Monday, September 8, 2008

The three best movie trailers ever

Who doesn't love movie trailers? Some say the trailers are the best part of the movie. People have paid to see movies just for one trailer. (Read on, one such trailer makes the list.) Trailers were so popular on Apple's QuickTime gallery that they required QuickTime Pro (a $30 license) to view some of their most popular trailers.

Almost all trailers have major spoilers, and most give away important parts of the movie being advertised. Many show all the best parts of a movie. The justification for this is that they're shown before a movie you are hopefully very interested in (as you paid good money for your ticket), and most people will forget the bulk of most trailers after the feature presentation is over, leaving them with a positive feeling about the movies advertised.

There are three kinds of trailers. The first trailer is not a trailer but a teaser. A teaser is usually about a minute long and often contains a lot of text, music, special effects, not a lot of bulk. The purpose is to let you know the movie's coming and to leave you wanting more. Next comes the actual trailer. These start at about two and a half to three minutes and contain spoilers and the bulk of the movie (lots of action if an action movie, the best jokes if a comedy, and so on). They're designed to make you love the movie, so you'll pay to see it when it comes out. Often there's more than one trailer. Sometimes they're rotated, sometimes one follows the other. Then you have the TV spots. Always about 15 or 30 seconds long, and there are almost always at least three or four of them. Sometimes different TV spots focus on different aspects of the film, sometimes they're just different teasers.

While almost all trailers are memorable at the time, most of them are forgotten after you see the movie. They no longer have any purpose, really. With the introduction of high-speed Internet, we can download them, or just watch them online, but which ones are worth watching months or years after the movie came out? Here are, in my opinion, the three most memorable trailers.

#3: Lord of the Rings Trilogy Teaser
I believe it was March or May 2001. Sept. 11 hadn't changed the world yet, and we were already being treated to an amazing trilogy, we'd seen one two years prior and were a year away from the second installment. Fantasy nerds and bookworms had read Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was read in schools, but to casual readers, Lord of the Rings was rather slow starting. It was respected but not widely read, not by this generation anyway. Then this teaser came out. Longer than a traditional teaser, but then again, it was for three movies.

Fire, lightning, runes, and a cool little poem ("...and in the darkness bind them") isn't a bad way to start a trailer. Following it with an epic battle, horses running in the darkness, some randomly cool fantasy scenes - then it just drops off about a minute in. You get a cool, quotable line ("Even the smallest person can change the course of history") and then the title shot. That would be enough to satisfy the fanboys. It could have ended right there and been nearly as effective. But no. Let's show off closeups of the major heroes with a vocal choir singing softly in the background while title cards announce each film's release date. Christmas 2001 for Fellowship, Christmas 2002 for Towers, and, you guessed it, Christmas 2003 for Return. Another cool quote and the names of the main actors. Beautiful presentation and of course it got everyone talking.

I don't think Fellowship of the Ring really lived up to this trailer, but Fellowship of the Ring (the book) was always the weakest link, anyway. It's really just the introduction to the series, sets the stage for things to come, and of course The Two Towers more than redeemed the series. (Fellowship wasn't that bad, but still didn't live up to the trailer.)

#2. Star Wars Original Trilogy Trailer
The year was 1996. It was fall, maybe October, maybe November. Most trailers fill the screen, but this one didn't. This one put a tiny sqaure TV in the middle of the screen and said, in a 1960s Twilight Zone kind of voice, "For an entire generation, people have experienced Star Wars the only way it's been possible: on the TV screen." They just make TVs sound so bad. I'd watched the movies countless times, of course, who hasn't? And it was just fine on the TV. Of course anything's gonna look better on the big screen, but these movies were almost 20 years old and I'd long accepted that the best I'd ever see these movies would be on a big-screen TV (which I never did). Then this bad boy comes out. And then the X-wing flies out of the TV and all of a sudden the whole theater collectively gasps as the X-wing fills the theater screen, the volume goes up, and jaws hit the floor.

YouTube really doesn't give this trailer justice. Watching it online (and having seen it in the theaters, and having seen it on DVD, upconverted on an HDTV), it loses most of the effect it had in theaters, except for right when the X-wing breaks out, and at the end of the trailer when the Death Star blows up. The overall presentation isn't as good as the Lord of the Rings teaser, but overall it's more effective - and much more memorable.

And the best, most memorable theatrical trailer of all time... drum roll...

#1: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Trailer
November 1998, two years after the above trailer came out. There were rumors of a new Star Wars trilogy, but I hadn't heard them. I was too busy watching the remastered and updated Star Wars movies on VHS over and over, particularly A New Hope (the very first one, more commonly just called "Star Wars" - my favorite movie of all time).

The Lucasfilm logo would clue most people in. Not me. I knew Lucasfilm made Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but I assumed they made much more than that, so it wasn't like "OMG new Star Wars" it was more like "Oh cool, another movie from the guys who made Star Wars". Still, it had me at the edge of my seat. Of course, the music clued me in a second or two later. Then we get a whole bunch of cool sci-fi shots. The pod race, gunfighting in a big hall, space flight, the chromed-out ship parked in the desert, the queen with too much makeup and the funny hair, big robots, and funny creatures (Jar-Jar and Watto).

Then, as if it couldn't get any hotter, Samuel L. Jackson appears on screen and starts talking about a prophecy. If you don't guess that the little boy highlighted next is Anakin Skywalker, father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, the guy who becomes Darth Vader, the baddest villain ever made in America (Final Fantasy VII's Sephiroth is a strong contender, but we can say Sephiroth is Japan's baddest villain and Vader, America's). We then see Anakin meet a much younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is really special because, as we all know from A New Hope, Anakin's the one who (as Darth Vader) kills Obi-Wan so many years later. We then see Yoda, and for the first time heard that great quote that was repeated and parodied ad nauseum for years to come. And here it is again: "I sense much fear in you. Fear, is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to... suf-fer-ing...!" And then that badass double-bladed lightsaber, and holding it - our third Sith lord, after Vader and the Emporer from the original trilogy. We finish with some more cool shots and then the title card.

You know, I don't think there's a Star Wars fan alive who hasn't ripped on Phantom Menace. "It was a kid's movie." "It was Star Wars dumbed down for younger kids." Blah blah blah. But I can't say too much - I'm guilty of this myself. But there also wasn't a Star Wars fan who didn't fall in love with Phantom Menace as soon as they saw this trailer. This one trailer set the stage for six years of anticipation. We knew Anakin Skywalker was going over to the Dark Side. We didn't know who Luke's mom was just yet, although we had an idea. And we didn't know just how it was going to happen. Six years, though.

After seeing Phantom Menace in May of 1999, it was happy and sad. Happy, that we'd seen the first Star Wars movie in 22 years if you don't count the Endor movies (and most of us don't), but sad because it would be 3 years until the next one. Whatever was going on, as much as whatever job sucked at the time, I had Episode II to look forward to. We didn't know what it was going to be called, of course, and the announcement of the title in mid-2001 led to much speculation. Same thing after seeing Attack of the Clones. Another three years. And despite any real or inferred shortcomings of the Prequel Trilogy, no one can deny that they complete the saga.

Sort of. Lucas originally planned a trilogy of trilogies. Anakin's story, Luke's story, and Leia's story. I doubt any true Star Wars fans believed Lucas when he said he was done with it with six. Here he is now releasing that Clone Wars cartoon AGAIN. (As if they didn't already do a Clone Wars cartoon in 2005.) Like the rest of us, George Lucas loves making money. He may not know he's doing Episodes 7, 8, and 9 yet, but he will. And if (God forbid) he passes on first, someone else will. The movies are guaranteed to sell tickets. The money is there to be made. The economy is hurting right now. If 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm ever need a get out of jail free card, it's the third Star Wars trilogy. Mark my words, they'll do it. And it probably won't take them 22 years, either.


gard said...

haha nerrrrrd. those are ok trailers but lets get real they are no-where near the best

Nathan Jolly said...

Well, that's fine -- and I am a nerd -- but I'd appreciate your comment more if it were followed by a favorite or two of yours. You can usually find them on YouTube, maybe IMDb. Unless you just don't like science fiction and fantasy, which, in my opinion, tends to get everything with the movie-going experience right. Other movies you might as well watch at home. A good sci-fi/fantasy film is just not the same at home.