Friday, May 18, 2012

Spare me the complete scenes, please

I noticed a disturbing trend in the trailers I saw before The Dictator on Tuesday night. Specifically, the comedy trailers, which were all but one of them.

Not just snippets of "funny dialogue," but entire scenes.

Like, eight consecutive lines of dialogue each, for two or more characters, in the same setting.. 

If it had happened in just one trailer, I might not have noticed it. But since it happened in two, it graduated to the level of a post topic.

It may be no coincidence that both The Watch (formerly Neighborhood Watch) and That's My Boy felt they needed to supply whole scenes to convince us the writing is funny. If the trailers are any indication, neither movie looks likely to supply many laughs. (There's a reason I put "funny dialogue" in quotes earlier.) And as an added sign of desperation, The Watch trailer had to drop in about three f-bombs, in the hopes that merely employing profanity is enough to convince audiences of the writers' comic genius. Red band trailers are a little puerile, aren't they?

Here, check out the trailers below:

I'm counting about five scenes here, the first of which lasts, astonishingly, the entire first minute of the trailer. And basically tells you nothing about the movie. It's downright awkward to watch such long scenes play out with such little payoff. I must admit I think the kid with the ice cream cone is kind of funny, but what does he have to do with the creative talents behind this film? That painfully protracted comparison of the alien goo's viscosity to the viscosity of semen -- now that's what I expect from these guys.

In the case of The Watch, I can understand the need for this going-nowhere vagueness about the movie's content. They kind of don't want you to know what the movie is really about. The Watch was almost derailed by the high profile shooting death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of over-zealous neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. In fact, it's a major surprise the movie is even coming out this year. Too bad Neighborhood Watch is no longer a viable title, because the new title is lame.

Here's the trailer for That's My Boy, a potentially funny idea that looks poorly executed:

This is not as guilty as The Watch in terms of the wholesale reliance on complete scenes, but the one in particular where they discuss the finer points of Adam Sandler's parenting techniques was agonizing for me to sit through. I kept thinking "Please let this end." And not because the dialogue itself is so bad or anything. Just because it seems awkward to sit through such a long, uninterrupted part of the movie -- until you're, you know, actually sitting through the movie. You're waiting for the zinger, which should come in five seconds or less, and then on to the next joke. When you have to wait 20 seconds for it, you've gone limp at least ten seconds before that.

What these trailers tell me is not that comedy writing is much worse today than it has been in the past, because Lord knows cinema history is littered with awful comedies. No, these trailers tell me that the studios don't trust the audience to pick up on nuance, to fill in the blanks, to reach a conclusion based merely on suggestion. Take the scene where Sandler laughs at Andy Samberg's New Kids on the Block tattoo. In the past, the trailer might have been cut to end with Sandler laughing at his own bad behavior, leaving it up to the audience to put two and two together: he gave the tattoo to his son during a drunken stupor sometime in the late 1980s. Instead, they really hit us over the head with the next couple lines of dialogue: "Their heads are all warped!" "That's because I got it when I was in the third grade! My body grew!" And just to hammer it home, a second later Samberg tells he him that he sucks. That clears it up for those of us who thought he liked being tattooed by his teenage father.

I wish I could say that the studios were wrong. Fact is, people probably are too stupid to get nuance these days. And unless you're sure people get what you're saying, you're not sure they'll pay theater prices to see your movie.

It goes without saying that you have to show funny clips from a comedy, so people will want to see it. But you don't have to show the whole scene. I've had experiences in the past where the trailer whetted my appetite for something funny, then I got more than I bargained for when the parts of the scene they didn't show were even funnier. When trailers show everything, you know exactly what you're going to get. Which probably provides a certain comfort for people -- another sad sign of where we find ourselves, collectively, as an audience.

Not that I myself am completely above this. When I saw The Dictator, I was actually disappointed that my favorite line from the trailer didn't make the movie. "America, the birthplace of AIDS," muses Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) in a moment of faux awe. But he doesn't muse this in the movie, only the trailer. And yeah, I missed not seeing/hearing the line.

That seems like a problem neither The Watch nor That's My Boy is likely to have -- so much good material that you have to leave some of it out.


Travis McClain said...

Oh, certainly studios and writers are afraid audiences aren't discerning enough to pick up on subtlety. In fairness, though, have you actually spoken with Joe Sixpack lately?

As for trailers, I suggest you rifle through your DVD library and pull out any assortment of titles from, say, the 80s. They were rarely the thoughtful, spoiler-free pieces we like to think trailers used to be.

Vancetastic said...

Oh, I don't imagine there was a lost glory days of movie trailers. And I'm not really concerned about spoilers, although I realize there was a passage of my post that seemed to indicate that. It's really just awkward from a pacing standpoint to have the trailer slow down for a 20-second scene, before resuming its breakneck pace and kicking back in the horns of The Eurythmics' "Would I Lie to You."

Thanks for the comment!