I want to talk about a trailer I saw over the weekend at a screening of “Prometheus.” Typically, this is where I’d direct you to YouTube or embed a video of the trailer for you to see it for yourself. But in this age of perpetual sneak preview culture, here is a shocking turn of events: the best trailer of the year, the first teaser for Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” isn’t available online. Which is almost as exciting as the trailer itself.
The teaser contains no narration or voiceover, and almost no dialogue. It is essentially a single scene from the film. A young boy is stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a Bengal tiger. As the two struggle to coexist on their tiny piece of real estate they are suddenly attacked by — well, in the spirit of the day, I won’t explain just what happens next. But the assault on the lifeboat is Lee’s cue to put on a clinic in 3-D editing and camera movement.
Just as quickly and inexplicably as the adventure began, it ended. The title “Life of Pi” flashed onscreen and the feature presentation started, which, at that point, almost felt like a letdown.
This is a brilliant piece of marketing. It tells me everything I need to know to want to see the movie — Ang Lee, mind-blowing 3-D visual splendor — while effectively telling me nothing. I still don’t know who the boy is, or why he’s there, or how the hell the tiger got in the boat. I’m left with tons of questions I’ll need to see the film to have answered. Again, brilliant marketing. I had no idea what the hell was going on, and I enjoyed every second (in other words, it was the perfect way to set the mood for “Prometheus”)
This unusual trailer and the even more unusual decision to keep it a movie theater exclusive were both done intentionally by the folks at 20th Century Fox, who are distributing “Life of Pi” and believe they have a unique film on their hands. The 3-D is a huge selling point, and it can’t be shown on a computer screen. So they made the choice to forgo the traditional online trailer roll-out in favor of a series of clips that will run in theaters before Fox movies (the next one appears in front of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” this Friday). “This film is special and different, and so we didn’t want to give people the same-old, same-old,” Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman told The New York Times.
I genuinely hope he’s right. Not just because I’m excited to see the movie, but because I’m excited about encouraging people to go to the movie theater, and even more excited to feel surprised once I get there.
Here’s all you’ll find online of “Life of Pi” so far: ten measly seconds of footage. I hope Fox keeps it that way for a while.