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Trailer Haul: An Embarrassment of Riches


Wow, what a week of trailers. It’s a forgone conclusion that we won’t be able to get through all of them, at least not this week. We have cyberpunk, book adaptations, monster movies and, my favorite, a turn-based tactics game. Without further ado, let’s check out the haul.

Ghost in the Shell: Trailer #1

The history of Dreamworks’ live action Ghost in the Shell film is a long and stressful one, most recently characterised by the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the Major – criticisms of whitewashing abound, as do the defensive comments proffered by the production team. And although it would have made a lot of people pleased to see a Japanese actress as the Major, anyone who has seen or read the previous versions knows that her ethnicity is secondary to her more immediate body-image anxiety. At the end of the day, Johansson makes bank for Hollywood, and without her attached, Ghost in the Shell would still be in development hell.

As for the first full trailer: it looks pretty promising.

Visually, this is the least typical Hollywood movie we’ve seen in a long time that wasn’t directed by the Wachowskis. In fact, it’s great to see that so much of what is shown here looks lifted from the manga page (and also from the 1995 animated movie). From the Major’s ‘shelling’ rebirth (a clip of which is now also online) to a cloaked battle on a flooded street, this could be one of the most faithful visual presentations of an existing fictional universe this side of the MCU.

What’s surprising, then, is that the producers have confirmed that the movie doesn’t follow the Puppet Master storyline made famous by the 1995 movie. In an interview with IGN, Avi Arad said that the Puppet Master specifically felt too much to do in a ‘first movie’.

Without going too far down the critic’s rabbit hole, the attitude that American audiences need several movies to establish and understand a science fiction story like Ghost in the Shell is rather dismissive, if not straight up insulting to their intelligence. Treating anything as a series, with the more interesting storylines coming later on – without knowing how well it will do at the box office – doesn’t bode well for the first movie.

A friend of mine pointed out that the trailer exacerbates this concern by suggesting a Robocop-esque journey of self-discovery and/or existential angst for the Major. This trope, already done to death in cyberpunk, was played with excellently in the original story by being a background element driving the Major’s character growth. If this background element is foregrounded for the majority of the plot (rather than say, any of the other more interesting storylines in this universe), Ghost in the Shell risks feeling much more generic than it has any right to be.

On a similar topic, Ghost in the Shell will have to weather the John Carter problem that I spoke of last week – even though it was the ultimate influence on the creation of The Matrix, those movies have so burrowed their way into the zeitgeist that most viewers are likely to assume the opposite and dismiss the movie as a rip-off.

Even from what is shown in this trailer, that would be a great disservice – because above all else, what is shown here suggests a world as complex, awful and beautiful as the world we live in today. As Avi Arad puts it, they’re not so much about the smooth, spotless Star Trek future, or the grimy hellscape of so many other sci-fi movies, but somewhere in between, making it more real.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Trailer #2

Contemporary to Harry Potter, though very different in content and tone, the original A Series of Unfortunate Events book series was nonetheless in the same position when it came to adaptation: with such a dense, quintessentially “booky” story, how do you translate what works to the screen?

By the third installment, the Harry Potter films dropped their pretension to bookiness almost completely, instead going with an aloof approach akin to the appeal of a scented candle – by which I mean, the later films are more about portraying the feel than the interesting complexities of J. K. Rowling’s world-building. If you liked the books, you probably liked the movies, and if you didn’t like the books, the movies probably weren’t for you.

The first Unfortunate Events film succeeded with casting Jim Carrey as Olaf but faltered portraying the undercurrent of Gothic menace and themes that came to define the books. Despite excellent art direction and some changes made to squeeze the first three into a single-film story, the movie overall didn’t find its own qualities to replace what was lost in adapting word to screen.

Judging by this trailer for the first season, Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is trying its hardest to retain the vaguely Edwardian, impressionistic visuals that the 2004 film nailed so well, while at the same time upping the comedy angle to better fit a television presentation. This could prove a strong solution to the loss of literary bookishness, by instead focusing on what that a team of actors, special effects artists and directors can bring to a story.

For example: the Olaf of the books was ignorant, inexplicable and relentless. Neil Patrick Harris’s Olaf, on the other hand, appears to retain the added bumbling schlock that Carrey brought to the role – and therefore plays to NPH’s strengths as a comedic performer. Though this might also lose the series some of its grim punch, the fact that the relatively small books get two episodes each should make sure it doesn’t lose the series’ rich mythology and absurdist subtext.

Netflix have been on a roll with their original content lately, so if this trailer is any indication of quality we’re looking forward to even more great series in 2017. Is it time for another Iron Fist trailer?

Kong: Skull Island: Trailer #2

Creedence is always a win. There may only be thirty seconds of it, but like last week’s Valerian trailer it puts us right in the time and mood for this sequel/reboot/whatever being set in the early 1970s. The rest is underscored by generic, dramatic trailer music, which is fine – but it gets a lot better when the drums are timed to Kong’s chest-beating. They certainly know what parts to show to get the hype-meter rising.

So let’s take a step back: we’ve known since the first trailer that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wanted to bring in his love of war films, especially Apocalypse Now. In terms of visual language and general color scheme, though, I wasn’t expecting it to be so overt. This might end up working in the film’s favor but it’s always worth remembering that the Pacific coast, jungle setting and military hardware are only set dressing, it’s the emotional content that makes a film.

That content in this trailer feels a little more haphazard. Clearly, Kong is a presence throughout the film, rather than a shark-from-Jaws situation. What makes it feel disjointed are the additional plots around the role of the military in this scientific expedition and the nature of John C. Reilly’s character. Since I can’t find any official source on the name of his character, I’m just going to call him Ben Gunn.

Particularly, Ben’s expositional speech on Kong works, but the sudden reminder that this is a creature-feature seems forced. We know from the original that a giant ape is an excellent device to center your movie around, so saying “and another thing, there are these unrelated monsters that you’ll also have to fight” feels a bit redundant in a two minute trailer.

Yes, this is yet another sequel/reboot/cash-in, if you want to see it that way. But if you think of the classic King Kong story as the Alien of the franchise, it’s completely acceptable that we might have an Aliens on our hands. Please stick the landing guys, Godzilla was alright but we deserve great monster movies.

Dynasty Warriors: Godseekers: Reveal Trailer

I’m not overly familiar with the Dynasty Warriors series, but this is a neat little reveal in a genre that’s on the ascent in recent years: turn-based tactics.

Not a whole lot to dive into here, as it’s a very gameplay focused trailer with just a hint of the characters and tone. Still, if you are at all a fan of either tactics games or Koei Tecmo’s venerable musou series, it looks like it should stay on your radar.

Beauty and the Beast: Trailer #1

Oh boy, this is going to be tough. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

Alan Menken could be an easy shoo-in for Best Original Score next year if the music to this movie is as wonderful as it was in the animated film (ignore the overused ‘soft piano note’ we get at the start, that has been the last few years’ version of the Inception horn). We also can’t deny the power that nostalgia will have over the success of this movie, even with the unfortunate garbage I’m going to dump on it in a second.

Let’s get it over with, then: the visuals, as shown here, are simply awful. And I’m not talking about quality of CG – that can always improve between the trailers and release of the movie. What can’t be changed so easily are the color palette and core aesthetic. It is simply dull.

Were you tired of orange and teal? Well, how about gold and teal?

Where’s the majestic, royal kaleidoscope of the original? Or the rich darkness on the inside of the castle? Does this whole movie take place in a white-out blizzard, lit by a faint blue moon? I count one scene – that’s one scene of some green hills – that isn’t some variation on gold or teal. If you think that’s bad, what about the over-designed servants, whose faces are hidden in baroque nonsense or just painted on the side, rather than actual, living faces.

The Beast himself might represent the worst of this uninspiring mess, resembling some kind of fairy or fawn. Careful, you wouldn’t want someone known as “THE BEAST” to actually look ugly or frightening, it’s not like that’s the entire point of the story.

Deep breath, calm down.

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella was not for me but it was very good, and had a masterful command of visual splendor. Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast might end up better, but this trailer shows exactly the kind of boring visuals that can sink a film.

No hard feelings if you enjoyed the trailer, though. Why not share what you liked in the comments below?

Oscar Corner

There weren’t only sci-fi and fantasy trailers out this week. If you’d like some coverage of these drama trailers too, let us know and we’ll see you on next week’s Trailer Haul.

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