From Comics Waiting Room: Rogue Element 47
by Avril Brown
Previews can have a great deal of power over how people feel about a film days, weeks or even months before the movie is even available for viewing. A properly put-together preview can send horrific chills up your spine, it can pitch you into side-splitting hysterics, or it can have you so jazzed you feel ready to don your armor and join the battle for Middle Earth yourself.
Or, as in the case of the recent release ‘Wolfman,’ a preview can throw you completely off the trail.
Admittedly I was exposed to only one or two previews of ‘Wolfman’ before my sister called me and told me I simply had to see this movie. “It’s so bloody and violent; it’s awesome,” she promised me. I was already sold on seeing it in the theater; I mean, Benicio Del Toro and wolfies? That’s all I needed to hear, but the promise of blood, guts and gore were added incentives.
What the previews originally impressed upon me was a dark, slightly serious take on the standard Wolfman story: man gets bitten by werewolf, undergoes painful and confusing transformation, terrorizes town and himself. What ‘Wolfman’ delivered was an uber-campy, gratuitously gory and massively entertaining movie filled with funky-looking werewolves, tons of amputations and eviscerations and a holey plot. In other words, completely engaging if that’s your thing, and it’s definitely mine. My date swears I was the only person in the theater laughing when the head doctor of the sanitarium was chucked out of a hundred-foot window and impaled upon a wrought iron fence (superfluous violence just isn’t the same without a good impaling). In short, despite being led astray by the previews, I still enjoyed the movie.
Sadly, this is not always the case.
The theatrical preview for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was one of most kick-ass previews ever created and had Lucas loyalists drooling on their Yoda shirts. The dramatic music, the wide-angled CG shots, the glimpse of that nerd-gasmic Jedi fight; all of it combined sent Star Wars fan scurrying for tickets.
Of course, we all know how well that movie turned out. ‘Disappointed’ is by far too weak a word; ‘disturbingly aghast’ is more accurate for what most fans, including this one, felt upon seeing that movie. The preview, however, remains an excellent example of its kind. It pushed all the right buttons and dragged even non-Star Wars fanatics to the theaters, the poor bastards.
I am not a fan of Ben Stiller nor of Cameron Diaz but I will admit even I was laughing my ass off when I saw the preview for ‘There’s Something About Mary.’ Everyone loves a ridiculous bit with a dog and there were plenty of chuckle-worthy slapstick scenes. When I finally saw the film in its entirety at a friend’s house I realized the dark truth: nearly every funny bit in the movie was in the preview, and everything else was just filler. To be honest I didn’t even watch the whole movie, and that is a rare occurrence. This was the one of my first experiences, and it would not be the last, of a preview which was essentially a clip show of the best parts of the film.
I once watched a brief television special on previews, particularly the ones for ‘Godzilla,’ the Matthew Broderick version. Some of the most successful brains behind cinematic advertising were consulted after the movie opened to poor box office ratings and dismal reviews. Did the promotion team and their ‘Size Matters’ preview theme drop the ball? The general consensus: no, the promotion campaign was fine. The movie just sucked that badly. I wholeheartedly agree with said consensus for I remember being entertained by the vague theatrical previews for ‘Godzilla.’ One was a brief clip showing a student group standing in front of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton while being educated by their teacher on how this was the largest, cold-blooded land predator known to exist. Seconds later, a big honking Godzilla foot stomps through the museum ceiling and crushes poor Sue to smithereens. Definitely cool. Of course it wasn’t until years later when I was bored at 1AM and caught the second half of the film on HBO when I realized how right that program was, for ‘Godzilla’ truly is one god-awful film with a couple of shiny previews.
Previews can whet our appetite for a film, they can get the blood pumping and our hearts racing in anticipation of the main event. They can be hints at even greater scenes to come, or they can be collections of the best a movie has to offer. They can be uplifting, exciting, scary as hell or a false representation. In the end, however, previews do not make the movie, and moviegoers must remember the old adage of not judging a book by its cover applies to previews and their feature-length partners as well. Enjoy a preview and take from it what you will, but unless your instincts and basic common sense are screaming to run in the other direction, judge not a movie by its two-minute brother. You may yet be surprised, for better or for worse.