Trailers, movies, and the differences thereof.

Last month, I asked whether mentioning a certain plot element in National Treasure: Book of Secrets could be considered a “spoiler”, since the plot element in question had been given away — and very explicitly so — in the early trailers for that film. At the time, some of my colleagues said they could not even remember those trailers, so from their point of view it was a “spoiler”.

I was thus amused to read what David Pogue of the New York Times had to say the other day about the trailers for this movie and their relationship to the finished film. He remembers the early trailers very well — so well, in fact, that he got a bit miffed when he saw the film itself and realized it was missing a lot of the footage that had appeared in those earlier trailers.

So now he has written a fun little blog post listing all the bits in the trailers that were left out of the film itself. He concludes:

But this one got me thinking: Just how different can a trailer be without becoming false advertising?

In this case, those lines from Riley made the movie seem funnier than it was, the president’s line made the dramatic stakes seem higher than they were, and the scenes at the Lincoln Memorial made the historical conspiracy seem more ingenious than it was (historical clues hidden right under our noses!). I can say with confidence that some of those elements played a part in my wanting to see the movie.

Rearranging scenes in the trailer is one thing. But what about this business of putting stuff in the trailer — a *lot* of stuff — that isn’t in the movie at all? If they can get away with “National Treasure”-style misrepresentation, what’s to stop other moviemakers from putting special effects, witty lines, exotic locales and hot-looking actors into *their* trailers, just to get us to go to a movie that doesn’t have any of those things?

And if they do start doing that, how will we, the people, ever compare notes and warn each other?

Well, for starters, we the people could stop relying on the ads and start relying only on what critics who have seen the films in advance have to say! Although, sometimes the studios change their films even after showing them to critics; I remember all too well how my review of Kate & Leopold (2001) zeroed in on a scene or two that were deleted from the film just before it came out.

JAN 11 UPDATE: National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub responds — and along the way, he makes a very valid point about trailers reflecting the “essence” of a movie, which is something that he feels the trailer for, say, Sweeney Todd failed to do.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles is almost here! reports that the pilot episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a version of which was leaked via the internet several months ago, will be made available online officially, at Yahoo! TV, for a 24-hour period starting late tonight.

The pilot episode will be broadcast January 13 on the Fox network, and the second episode will follow just one night later.

Variety has already posted a review of the two episodes, and while critic Brian Lowry cautions that the franchise’s “questionable” time-travel logic “could easily unravel on an episodic basis,” he says it all works, thanks to “a tighter pace, impressive and abundant action with convincing effects and, frankly, plenty of eye candy between [Summer] Glau and [Lena] Headey”.

Yet another movie not screened for critics?

Just to be fair, I should note that the headline on this post is only semi-true … I think.

At any rate, one of my Canadian sources tells me that The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, the second theatrical film in the long-running VeggieTales franchise, will be screened for critics in the United States but not in Canada, even though the film is opening in both countries next Friday. But one of my American sources tells me he hasn’t heard a peep about press screenings even on his side of the border — though apparently an “early cut” was shown to church-based audiences a few months ago.

Discrepancies between our two countries when it comes to press screenings are not unprecedented; because they are often handled by different distributors on different sides of the border, “independent” films such as Doogal (2005) and Madea’s Family Reunion (2006) have been shown to critics in Canada even though they were not shown to critics in the States. But for a film being distributed across the continent by a single major studio, namely Universal, such a discrepancy would be kind of odd.

If things change, or it turns out there really is a screening somewhere, I shall come back and revise this post accordingly.

JAN 10 UPDATE: Apparently Variety saw the film last Saturday, and a handful of other critics saw it in advance, too.

Night on Bald Mountain — the 1933 version

As a lifelong fan of Fantasia (1940), I was intrigued to learn today that the climactic ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ sequence in that film did not mark the first time that Modest Mussorgsky‘s rousing bit of music had been adapted by animators. There is at least one earlier version, produced in 1933 by Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker and released under the title Une nuit sur le mont chauve:

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Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly. (Hat tip to Paul Clark at The Screengrab, who also has some interesting information on how this cartoon and others like it were made.)

Indy IV to tackle a new kind of “cheesy”: Lucas

Vanity Fair has a new article on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with photos and interviews and a video of Annie Leibovitz taking her on-the-set pictures of Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen and, of course, Harrison Ford.

An extensive section of the article deals with “the MacGuffin” and the central role it plays in the Indiana Jones films — as opposed to, say, the films of Alfred Hitchcock, where the MacGuffin is just a gimmick to keep the story going but doesn’t have much of a presence in its own right. And apparently George Lucas wasn’t all that satisfied with the MacGuffins in the last two films:

He feels he had an excellent one in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The much-sought-after Ark of the Covenant not only held the Ten Commandments but also functioned as “a radio to God” and possessed enough Old Testament power to smite those who looked on its treasures. If the Nazis were to gain control of it, instead of good old Indy, well, you can imagine the consequences. But a first-rate MacGuffin is hard to find, and Lucas says he was not completely satisfied with those he had for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (the sacred Shankara Stones, which, for reasons no audience can keep straight, must be retrieved in order to save kidnapped village children from an Indian death cult) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the life-giving Holy Grail, which comes in handy when Indy’s dad is dying).

“I’m the one that has to come up with the story, and the MacGuffin, the supernatural object that everyone’s going after … ” Lucas’s voice trails off. He is seated in a favorite chair, its cushions lumpy and dented. “The Ark of the Covenant was perfect. The Shankara Stones were way too esoteric. The Holy Grail was sort of feeble—but, at the same time, we put the father in there to cover for it. I mean, the whole reason it became a dad movie was because I was scared to hell that there wasn’t enough power behind the Holy Grail to carry a movie. So we kept pushing to have it function on some level—and to make it function for a father and a son. To make it that kind of a movie was the big risk and the big challenge, but also the thing that pulled it out of the fire. So, at the end of it, I was like, No more of these, baby. We’re done. I can’t think of anything else. We barely got by on the last one!

“At that point I had kind of retired,” he continues. “I was raising my kids, I was running my companies. The last thing I wanted to do was go off and do another one of these things. And it stayed there for quite a while, until I was doing Young Indiana Jones, and I was actually with Harrison, shooting a little piece for it, and I was up in Wyoming, where he lives, and I came up with this MacGuffin, which was sitting there right in front of me, and I said, ‘Well, why didn’t I ever see this before?’ ”

When Ford and Spielberg both rejected the idea, Lucas dug in. He hired screenwriter after screenwriter to make his MacGuffin the linchpin of a new Indy story. “So this went on for 15 years,” he says. “And finally we got to a point where everybody said, ‘Look, we’re not doing that movie.’ And I said, ‘Well, look, I can’t think of another MacGuffin. This is it. This works. I know this works.’ And then we stopped. I just said, ‘O.K.,’ and that’s about the time I started Star Wars again. But then Harrison was kind of interested. And I said, ‘I won’t do it unless we can have that MacGuffin. Without the MacGuffin, I will not go near this thing.’ ”

And what is the MacGuffin this time? Well, the movie’s title kind of lets you know, but here is how Vanity Fair puts it:

And then (spoiler warning) Lucas gets a little more (spoiler alert) specific: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will apparently nudge our hero away from his usual milieu of spooky archaeology and into the realm of (spoiler Code Red) science fiction. “What it is that made it perfect was the fact that the MacGuffin I wanted to use and the idea that Harrison would be 20 years older would fit,” Lucas says. “So that put it in the mid-50s, and the MacGuffin I was looking at was perfect for the mid-50s. I looked around and I said, ‘Well, maybe we shouldn’t do a 30s serial, because now we’re in the 50s. What is the same kind of cheesy-entertainment action movie, what was the secret B movie, of the 50s?’ So instead of doing a 30s Republic serial, we’re doing a B science-fiction movie from the 50s. The ones I’m talking about are, like, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Blob, The Thing. So by putting it in that context, it gave me a way of approaching the whole thing.”

Come to think of it, that last bit kind of answers a question I raised here almost one year ago:

Needless to say, the world was a very different place in the 1960s than it was in the 1930s; the Nazis were gone, and so was the British Empire (seen in Temple of Doom). So in what context could this new film take place? The original movies were nostalgia trips to the days of Saturday-matinee serials — but could that template work for a movie set two or three decades later? How could this new movie possibly be “of a piece” with the other films?

Whether Lucas has given a satisfactory answer to that question is, of course, another matter. And remember how Lucas said the new Indiana Jones film would annoy the critics and the fans alike because “We’re basically going to do The Phantom Menace“? He can’t resist taking a shot at them in the new article, either:

Whatever, Lucas is convinced he won’t please everyone. “I know the critics are going to hate it,” he says. “They already hate it. So there’s nothing we can do about that. They hate the idea that we’re making another one. They’ve already made up their minds.”

At least the legions of Indy geeks will be pleased, right?

“The fans are all upset,” Lucas says. “They’re always going to be upset. ‘Why did he do it like this? And why didn’t he do it like this?’ They write their own movie, and then, if you don’t do their movie, they get upset about it. So you just have to stand by for the bricks and the custard pies, because they’re going to come flying your way.”

Finally, here is a picture of Cate Blanchett in Communist mode:

(Hat tip to Chris at Movie Marketing Madness.)

This movie was not screened for critics, 2008.

Two years ago, I posted an item on Ultraviolet and several other movies which had not been screened for critics in the first two months of 2006; and then, as the year progressed and the ranks of such movies swelled, I posted updates to that original post.

I then kept a similar list for 2007 — and now that 2008 is upon us, it is time to start a list for this year, too. Already, and as I noted here three weeks ago, there is one film opening this week without any advance screenings — except for a late-night invitational screening mere hours before the movie opens to the public, which for the purposes of these lists “doesn’t count”. (It is a preview of sorts, but it’s still too late for newspaper deadlines, etc.)

There will be more such films in the year ahead, I’m sure; I’ll post updates as they come, and link to those updates from here.

January 4: One Missed Call.
January 11: The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.
January 25: Rambo, Meet the Spartans.
February 1: The Eye, Strange Wilderness, Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour.
February 22: Witless Protection.
March 14: Doomsday.
March 21: Shutter, Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns.
March 28: Superhero Movie.
April 4: The Ruins.
April 11: Prom Night.
June 13: The Happening.
August 15: Mirrors.
August 29: Babylon A.D., College, Disaster Movie.
September 5: Bangkok Dangerous.
September 12: Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys.
September 19: My Best Friend’s Girl.
September 26: Fireproof.
October 3: An American Carol.
October 10: Quarantine.
October 24: Saw V.
October 31: The Haunting of Molly Hartley.
December 12: Delgo.