Five Trailers That Upstaged Their Own Movies

Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray star in Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray star in Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

The “Godzilla” reboot from Gareth Edwards was a reasonably diverting spectacle, though it doesn’t hold a candle to its own magnificent teaser trailer. Brilliantly utilizing the ferocious tones of Bryan Cranston’s prophetic monologue as well as the operatic eeriness of György Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna” (showcased so unforgettably in “2001: A Space Odyssey”), this trailer hinted at an enormous emotional and visceral impact that the film itself was doomed to never deliver, thanks to its thoroughly underwhelming human characters (which audaciously filled the foreground, often rendering the titular monster an afterthought). This got me thinking of trailers from the past decade that were so good they’ve still got me anticipating the films they had promised, rather than the ones we got. Here are five of them.

I Heart Huckabees (2004)

Before every David O. Russell film earned an automatic (and often undeserved) Best Director nod right out of the gate, the director was making far more interesting if also more problematic work. This “existential comedy” strains to conjure the same offbeat ensemble chemistry that made his 1996 farce, “Flirting with Disaster,” such a hoot, but the film is ultimately as lost as its characters (and its filmmakers, as evidenced by the comically grotesque onset meltdowns uploaded to YouTube). The trailer, however, makes the bewildering chaos appear utterly charming, splicing together various seemingly improvisational bits to create a slapstick mosaic so weirdly enticing that you’ll want to be first in line to see it. If only the final product had mastered this trailer’s sense of rhythm and timing.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

If Russell’s comfort zone is orchestrated messiness, Wes Anderson’s ideal cinematic landscape is one of meticulous control and rigidly executed marvels. Prior to his recent trifecta of home runs (beginning with “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), Anderson’s style was beginning to seem like a limitation. The playfully childlike mise-en-scène (complete with fictional stop-motion sea creatures) never gels with this dour tale of a midlife crisis and a melancholy father/son reunion. There are fewer laughs in the film than there are in the far punchier trailer, edited in the style of Anderson’s great “Royal Tenenbaums” teaser, which surely ranks among the best ever made. Though it only materializes at the very end, David Bowie’s “Starman” is used so well here that it actually made me a Bowie fan overnight. No joke.

Little Children (2006)

The last thing a trailer should do is give audiences a SparkNotes-esque plot overview that spoils the organic experience of a gradually unfolding narrative. This trailer is, quite simply, the best of its kind. Editing a series of intriguing images to the suspenseful sound of an oncoming train, this teaser is a small masterpiece of mood and texture, suggesting themes of infidelity without giving away any specific plot details. Though the film itself was not without its powerful sequences, most of them generated from Jackie Earle Haley’s frightening portrayal of a pedophile (unseen in the trailer), it wasn’t nearly as successful as the director Todd Field’s previous picture, 2001’s spellbinding drama, “In the Bedroom.” Thank goodness the trailer is bereft of the condescending narration that marred the final cut.

Pineapple Express (2008)

Few scripts have nailed the gloriously excruciating awkwardness of teenage life with more foul-mouthed insight than Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s “Superbad.” Their subsequent work has never lived up to the promise of their debut effort, but it continually threatens to reach similar heights. I was so excited for this stoner comedy on the basis of its director, David Gordon Green (who hadn’t yet sunk to the depths of “Your Highness”) and its exhilaratingly funny trailer, impeccably paced to the very last frame. Portraying an aimless day in the life of its two heroes and the absurd ways in which it deteriorates into madness, this preview has the focus and comedic instincts that the film often lacks. Plus it has M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” which is used so beautifully here that it was sorely missed in the actual movie.

Man of Steel (2013)

Zack Snyder couldn’t tell a decent story if his career depended on it. Sadly, it doesn’t. What he can do is cut together a great opening credit sequence, as witnessed in “Dawn of the Dead” and “Watchmen.” He’s all set up and no payoff, which I suppose should’ve been the red flag to steer me clear of his infuriatingly awful Superman reboot, so grossly uninvolving and obnoxiously shrill that it quickly emerged as the worst moviegoing experience I’ve had in a theater. The initial teaser, however, is as poetic and thrilling as the final film is ugly and forgettable. Allowing us only a fleeting glimpse of the iconic red cape, this preview ends with a spectacular shot of Superman soaring towards the heavens while moving at speeds assuredly faster than that of a speeding bullet.

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