or knew anything about, was the sort of marketing stunt that Hitchcock might have tipped his bowler hat to.
The iconic sequence featuring the severed head of the Statue of Liberty bouncing through Manhattan triggered the kind of magic-box water-cooler discussions that Abrams has been praised and lamented for in equal measure. Was it a Cthulhu movie? Did that guy really say “I saw it. It’s a lion. It’s huge”?
It’s the only film of this chosen quintet that actually lived up to the promise of the trailer. Heralding the arrival of Matt Reeves as a big-screen director, this was a giant monster movie that out-Godzillered everything that has attempted to trample cityscapes in its wake.
Superman Returns (2006)
A close-call with the first tease for Man of Steel, which coated Supes with a Terence Malick veneer of butterflies on washing lines and slow-motion capes in the wind, the Superman Returns teaser trailer edges it on nostalgia and Marlon Brando’s monologue.
Using some wonderful Superman iconography – the Kent farm mailbox, the Daily Planet, the kiss-curl profile, or that stunning shot as he ascends against the backdrop of the sun – all orchestrated to John Williams’ iconic, hairs-standing-on-end theme music, this is the very definition of a tease. It told me that Superman was back. That’s it. Not why, or how, like so many modern previews tend to do (I’m looking at you Bond!), just that he was to return in the Summer of 2006. The fact that he would ultimately disappoint didn’t matter for ninety brilliant seconds.
So there you have it. This rundown probably isn’t definitive, even for me. Right now I can recall the majesty of The Tree of Life trailer, assembled life a beautiful art-installation, or the superb cover of ‘Creep’ used in The Social Network one, and I’m already cursing at this late-in-the-day epiphany. But that’s where you can come in and let me know what glaring emissions there are by using the comments section below, or heading over to our Twitter page @flickeringmyth…