No matter how precisely cut, movie trailers always serve one purpose above all: to sell you on the actual product. At Trailer Test HQ, however, we try to look past this fundamental motivation to explore the creativity involved in sampling the whole package. Nevertheless, when the release of a trailer is so precisely related to the conditions of the movie’s opening date, the marketing intentions must be considered in relation to the trailer’s form. The newly released trailers for “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Lone Ranger” provide the latest examples. One serves to heighten the movie’s Oscar odds, while the other anticipates the 2013 summer movie season that will kick into high gear once awards mania dies down. While equally forward-looking, they anticipate vastly different futures.
At a mere one minute and 37 seconds, the trailer for Gore Verbinski’s adrenaline-fused “Lone Ranger” update is appropriately short and sweet. Even so, 25 percent of its runtime is consumed by the brand names responsible for it, Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer. That’s the same team — along with “Lone Ranger” star Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, whose plug comes at the very end — responsible for turning “The Pirates of the Caribbean” into a massive global franchise. Such crucial details, coupled with the sound and image of a virtual train rushing straight at the camera before the landscape morphs into the logo for Bruckheimer’s production company, could fuel a satisfactory teaser trailer.
Instead, for the next 75 seconds or so, “The Lone Ranger” trailer launches into a spectacular celebration of the industrial revolution this side of Danny Boyle’s Olympics. “I want to show you something,” someone says in a voiceover set to shots of train tracks, desert vistas and dust-caked workers hammering new tracks into the barren landscape. “Since the time of Alexander the Great, no man could travel faster than the horse that carried him. Not anymore.” It’s the first indication of a screenplay intended to combine snazzy action choreography with sweeping historical view, which makes it appropriate that two of its writers hail from the “Pirates” franchise while a third, Justin Haythe, is best known for adapting “Revolutionary Road.”
The rest of the trailer presents a phenomenally art directed pastiche of late 19th century western imagery set to a thundering soundtrack. With the arrival of slo-mo action sequences, ample gunfire, a pair of familiar horse-riding heroes respectively adorned in a mask and Native American headwear — all set to a funky rock score — “The Lone Ranger” unleashes its hip appeal: a bullet ballet only incidentally set in the sun-soaked terrain made iconic by John Ford. But this isn’t “The Searchers,” that’s for sure, nor is it “The Wild Bunch”: Culminating in a series of shots that show the Lone Ranger and Kemosabe (that would be Depp, unquestionably on the verge of delivering another scene-stealing supporting role), the trailer firmly removes any lingering awareness of its brand’s origins in early radio serials and black-and-white television, planting its nimble feet in the vernacular of the blockbuster present.
To compare it with the tender, sentimental qualities of the latest “Silver Linings Playbook” might do a disservice to both movies, but this latest peek at David O. Russell’s crowdpleasing adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel — which I called his funniest film to date in my review — displays a calculated anticipation of Oscar season in much the same way “Lone Ranger” looks toward next summer. The swiftly-edited overview presents a cogent snapshot of the movie’s rapid-fire dialogue and Bradley Cooper’s neurotic performance, which has quickly propelled him into the awards season prognostication game.
Cooper’s character, Pat, reeling from a mental breakdown after his wife cheated on him, meets his match in the similarly wounded Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose arrival about a third of the way through the trailer echoes the timing of her appearance at the end of the movie’s first act. From that point forward, the remaining trailer documents the odd couple’s awkward courtship as they join forces to help Pat win back his wife. Tiffany agrees to help him if he collaborates with her for a dance competition. The silly premise gets a giddy kick with the brief appearance of Chris Tucker in the role of Pat’s supportive friend. And then we get a peek at Robert De Niro, as Pat’s frustrated dad, shedding a tear for his son’s struggles. With each of these pieces in place, the song playing in the background, The Head and the Heart’s “Lost in My Mind,” reaches its explosive chorus as each of the movie’s appealing ingredients established in the earlier sections pass by one last time in quick succession.
Artistically speaking, the trailer accurately conveys Russell’s continually witty screenplay and the frantic performances that bring it to life. It also makes a vastly insightful comedy about human behavior look downright sappy, an injustice that may help it gain some momentum among older demographics and build some buzz for its cast’s awards season chances but makes it clear that movie is no longer a heavy-hitter. When you compare “Silver Linings Playbook” to the sensational big screen experience of “Life of Pi” (now a potential Oscare frontrunner) Russell’s movie looks downright meek. Then again, with no special effects save for its exceptional performances, “Silver Linings Playbook” may succeed as the perfect antidote to CGI-driven spectacles.
In a sense, with its release just ahead of the first peek at “The Lone Ranger,” the “Silver Linings” trailer has already done just that.