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Video Sundays, The Art of the Trailer Edition: “The Crazies” vs. “Green Zone”

The answer comes from the kinds of space these trailers decide to show. While the bulk of the drama and action of The Crazies seems limited to smaller-budgeted horror setups—stuck in a house, stuck in a car wash, small jails, small hospital, small town—the trailer is cleverly structured in its imagery to suggest a subtle, gradual expansion of the space and scope of the picture. Early shots of the town empty not as a final revelation but as part of the evolution of a horrible situation, the unexpected intrusion of the military as shown by helicopter shots and army vehicles, the generic title cards "this is only the beginning," the steady suggestion of the lead characters fleeing the town in vehicles at the trailer's end, and, finally, the last third's use of the song "Mad World" by Michael Andrews all successfully work in conjunction to suggest that what we are seeing—mostly images of a low-mid budget and very generic horror film—are only a small segment of a larger and more mysterious story.

Space—material, conceptual, imaginative—is opened up through these techniques and helps The Crazies seem bigger and potentially more surprising than it really is, as if the bulk of the movie occurs after what we are seeing from the trailer.

The lack of appeal of Paul Greengrass's new film from the trailer is due to the opposite approach. Greengrass's iconic docu-impressionism, with its rapid cutting, lack of clear composition, and frantic hand held camera movement, is intrinsically a difficult style from which to conjure a sense of differentiated space. For the Bourne movies this wasn't a problem, as Bourne's globe-trotting persona and the movies’ use of multiple, varied action sequences made for trailers whose flurry of images went from locale to locale, one kind of action (a flurry of hands) to another (spinning cars), suggesting enough variety that one's imagination could work in the space in-between.

Not so with the Baghdad-set Green Zone, whose trailer suffers from a muddy and stultifying sameness, making it difficult to judge where any scene is set, how the movie might progress, what kind of visual elements might make up the story. This lack of imaginative space shuts down our ability to suppose that the rest of the movie might even feature more footage. In a way, the Green Zone trailer resembles a fake trailer for a feature film that doesn't exist, because it fails to suggest anything outside of the footage it itself contains.

Compare the trailers for The Crazies and Green Zone. The little horror film cost $12 million to make, the other, an action epic directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Matt Damon, probably 10x that. Yet, from the trailers, it is The Crazies that looks better, bigger, more ambitious. Why is that?

“This lack of imaginative space shuts down our ability to suppose that the rest of the movie might even feature more footage.” s’funny, Danny, I only get the impression that this Green Zone thing has thousands more shots like this, all virtually indistinguishable from each other, scissored up and clumped together like spaghetti thrown at a wall. Infinite reserves, just like all that “hosing down” shit of the last two Bournes. But it’s all the same in the end – my point might as well be your point. The images will be flung at anything that’ll take them.
The Crazies does look audacious, but I don’t know if the film’s style will be any better than Greengrass’ film’s style. I mean, it’s got a more varied palate, it looks like, but I could see it just being a bunch of shock images with shock sounds, which doesn’t sound too different than the Greengrass ethos, tho all of his films are about surveillance, which makes his style a little more interesting: how is our world chopped into fragments by all the angles available? where do we sit with this voyeur’s freedom, really, in an age like this? That said, Greengrass can get tiresome. The real draw for me for both of these films are the casts. Damon is always great, and Greg Kinnear is perfect for “bad guy” roles. Flip’d: Olyphant is continually underrated, and Rahda Mitchell is cursed into the gorgeous ghetto where she can’t always get good work solely bc she looks like she looks like, a face above faces.
I never saw UNITED 93, but the feeling I had coming away from Greengrass’s BOURNE film (though I only saw it once, and could be mostly mistaken) was that it was the quietest, most “composed” (in several senses) installment of the series. I’m kinda curious about THE CRAZIES, especially from a Romero fanboy’s perspective, and damn it, shouldn’t Tim Olyphant be getting better parts than this? After his fabulous psycho in DEADWOOD, what does he have left to prove?
Thanks all for the wonderful comments! Matthew: spaghetti and hosing down, spot on descriptions of the Greengrass style! Yet I’d assert he belongs in the same camp, though at perhaps the most extreme side, of our beloved impressionists group of Denis-Mann-Malick-Wong. Ry: Yes the casts get me too, and you didn’t even note Amy Ryan! Chuck: Greengrass interests me a lot, and while I do consider his movies composed in a gestalt sense, I’m very curious to know what you mean by " ‘composed’ (in several senses)", since I get the impression the man shoots and shoots and shoots and makes it work. (Thus the end product is the composition, not its individual elements.) Second your and Ryland’s appreciation for Olyphant, with DEADWOOD as a career triumph.
Like I said, I only watched it once, and not particularly carefully, but at the time the film’s conversational exchanges in particular seemed marked by a kind of quietude, and oddly static (in terms of framing, pace of shot exchange, etc) in a manner distinctly different from the frenzied style/pace of the first two films. Beyond that, without revisiting the film (life’s too short!), I honestly can’t remember. Now, Amy Ryan — that’s a reason to revisit any film! With Lucinda Jenney, Ryan is the finest and most under-rated actor working today!

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