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Can You Trust A Movie Trailer?


We've all been there - a darkened theater, the reminder to silence your phones, of course, and then...


BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD: (As Claire) What is that thing?

CORNISH: ...It's movie trailer time...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) This is the most dangerous creature that ever walked the Earth.

CORNISH: ...Often loud, often fast-paced, exciting, sometimes confusing. The trailer is there to whet your appetite for more and to get you back into the movie theater. But should you really trust a trailer? Well, I'm here in Historic Studio 44 with Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Guys, thanks for having me in your studio. How are you?



CORNISH: So I hear you have thoughts on thoughts on thoughts about movie trailers.

WELDON: Well, sure. I mean, you know, back in the day, if a trailer wanted to convey gravitas, it would use a voice of God, you know, the in-a-world kind of thing. But ever since about 2010, when "Inception" came out, that's been replaced with the horns of serious business, the (imitating horn).


WELDON: Does exactly the same work.

CORNISH: Which conveys menace and suspense even when there is none, right?

HOLMES: Absolutely, absolutely true, although that was a very menacing clip that you played.


HOLMES: I'm afraid already. That's from "Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom." That's the new "Jurassic World" movie coming out this summer.

CORNISH: Now, we're actually in the era of, like, spoilers and spoiler culture and people who are always trying to ferret out what's going on with the film far in advance. And, Linda, I know you had a panel discussion for the Smithsonian Associates with the directors of "The Avengers."

HOLMES: "Infinity War," yeah.

CORNISH: "Infinity War" - Joe and Anthony Russo. And that was earlier this month, and they actually had to get into this, right?

HOLMES: Yeah. They had this come up in the Q&A from somebody who said, why was the trailer different from the film? And I sort of thought that they might hedge about it, but they really didn't. Here's Joe Russo answering this question.


JOE RUSSO: As part of distributing fake scripts to the cast to protect the secrets of the film, we will often alter the trailers with visual effects in a way that we either misdirect or don't allow you to intuit exactly what is going to happen in the film so that we can surprise you when you get into the theater because...

CORNISH: Shocked.


WELDON: A thin tissue of lies.

HOLMES: (Laughter).

CORNISH: Shocked and appalled.


CORNISH: There's a lot to unpack there - fake scripts, first of all...


CORNISH: ...But even the trailers now are supposed to mislead us.

HOLMES: Yeah. He may have been joking about the fake scripts, but he's definitely not joking about the trailers. So you have to know if you're going to be one of these people who goes in and microdissects, you know, a trailer on a frame-by-frame basis, some of that might not be what's in the film.

CORNISH: It's also interesting because there was a time when people talked about the trailers in this way, they were complaining, right? It was like a director or an actor being like, well, the trailer didn't really do justice to the film because it was really supposed to be this and then the audience was tricked and that's why things didn't go so well (laughter).

WELDON: Yeah. Good luck with that.

HOLMES: Yeah. I mean, marketing for films always has to decide how they're going to market the film, what impression they're going to give people of what this film is. And with some films, you'll even find - for example, "Bridesmaids" had one trailer that emphasized more the kind of warm friendship parts of that film and one that emphasized more of the really super raunchy parts of that film. And it depended on who they were marketing to. Both of those trailers existed. Both of them represent a real part of that movie. But they were completely different, and they gave a different impression of what the tone was going to be.

WELDON: And speaking of tone, the studios pay attention to how these trailers are received. So when the film "Suicide Squad" had its first trailer, it looked exactly like you thought it was going to look 'cause it's a DC film. It was somber and turgid and dark. And then six months later, they released another trailer done by an outside company that took all the jokes from the footage that had been shot and all the kind of wacky character moments and laid over the trailer Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."


QUEEN: (Singing) No. We will not let you go.


JOEL KINNAMAN: (As Rick Flag) You're going somewhere very bad.


QUEEN: (Singing) We will not let you go.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Whoa.

WELDON: Much different energy, much brighter and people ate it up. And so there are reports that the studio went to the director, David Ayer, and said, we want a movie that is more like this fun, edgy tone.

CORNISH: So match the movie to the trailer.

WELDON: Match the movie to this other trailer. And, you know, he's denied that he did that. But there was a lot of reports about how many jokes were added and how the tone amped up.

CORNISH: So in the end, how does a good trailer balance all of these competing ideas and interests?

HOLMES: Well, the trick is to find a balance between really representing the film in a way that makes people excited to go see it but not giving away the whole film. You don't actually want the trailer to represent the film in mini because if it does - and I think everybody's had the experience of getting to the end of a trailer and thinking I feel like I just saw the whole movie, this is probably the whole thing, I think I know what the entire arc is - then sometimes they feel like, well, I don't think I need to see it now.

WELDON: And in a sense, it's really about capturing the tone of the film, not the story. Give me the sense of what I'm in for, not everything I'm in for, and I think you have a good trailer.

CORNISH: Glen Weldon and Linda Holmes of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, thanks so much, guys.

WELDON: Thank you.

CORNISH: Thanks, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE WECKL'S "CONVERGENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
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