Posts Tagged 'writing'

When Trailers Strike Gold – Part 5 The Incredibles

Pixar had its game on from the beginning, but to stay fresh, John Lasseter brought in someone to shake up the status quo: Brad Bird. 

Like most Pixar teasers, the trailer only hints at what the film will deliver:

The first Pixar film not created by one of its founding members achieved a successful combination of humor and action, plus a weighty look at heroism, and a scathing indictment against the culture of entitlement.   

Every inch of the film works, from thematic development, voice characterization, pacing and editing (not to mention turning decades of comic book mythos on its ear) and remains on the top tier of Pixar’s strongest efforts.  Throw in Michael Giaccino’s bombastic score, and this film is pure magic.


The Last Airbender Teaser

(via AICN)

Since we’re on the subject of trailers, here plays what we hope will be the return of M. Night Shyamalan:

For what little the teaser reveals, it hints at the kind of scope Night has tended to avoid in his films.  Both Signs and The Happening dealt with wide-spread cataclysm, and kept their narrative focus tight on a mere handful of characters. 

For the first time since The Sixth Sense, Night has taken on the adaptation of someone else’s creation (he previously penned the script to 1999’s Stuart Little).  Based on the series Avatar: The Last Airbender, producers dropped the title to avoid confusion with James Cameron’s Avatar, coming this December (which still hasn’t received a trailer). 

The Last Airbender premieres Summer 2010.

When Trailers Strike Gold – Part 4 Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The Terminator had already achieved a solid place at the cultural water-cooler, and this trailer merely plays on it. Amid all the sparks, techno cues, and Schwarzenegger’s red eyes, there lies not a hint of plot. But James Cameron delivered a sequel that not only left its predecessor in the parabolic ash heap, it achieved something rare for an action movie: thematic meaning.

When Trailers Strike Gold – Part 3 Unbreakable

M. Night Shyamalan followed up the breakout success of The Sixth Sense with a strange pick–a superhero movie. But, he did one thing that no one had ever done with any real success at that point: he grounded it in grimy reality. This early precursor to Heroes serves as a meditative character drama with one hell of a hook, which the trailer uses to perfect effect.

Unfortunately, a few years later, Night gave us The Happening. Wherefore art thou, fair Shyamalan? We sure do miss the old you.

When Trailers Strike Gold – Part 2 Juno

“This is one doodle that can’t be undid, homeskillet.”

There’s a level of charm in this movie, however unintentional or however much the filmmakers may like to say otherwise, that captures the sanctity of life with better aplomb than a Sunday sermon.

That, and it’s funny.

Juno might be overstuffed with wise-acre snark, but underneath it, I caught the folds of some deftly woven material too risky for many comedies to touch—like the rewards of faithfulness (Juno’s mom and dad), and the challenge of masculinity (the juxtaposition between Mark and Bleeker; i.e. Jason Bateman and Michael Cera).

When Trailers Strike Gold – Part 0

Independence Day

Independence Day

Were someone to poll me on my least favorite things, arriving at the movie theater and finding a seat in the dark as a film’s opening minutes blaze on screen would easily make the top five. 

I don’t just love the movies; I love the whole experience.  I enjoy the smell of popcorn, finding a plush reclining seat, and I enjoy getting to watch the trailers before the lights dim all the way down and the movie starts. 

Cutting a trailer is an art.  Just the right amount of tweaking, and a good trailer can make an awful film look like a leprechaun’s pot of gold.  But while they have a reputation for playing better than the material they tease, trailers will sometimes lead to a magical experience at the end of the rainbow. 

Over the next ten days, I want to highlight some excellent trailers that led to great times watching the movies.  This is not a definitive list by any means; merely a chance to enjoy everyone’s favorite part of going to the movies. 

First up: Independence Day (coming later today)

Avatar, James Cameron and Myth


fan-created place holder poster

Director James Cameron took the stage at E3 this past week to talk a little about his upcoming film Avatar, and the video game that will follow (click here to see video—and look for what appears to be some early promo art).  Cameron talks up the film’s plot and production, and speaks at length on his partnership with game developer Ubisoft.

Production on the game follows similar lines Cameron employed when he commissioned Orson Scott Card to draft the novelization of The Abyss.  As Cameron had given Card freedom to explore the narrative dimensions that a film just can’t put onto the screen, the Avatar game will feature original characters that interact with the world of the film, and follow an original, wholly separate storyline.

Creating an original story that runs parallel to the film allows for enough creative divergence so as not to regurgitate the film, and Cameron’s talk allays any such fears.  What is strange is that, in the months leading up to Avatar’s December release date, virtually all its publicity has skirted the edge of the actual product.

The auteur’s recent comments on the film seem to downplay the story for sake of pushing the technology used to create it, keeping any real look at the film behind a thick veil.  Absent any other promotional material, Avatar’s biggest draw rests on the advent of “Stereoscopic 3-D,” an innovation said to create a fully immersive experience—dreaming with your eyes open, as Cameron said at E3.

Early production art released two weeks ago provided a small glimpse under the hood, but strangely recalls well-established hardware put to good use in other sci-fi productions, including Cameron’s own Aliens.  What’s known of Avatar’s plot, and already noted by others, even appears to follow the rough beats of Dances with Wolves—a wounded soldier takes a mission to the final frontier where he meets an alien race, falls for one of the natives, and is forced to choose sides when the “military industrial complex” moves in to make trouble.

By themselves, plot and production similarities make for poor indicators (how many retreads of Shakespeare’s plays have seen success, and how many retreads did the playwright compose himself?), but taken together with the peculiar lack of promotion, it’s easy to assume the quality of the story may not have the strength to stand on its own terms.  In essence, all indications point to selling the experience of the film over anything else.

Arguably, the experience is the touchstone of any James Cameron film.  His films have consistently delivered iconic thrills and frenetic action, but they rest on something more intrinsic to storytelling and modern mythmaking.  As critic Steven D. Greydanus notes, Cameron is “a master manipulator with a flair for crafting engrossing mass entertainment with an aura of significance and truth.”

J.R.R. Tolkien asserted that all myth contains splinters of “true light”—truth that would otherwise get lost in translation were someone to sit down and try to spell it all out for you.  In other words, stories express the inexpressible; a facet that seasons much Cameron’s work.

Consider, for example, the enormous success of his previous film, Titanic.  The overwhelming popularity of that film suggests that it taps a resonant chord among its audience.  “To be this popular,” writes Neil Andersen, “a story must be touching a mythic nerve.”

Dir. James Cameron and star Sam Worthington

Dir. James Cameron and star Sam Worthington

Knowing how to put skin on themes and ideas goes a long way in selling an old story.  Similar to Titanic, Cameron played with notions of destiny in conflict with free will, and the inherent value of human life, wrapped in a story that literally puts skin on its narrative vehicle—Terminator 2.

Cameron possesses a deft awareness of resonant archetypal themes; Tolkien’s splinters of true light, if you will.  Though a committed humanist, Cameron’s devotion to myth cannot avoid brushing up against the eternal truths that, as Tolkien argued, myths inherently reveal.

Stories of frontiersmen forced to choose sides enjoy their time in the sun because they touch on shared mythical themes.  In a season of remakes, reboots and retreads, sitting through Dances with Wolves in Space may not seem like a promising holiday movie outing, but Cameron has already shown aptitude for making something old look new again.

A trailer sure would do a lot to dispel any doubt, however.

Avatar opens December 18, 2009.