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By Chris Thilk | February 23, 2005

I can pinpoint the exact moment I lost faith in trailers: 1992’s Robin Williams/Barry Levinson collaboration “Toys”. The teaser contained Williams alone in a field (I don’t even think he was in costume) basically being himself and talking about his new movie coming out in a few months. The trailer was hilarious and I and my friends were unanimous in our anticipation of the finished product. After all, Williams was at the height of his powers and his previous Levinson movie, “Good Morning, Vietnam” was an acknowledged classic.

We were then bitch-slapped mercilessly and repeatedly for about two hours by LL Cool J. Check out Brad Slager’s Milk Carton Cinema column on this train-wreck.

(By the way, I believe the demise of Williams’ talents can be traced back to his hearing the phrase, “Hi, Robin. This is Chris Columbus…”. Take from that what you will. Go back and look at Williams’ work just before and after this. Before: “Dead Again”, “Dead Poets Society”, “Fisher King”. Just After: “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Jumanji”. Tell me its not like watching a bus full of kids drive happily off a cliff.)

And so ever since then, with each new trailer, whatever anticipation I might feel is somewhat diminished by what I refer to as the “Toys Factor”. Every summer, though, I see a bunch of trailers that look excellent and get me all jazzed up for the latest blockbusters. More often than not these are for movies where I am part of the built-in audience the marketing department is counting on to buy tickets. These are movies I’m seeking out: Sequels to movies I liked, adaptations of books or – recently – comics I enjoyed or films with an actor or actress I already enjoy. This week I thought I would look at some of those that, for better or worse, are on my list of movies to see.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

When you go to a concert, what songs stick with you? The opening, the closing and maybe one or two of your favorites from the middle. For better or worse, the Star Wars saga will be judged by its opening – A New Hope – and its closing – this year’s “Revenge of the Sith”. Sure, Empire might be the best of the lot, but when we’re talking about this franchise twenty years from now we’ll talk about how we first were introduced to this universe and how we left it.

The campaign to date, including a teaser poster and trailer, has played into this nostalgia factor heavily. Sure the campaign for Phantom Menace did this with its “Every Saga Has a Beginning…” line and the first trailer for Attack of the Clones had Darth Vader breathing over it to remind us of what would eventually happen to Anakin Skywalker. The RotS teaser, though, takes this to new heights by spending half its running time either showing us footage from the first movie or characters from the original trilogy that have been transplanted into this series: Yoda (though I’m hesitant to acknowledge that CGI creation as Yoda), a bunch of Wookies, lots or R2-D2 and C-3PO and a starfighter that closely resembles an X-Wing.

I’ll admit to being excited to catch this first glimpse at some new footage. I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to Star Wars. However, I am leery. Lucas is too caught up in himself to really give us a Star Wars movie anymore and I don’t like the way he’s trying to change the original trilogy to match the prequels instead of creating the prequels in such a way as to mesh seamlessly with the originals. Still, I’m on board here.

The teaser poster looks like a comic book cover. Don’t like it. Never will. Sorry.

Fantastic Four

The big screen adaptation (actually the second stab at one if you frequent comic conventions) of the move that essentially launched Marvel Comics in 1961 is coming at an odd time. It’s a slick, big-budget action movie being released amidst a bunch of other comic movies, all of which are darker and grittier such as “Batman Begins” and “Sin City”. This means it has ceded a good amount of critical ground already. It runs the risk of being dismissed as a crème puff compared to deep psychological explorations by Chris Nolan and Robert Rodriguez.

The teaser trailer is pretty neat and sets the conflict of Dr. Doom versus the FF and surprisingly shows a decent amount of the special effects from the movie, including the look of the The Thing and the Human Torch, two of the biggest “How are they going to pull that off?” questions about this movie. I applaud Fox for not hiding the look of the Thing in the campaign. He’s right there in the middle of the poster and is featured prominently in the trailer. I also think it’s great they “created’ the Thing instead of doing him all CGI. The filmmakers took the focus off of this early on by telling fans they were using practical effects as much as possible.

Batman Begins

“Absolutely friggin’ awesome” I believe was my first reaction to the initial teaser trailer. This relaunch of the Batman franchise seems to be aiming for everyone who thought the 1989’s “Batman” and its follow-up, “Batman Returns”, were the best of that series – in other words just about everyone. Personally, the first movie spawned a brief period of collecting various Batman books, including many of the graphic novels that were available at the time.

This movie is reportedly based – in tone if not actual content – on the Batman: Year One graphic novel much the same way Tim Burton’s first movie took on the tone of the hugely popular Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The orange look of the film clips play up that association as much of the Year One book is sepia-toned. We’re shown brief glimpses of Batman himself and much of the supporting cast (including a very cute Katie Holmes). This is probably the best of this bunch as it walks the line between teasing the fanbase and giving away just enough of the movie to leave them wanting more.

As moviemaking costs increase, the pressure to successfully market those movies becomes greater. In an attempt to show how marketers are trying to put the most hinders in the theater seats, Chris Thilk breaks down why some movie campaigns work and some don’t. The posters for “The Rocketeer” and “Unforgiven” remain two of his all-time favorites. For Chris’ ongoing movie journal and other various musings, visit his Movie Marketing Madness blog.

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