After I see a movie in theaters, I always go home to rewatch its trailers. I find it very instructive to deconstruct what story the trailer producers decided to tell in their 90-150 seconds. Also it's just fun to do, because of course I love watching trailers.
There are a handful questions I ask myself when rewatching the trailer:
- Does the trailer's story represent the themes of the film?
- How much of the full story does the trailer tell?
- How does the trailer "cheat" to tell the story faster?
- Does the trailer misrepresent or obfuscate the film's story?
None of the answers to these questions tell me make a qualitative judgment, but they help me understand the creative direction for each trailer.
I also like to see whether to not the music from the trailer had any relationship to the music from the film. Movie trailers don't tend to use music from the film because the composer is typically brought in during the latter part of production, but sometimes music licensed for the film will make it into the trailer.
Finally there are some nitty gritty editing things I look out for like: whether or not any dialogue was cheated, or Frankensteined together to create lines never said in the film. Or maybe there were some shots with unfinished visual effects in the trailer, which looked good enough without effects to make it into the trailer.
A recent trailer campaign I loved were the teaser and trailer for Black Panther. They did a great job of being very exciting while doing an admirable job of avoiding spoilers or the appearance of spoilers. I'm probably going to get into some Black Panther spoilers, so consider this your warning.
The teaser takes the broad view I discussed in my post about teaser trailers. This teaser is all about the idea of Wakanda, and yet we see very little of the actual place. We just know it's a mysterious place in Africa few have seen, and everyone outside of it underestimates it. Then we see there's a mysterious superhero good at fighting men with guns, and lots of other people fighting each other. Also, this is the blackest modern day superhero film ever; you have to go back embarrassingly far back in Hollywood history to find something comparable.
Following the cold open there's a monologue which carries us through to the end of the teaser. Listening to the quality of the audio, it sounds like it's some repurposed dialogue that became trailer narration. Here's the full text:
"The world is changing. Soon there will only be the conquered and the conquerers. You are a good man, with a good heart, and it's hard for a good man to be a king."
This monologue is what I categorize in my dialogue selects as "grandiose." Grandiose dialogue is great for teasers and 3rd act climaxes because it talks big, but reveals no plot specifics. The editor may choose to pair visuals to this monologue, but the audience won't get confused if the clips are random.
The music is the song Legend Has it by Run the Jewels which in terms of tempo is actually pretty even throughout the entire teaser; there isn't much of a rise to it. But it does have a nice beat, and offers some lyrics the editor used to help pick some visuals. For example, the lyric "step into the spotlight" is paired with T'Challa stepping into a spotlight at the United Nations.
Aside from that line, the only other lines to get very literal pairings are the lines: "the conquerors" which gets paired with Andy Serkis, and "you are a good man" which is cut to T'Challa touching a boy's head in a friendly way. Aside from those few examples, I think the editor selected these scenes purely for their variety to introduce cast members, show settings, and punch up the trailer with action bits.
Looking back after having watched the film I can see some of the action bits are spoilers, but with no context, they can't feel like spoilers. The only shot that feels like it's not doing much is the one at 1:24 which is very dark, and doesn't present much information about setting, cast or story.
So let's look at this teaser through my questions:
Does the trailer's story represent the themes of the film? In very very broad terms I'd say it does. The monologue sums up the ideas about conquerors, the conquered and being a good king. These are both big parts of the ideas discussed in the film. Just because grandiose dialogue is vague doesn't mean it can't point to specifics; I think this does enough to give the audience a hint of what to expect. I think most of the work to accomplish this task was deciding on the few key points to focus on, and writing the monologue.
How much of the full story does the trailer tell? Not a whole lot, which is typical for a teaser. We know Wakanda is a place and Andy Serkis is the only person from outside of it who's been in and out. There's a superhero who is a king, Andy Serkis and Michael B. Jordan are probably villains, there are elite women soldiers, there's some fighting and T'Challa does a cool slow motion stunt where he lands on a van.
This list of things we know doesn't mean a lot wasn't shown, it just indicates we don't have enough context to comprehend what was going on; at the teaser phase of the marketing campaign this is both deliberate, and good thinking. So long as the audience is interested enough in what they saw to stay abreast of the film, it's a successful teaser.
How does the trailer "cheat" to tell the story faster? The cold open for this teaser has a bunch of footage of Andy Serkis talking to Martin Freeman that didn't make it into the final film, but it's perfect for the trailer because it's some quick exposition which sets up Wakanda. I could easily see how this dialogue might be redundant or too exposition heavy for a film that can show and not tell, but it's perfect for a teaser trying to keep things mysterious.
Does the trailer misrepresent or obfuscate the film's story? Nope. This sort of tactic is only for extreme cases where the trailer producers know what they're working on has little to no mainstream appeal, so they take the drastic measure of fabricating a new story or dressing up the film using every trick they can think of.
Black Panther is a film with wonderful texture, costumes, production design and characters; it must've been a joy to cut trailers for. I have a feeling a lot of the focus was giving each cast member their own hero shot, while avoiding visual effects shots as much as possible (since it would've been made relatively early in production). The last shot is of course the money shot, but everything before then looks like green screen shots or mostly practical locations.
Overall, I think this is an excellent teaser. It sets up a question we want an answer to: "What is Wakanda?"; it shows variety, and it gives us just enough flavor to want some more. I think they were smart to start big and introduce the audience to the world before getting into plot details, which I'll discuss in part 2 where I talk about the full trailer!