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The Trailer Test: Why the New 'Die Hard' Trailer Is Probably Better Than the Movie and 'Hansel and Gretel' Is Better Than Both

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire October 31, 2012 at 12:09PM

In the process of teasing the bigger picture, a trailer should also tell a story, whether or not that story correlates with the movie in question. For the excessive genre movie with strengths that relate more to movement, violent, attitude and sudden noises rather than pithy tools of the trade like character development, the trailer presents a tricky proposition. In a running time that can often represent roughly one percent the length of the feature, the trailer must sample a lot of physical details. Sometimes, a speedy montage will do the trick. In the case of "A Good Day to Die Hard," the trailer for the fifth installment of the increasingly creaky "Die Hard" franchise released late last week, the challenge results in a series of abrupt cuts with only the illusion of a narrative sustaining them.
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Whether or not "A Good Day to Die Hard" truly succeeds -- its February 2013 release date is something of a bad sign -- the trailer contains plenty of entertainment value on its own terms. The essence of the Hollywood spectacle in a frenzied nutshell, it provides the bare outline of a plot offset by literally dozens of loud, distracting fragments. It doesn't validate the continuing existence of a franchise that reaches its due date in the Reagan years -- and it's ironic that only now have the bad guys become the Russians, considering that John McClane first hit screens in the waning days of the Cold War. However, by weeding out whatever greater storytelling ingredients will flesh out the final product, the fifth "Die Hard" has been reduced to little more than pure escapism. It's hard to imagine a feature-length version that could achieve the same goal with such precision.

That's not to say that the action genre leaves no room for innovation. The gloriously bloody red band trailer for "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" reveals an enjoyable hybrid of action and horror ingredients told with far more imagination than anything in the "Die Hard" tease. "Most people say witches aren't real, the stuff of fairy tales" says narrator Hansel (Jeremy Renner). "Then, one day, they show up at your door and eat your kids." Immediately entering absurd territory, the premise also includes flash cuts of said cannibalistic witches, tipping the comedic ingredients into the horror vein with ease.

The rest of the trailer follows Hansel and his no-nonsense sister Gretel (Gemma Arteton) going about their witch-hunting routine in full-on assassin mode. The movie, the U.S. studio debut of Norwegian genre director Tommy Wirkola (whose cult favorite "Dead Snow" pitted a few marooned vacationers against Nazi zombies), looks unconventionally gory for a commercial action vehicle. But it's mainly due to the art of the red band trailer that we can see it that way. While it's hard to discern any true filmmaking skill or even a sense of humor to match the trailer's giddy vibe, the comic implications of Hansel and Gretel hunting witches is marvelously overstated by the rampant gore. Whereas the violence in "A Good to Day to Die Hard" has been glossed over by smoke and fire, death is very much a character in the "Hansel and Gretel" trailer. This is entertainment that dares to shock and amuse you at the same time, a tricky balance a lot harder to pull off than anything in "Die Hard."

This article is related to: the trailer test, Die Hard 5, A Good Day To Die Hard, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Bruce Willis, Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton