Trailer Talk: Who’s John Carter?
There’s been some talk about John Carter’s poor marketing campaign. I hadn’t paid much attention to it, but I did know one thing: I had no interest in seeing this movie. A new trailer came out this past week though, and for me, it changed everything.
Let’s see how, by starting at the beginning:
The teaser trailer came out last August, and is a very different style. It starts with soft piano music, over a rainy shot of some place in England I presume. This is the backstory that none of the newer trailers go into. The marketing has been so different recently, I thought I was watching the wrong trailer for a moment. Then John Carter wakes up… well I’m not sure where. It’s some other world. The music is nice. It’s Peter Gabriel’s version of “My Body Is a Cage”, but the lyrics don’t seem to fit the picture. The tag line on screen says,
“In 2012 / find your destiny / a world away.”
I don’t really know what the movie’s about, but a teaser is supposed to raise questions rather than tell a complete story. So I think it’s pretty successful in doing that. It also teases some kind of profound message, with finding one’s ‘destiny’, and a soft spoken voice that says “something new can come into this world”.
Well, four months later, I guess they decided to take a different approach. Gone is the slow and brooding opening. The trailer opens with John Carter fighting some creature on a still nameless planet; there are no shots of Earth here. The message I guess is that John Carter is a crazy alien action adventure. So much for profound.
Then there’s the new slogan: “Lost in our world / Found in another.” Maybe John Carter was found, but the trailer lost me.
The music is cool again; this time it’s Corner Stone Cues’ orchestral cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”: “Ten Years Kashmir, Mvt II” (orch & choir) from Eton Path. However, I really don’t know why I should care about John Carter. As a result, I still don’t care about seeing the movie.
This trailer is the epitome of everything that is wrong with this campaign. The title as a mosaic of different shots may be a cool effect, but the visuals alone are not going to sell me on this film. It’s as if they don’t know what to show, so they show everything.
Let’s try a different tag line too. Why not? “When worlds collide. / A hero arrives.”
By the way.. the text tracking effect looks just awful to me. Am I alone in that opinion?
This is more like it! Finally, a trailer that gets to the heart of this movie! But how?
Dialog editing. The dialog editing in this trailer is genius. Maybe I’m overstating this, but probably not. If you’re still reading this, forgive me, but I’m going to go over this line by line, because it deserves that much attention.
The first line we hear is: “Who is that?” This is the question we want answered. We’re off to a good start.
“Our world is under attack, John Carter,” says Dejah Thoris, the love interest(?). I wouldn’t be surprised if “John Carter” was stolen from some other line to make this line clearer. Clarity was obviously important to the editor in this opening.
“That don’t look like a fair fight” Carter replies. “And earth is next.” says Dejah. Hold on, really? Earth is in danger? Why is this the first time we’re hearing this bit of dialog? This gives the audience a reason to care, and more importantly, gives John Carter a reason to care. Now, Dejah’s next question makes sense:
“Will you stay? Fight for us?” This challenges Carter. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was pieced together from two different lines. All of a sudden though, the audience cares and wants him to say “yes!”, whereas in previous trailers, it was never a question if he would fight. In the previous trailers, it was a question of why he was fighting (but now we know why!).
Then John Carter says “Get on,” implying he’s game, and it’s made really clear with the line “John Carter fights for us.” We’ve heard this line before, but it’s actually meaningful now.
The evil guy from the beginning says “Soon we will seal the fate of this world.” This line is definitely pieced together. I’m not sure why it’s pieced together, but it does clearly identify this man as the villain, so that’s probably reason enough.
John Carter then says “This might get dangerous.” A fun line, and it also implies that there is actually danger. John Carter just appeared invincible in previous trailers.
Finally, the line that makes me love this trailer:
John Carter yells, “I did not cause this, but I will end it!”
This is completely pieced together. We’ve heard the real line before: “We did not cause this, but this very night, we will end it!”
This change, I think, clearly shows the intent with this trailer. It makes the movie about John Carter. The movie is named after him, after all. Changing “We” to “I” shows the character has some personal stake in the outcome of this fight.
I’ll admit, this trailer isn’t perfect, but I find it to be the best one of the lot. It doesn’t have to lean on any title cards or tag lines. With a little tricky dialog editing the trailer clearly identifies the villain, the conflict, John Carter’s objective, and his motivation. It helps me care about the outcome of the movie, by partially answering that important question “who is John Carter?”
Even so I’m not sure if I will see it. Will you?