In 2011, Hans Zimmer created an amazing soundtrack for the movie Inception. It complemented the tone of the movie so well, because it demanded emotion from the audience, and forced everyone to feel the stress of the the situations projected on screen. This demanding and tense dramatic theme also seemed to create the perfect score for a movie trailer. The goal of a movie trailer is to capture the audiences attention in order to market a new film. From things like the now cliche god-like announcer to the more subtle “based on a true story” claim, studios have tried all sorts of techniques to make everyone pay attention. With the Inception movie trailer, Hans Zimmer seemed to have inadvertently created the newest trailer trend: a repetitive, bass howling horn in the audio track.
The list of movies since 2011 to feature a variation of this sound is still growing. Upon watching the Rise of the Planet of the Apes trailer we can see that not only the music is the same, but almost every aspect of the editing follows the Inception trailer formula as well. In this formula the pacing starts out slow and the music innocent. Big, blocky A L L C A P S T E X T might flash across the screen to make what you are about to watch seem important or intense. Next things build up to a series of whaling booms and silent pauses as the narrator, usually a character in the film, tells us the dark twist in the story over a series of fade out shots that transition the second the next loud siren sounds.
This formula is great, because it builds suspense as well as intrigue. The quick pacing and small shot length give away almost nothing about the movies plot. On top of that, how are you not going to stop what you are doing to look over at the trailer when this fog horn blaring from your TV makes it impossible to hear anything else? It seems like movie studios cannot get enough of it either. Check out a few of these movie trailers that all copy the Inception teaser in one way or another: Prometheus, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Thor
Cliché movie trailer formulas are not a new concept though, others have been around for years. In order for a romantic comedy to be successful, one might argue that it is almost imperative that it follow the formula. Otherwise, how would anyone know it is a romantic comedy? At first we are introduced to the main characters, a handsome man, and a pretty woman. They may be interested in each other or already together, but rest assured, after the happy music plays, everything slows down because of a stressful conflict. This friction may be caused by a man chasing down the woman who doesn’t like him at first (but she totally does), or perhaps a bump in the road that makes both sides of an established relationship question it’s future. Next one of the main characters overcomes some form of adversity, and in the end everything is as it should be complete with some more happy music and a picture perfect ending…usually a cheesy kiss as well. There is also no lack of quick humor shots to make you want to go laugh AND cry. Some recent romantic comedies that follow this formula are Crazy Stupid Love, Friends with Benefits, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and The Five Year Engagement. Each one presents it’s own unique twist on the conflict, but the highs and lows are all the same.
A new online trend that has become increasingly popular takes movie trailers that follow one formula and use footage from the film to re-cut it to fit a different one. For example, this re-cut trailer takes the Harry Potter series and re-cuts it to follow the formula of a teen comedy movie like that of the classic Breakfast Club (which in itself practically narrates it’s own formula).
It features all of the staples a typical teen angst movie includes: some fast paced, generic alternative rock music, pauses for stupid sitcom-esque jokes, and a group of rowdy teenagers looking for love. While the original Harry Potter series did include some elements of other teen movies, it was very much an action/fantasy movie above all else. Another example of a good re-cut trailer portrays Forrest Gump as a psychotic killer in a horror movie instead of the kind gentle heart he is. There are a lot of creepy shots with crazy Forrest doing something odd and unpredictable, piercing shrieks that heighten as do the stakes on screen, and quick cuts that make us assume the worst.
In some ways, these formulas can be a good thing. Cliche movie trailer formulas are something I appreciate, because they let me know what to expect out of a movie in under two minutes without spoiling too much of the plot. In an article on semiotics, Edgar Hunt talks about cliches and how despite being stale and repetitive, they are used because they work. And really, all this boils down to the fact that business successes are copied because they are proven effective. The purpose of a movie trailer is to market a movie, so how could you not expect one of the biggest entertainment industries in America not to re-use a time proven formula over and over again.
9 Trailers: Inception, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Prometheus, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Thor, Breakfast Club, Crazy Stupid Love, Friends with Benefits, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and The Five Year Engagement.