Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Didn't anyone else see the trailer?

George Clooney: "You know that moment when you look into somebody's eyes, and you can feel them staring into your soul, and the whole world goes quiet?"

Anna Kendrick: "Yes!!"

George Clooney: "Right, well I don't."

I'd seen/heard this joke about 12 times, which matched the number of times I'd seen the trailer for Up in the Air. Yesterday was the 13th time, when I actually saw the movie. (And aren't you jealous of those of us who live in Los Angeles, who get things a week earlier than you do?)

Needless to say, I don't usually laugh at a joke I've heard 13 times. Even if it's the best joke in the world, you still don't laugh after 13 times. Our repeat viewings of funny movies are not so we can necessarily laugh anew -- it's so we can smile at the cleverness and be reminded of how much we laughed the first time.

At its core, laughter is an expression of surprise. You can only really be surprised by a joke the first time you hear it. If you laugh the second and third time, it's not usually as hard as the first, and usually benefits from hearing it alongside someone else, someone who hasn't heard it before.

This is not a point that needs belaboring. But I am trying to analyze why the audience with whom I watched Up in the Air laughed so hard at the joke above, or at a couple other jokes the trailers have beaten into us.

Didn't anyone else see the same trailer I saw?

I have to think they did. As much as knowing George Clooney is in it can sell a movie, and as much as good buzz can sell a movie, most people who see a movie on opening weekend have seen the trailer at least once. In this day and age of easy access on the internet, it's probably more than once. And it was especially the case with this movie, whose trailer was/is ubiquitous.

So why did they laugh so hard at that joke?

I guess whether you laugh at a joke from the trailer has something to do with how well the movie has caught you in its spell. If you're really loving it, that means you're just waiting for that moment to arrive, so you can expel your giddiness through a hearty guffaw. I even wonder if there's a little subconscious politicking going on here. You laugh because you want to sell the others in the audience on a movie you've already decided is great. You are doing the movie's PR campaign for it so everyone else can realize what it's taken you only a couple minutes to realize: You love this movie.

Because I didn't laugh, does that mean I didn't love Up in the Air?

I won't answer that question directly, but I will say this: Usually when I've seen a trailer too many times, I get burned out on the movie in question. I'm very wary of that happening with Avatar, for example. But I think because the Up in the Air trailer is so charming, I didn't consciously get burned out on it. Instead, I felt a near anxiety developing about needing to see it -- and now I wonder if that was so I didn't have to see the trailer yet one more time beforehand. Perhaps the reason I saw the movie two days after it was released (and five days before it's released in most of the country) is that I was anxious about that burnout, and wanted to head it off at the pass.

Now, with any movie I see, I'm not expecting to laugh at jokes from the trailers. I'm expecting there to be enough other good jokes for me to laugh at. I'm expecting to smile at those jokes and check them off my mental checklist of moments from the trailer -- maybe you keep one of those checklists too. But those jokes played their intended role -- they made me laugh at the trailer and made me want to see the movie.

Okay, so I'm not expecting to laugh again. But I did find my inability to laugh at those jokes more problematic yesterday, in part because the rest of the audience was laughing so much. This isn't the first time I've blogged about laughter disparities, but it's the first time I've tied the phenomenon to my expectations of how much we should be laughing based on trailer burnout.

It's the double-edged sword of trailers, which we all discuss: We want to see some footage of the film, in order to get excited about it, but we want there to be plenty of surprises remaining for the actual theatrical viewing. For a current example of a film whose entire plot, and probably its only funny jokes, appear in the trailer, check out the trailer for Did You Hear About the Morgans? (You won't have to go out of your way -- that one's pretty ubiquitous, too.)

Of course, it's difficult to find a balance. You have to include some funny jokes in the trailer, or else how will people know if the movie looks funny?

I don't know why I was so tired of these Up in the Air jokes, and the other people were not. Maybe just because I was tired, period -- I was recovering from a late Christmas party the night before, as well as a hard session of basketball that morning. Or maybe I'm just smarter than they are. Yeah, that's it.

But it distracted me to no end how much the girl on my right was laughing. She covered her mouth with both hands several times during the movie, in fits of hysterics, and several other times said things like "Oh my God!" and "Oh gosh!" My wife and I each had to suffer through a terrible neighbor yesterday -- the woman to her left was crinkling food wrappers for almost the entire movie.

Up in the Air won the National Board of Review's honor as best film of the year last week. The last two Oscar winners, Slumdog Millionaire and No Country for Old Men, were also honored by that board. So Up in the Air is going to be seen by a lot of people in the coming weeks.

Therefore, I won't spoil anything by giving you my review. All I'll say is that it is not my #1 of the year -- you'll get a look at which film takes that honor this January after the Oscar nominations are released, per my annual tradition.

In the meantime, I'll just prepare you to laugh -- or not laugh, as the case may be.


Daddy Geek Boy said...

Maybe they didn't see the trailer. At least as many times as you have.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure if I've seen the trailer.

Vancetastic said...

Yes, I guess it's true. Those of us who see a lot of trailers are doomed to having more parts of more movies spoiled for us than other people. But what am I supposed to do, wait outside until the trailers end?