Friday, November 28, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Jurassic World trailer & Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer

The first time I met Roger Ebert I totally embarrassed myself by criticizing one of his colleagues, long time Today Show film critic Gene Shalit. I took a light-hearted shot at Shalit, suggesting that I could do his job, not realizing that Shalit was an alumnus of The University of Illinois along with Ebert. Ebert gently defended his friend and colleague without really demeaning my opinion.

I never really liked Shalit’s shtick of clever wordplay in his reviews. He never really seemed to get to the meat of the movies that way. Of course, his very short form television format hardly afforded him any depth to begin with. But it really ticked me off when instead of reviewing a new movie one week he reviewed the first trailer of the first Harry Potter movie. This was the week before I met Ebert, so it was fresh in my head. How insulting to the filmmakers who did have releases that week that their chances of promotion would be preempted by a review of a trailer.

That being said, the were two very high profile trailer releases this week, that I’ve decided not to let go by without dedicating one of my Penny Thoughts columns to them. The second was such a big deal that people might have already forgotten about the first.

In case you missed it, the beginning of this Thanksgiving week brought us the premiere of the first “Jurassic World” trailer. The fourth “Jurassic Park” movie has been in the oven so long, I figured the studio would eventually throw it out, or if they did finally make it, it would be burned to a crisp. Well, They did make it, and I was surprised to find that it actually looks pretty good.

Set for a June 12 release date next summer, “Jurassic World” will benefit greatly from the fact that it stars the latest sexiest man alive, Chris Pratt, in its leading role. Pratt’s great success with this summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” is sure to pore over into anticipation for his next big movie, which will be “Jurassic World”. Not that a franchise like “Jurassic Park” really needs the sexiest man alive to promise a huge box office.

What strikes me the most about the trailer is the reverence with which it seems to hold the original movie. It’s built up with shots that are direct homage to the original movie. There are the opening park gates (which also pays homage to “King Kong” as it did in the original), the kids in the gyrosphere echoes the shot where the scientists see the dinosaurs for the first time, the mosquito trapped in the amber is a repeated image, the sequence at the wall with the overhead shot of Pratt questioning just what they are dealing with is a reflection of the high fence sequence where Sam Neil and the kids are racing the power being turned back on, the shot between the legs of the dinosaur chasing someone is an exact duplicate from the original, and Bryce Dallas Howard copies Laura Dern’s delivery of the line “RUN!” from the first film.

It’s clear that the Trevorrow brothers, who wrote the screenplay while Colin Trevorrow directs, are from the J.J. Abrams school of sequelization where referential storytelling is one of the key elements. The trailer also suggests that this new Jurassic adventure is returning to the true science fiction nature of societal commentary that played a large role in the original but was largely abandoned in the previous two sequels. The most fully revealed sequence—the feeding at the water theater—suggests some criticization of the amusement park and zoo practices of providing performing animals for people. While the plot reveal of the fact that the scientists of the park have engineered a brand new dinosaur tells us the movie will also expand upon Dr. Ian Malcolm’s chaos theory elements from the first film. For a movie franchise I wasn’t totally sure I wanted Hollywood to revisit, this trailer has done a good job at making me excited for “Jurassic World”.

But then, Friday rolled along and the “Jurassic World” trailer became old news very quickly. Today saw the reveal of the first real motion images from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. After months of seeing fan made and joke trailers pepper the Internet and our Facebook newsfeeds, the real thing finally arrived. In fact, when I played it for my kids, my middle child still questioned, “Is this real?”

I’ll admit it. I told myself I wouldn’t freak out about this when it happened and I’d get around to watching it when I got around to watching it. But, a friend posted it on Facebook and my phone alerted me to the post while I was at work. I said, “screw it,” and watched it right then on my phone. I’ve always contended that a phone was probably the worst format I could think of to consume cinema of any sort, but it still looked pretty good. You can be sure, though, that I played it on my home theater system after our weekly family movie night. On the HD screen and with 5.1 surround and the volume turned up to 11, I have to say I think I peed a little. I noted, since my wife was in the other room not even watching it, that the trailer even sounds awesome without the images to go with it.

Let’s start with that first image of the barren desertscape that is suddenly interrupted by a man popping into view from the bottom of the screen breathing heavily and sweating. Let’s not overlook the power that still remains due to race. We don’t expect to see a black man in a Stormtrooper uniform anymore than we expected him to pop up from the bottom of the screen. It’s not an image you expect from “Star Wars”. The distress on his face then holds it all in our minds, setting up a tension that lasts throughout the trailer, another unusual detail for a sci-fi/fantasy trailer.

Then we see the droid with an R2 style head and a round body just motoring across the desert. This tells us the key element of droids as comic relief—an element that George Lucas had a difficult time wrangling into the prequel trilogy—will continue in this new trilogy. This is followed by another returning image of Stormtroppers at the ready. We then see a woman start some sort of speeder and jet off, hovering above the ground. The design of this speeder suggests a returning design theme from the original trilogy of crafts that are purely functional rather than the flashy hot rods Lucas preferred in the prequel trilogy. Next we get to see an X-Wing squadron speeding across a body of water. This mixes vehicles with which we are familiar in a setting we are not used to seeing. This looks pretty cool and we want to know more about what is going on.

Now, we arrive at the most controversial image of the trailer—a Sith walking through the winter wilderness from behind. He pulls out his light saber and… what?! Hey! That saber has a funky design to it. This is the only thing I’ve heard criticized about the trailer so far, with some arguing that the design, which resembles a medieval broadsword with two little sabers sticking out from both sides of the handle where it meets the main saber. Skeptics are saying this looks like a good way to lose a wrist from your own saber. Maybe, but put yourself back into your 12-year-old shoes for just a minute. It looks kick ass!

Speaking of kick ass, that’s how the whole trailer ends, with an insane kick ass shot of the Millennium Flacon looping around in the middle of a dogfight. This final image of the trailer obviously is designed to incite maximum psyche up emotional impact, and it does so as well as it has ever been done in a teaser trailer before. The whole thing is accompanied by a dark rumbling narration by Benedict Cumberbatch evoking the ultimate evil Sith Lord to suggest that this will be a dark chapter in the “Star Wars” saga indeed. I can only wonder if the movie itself can possibly live up to its first trailer.

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