A Masterful Trailer That Doesn’t Spoil the Movie

A Masterful Trailer That Doesn't Spoil the Movie

I don't post a lot of trailers on Criticwire because I generally think there's something unhealthy about reading too deeply into marketing — at best, it spoils everything; at worst, it creates false expectations — but I will post this trailer for "The Master" because it feels like it was made by someone who feels exactly the way I do.

Major releases typically get two coming attractions: a teaser and a trailer. The teaser usually runs a minute to ninety seconds in length, offers tantalizing glimpses but scant concrete details (hence the name). The trailer runs about two and a half minutes, and provides more information: the broad strokes of plot and character, along with a few questions that the audience will want to have answered by seeing the finished film. For example, the very first teaser for "Inception" makes no attempt to explain its remarkable, trippy visuals, while the full trailer describes Leonardo DiCaprio's job and lays out the basic rules of how this incepting technology works.

This "final theatrical trailer" for "The Master," on the other hand, breaks all the rules of what a trailer is supposed to look like. It's just over a minute long. It reveals almost nothing about the movie's content. It tells us the bare minimum we need to know to make a ticket purchasing decision — that the cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix; that it was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; that Hoffman creates some sort of alternative religion that one character rather pointedly refers to as a "cult" — and leaves the rest for the paying customer to discover. It plays like a first teaser, not a last one.

There's no inkling of what brings the characters together or the specifics of a plot, and certainly no hint of where the conflicts might go. Just provocative imagery, odd, disquieting sounds, and an impressive creative pedigree. 

Ironically, this might be a more accurate and detailed sales pitch than it first seems. If the reactions from early preview screenings are to be believed, "The Master" is dense, lush, and mysterious. If the movie doesn't spoon-feed the audience, why should the marketing? If this trailer is too vague for you, then maybe this isn't going to be cup of tea.

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Matthew Cheney

In terms of how it presents the film, then, similar to the wonderful trailer for the Coens' A Serious Man.

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