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The Art of the Trailer: "Revolutionary Road"

The trailer for Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road (2008) is particularly interesting because it utilizes one trend in contemporary trailers—relying on a pop song as a crutch to structure trailer rhythm, connote an aura (and era) from the music, and prompt audience sympathy for the music to  carry over to the film—to undermine another trend: long trailers that essentially show every major development in a given movie.
While playing pop music over a trailer may seem an easy and cheap effect (and the use of music in Revolutionary Road is just that), it is the latter habit of contemporary movie trailers that is the most insulting.  It is as if producers think all audiences ask from a movie is recognition followed shortly by safety.  If you know what kind of movie you are going to see, as well as everything that is sure to happen in the film, paying $12 to see it is not longer a risk for an audience member.  This is a scary line of thinking for movie marketing, and forgets a great deal of fantastic publicity campaigns that focused on teases, mystery, and concept over obviousness and constant revelation.
Which brings us back to this trailer for Revolutionary Road, which pretty much shows us the gist of the central relantionship in the film between buttoned down salaryman Leonardo DiCaprio and stifled housewife Kate Winslet.  But combining this irritatingly show-it-all attitude with Nina Simone's masterpiece "Wild as the Wind" does something unexpected: it transforms the tone of the montage.  Her steady melancholy, rolling slowly, lyrically along its soulful, sombre way, transforms the visuals of the trailer from showing what happens in the movie into what happens in these characters' lives.  It is initially a subtle difference, but an important one.  Without the song, this trailer shows events, plot points; with the music (and assisted by some clever audio editing and use of dissolves), the trailer shows a mood, a routine—it connotes the film's world but not what happens in it.  Thus while seemingly looking like a melodrama whose conventions we all recognize, by the end of the trailer, which shows so much, we realize we actually aren't sure at all what happens in this movie.  And that's as it should be.
Right! And a sad development of the art of the trailer that is. With many trailers I refuse to see the movie just because I have the feeling to know too much about it already. Which is a shame. Trailers should rise tension or curiosity, instead of proving that one can tell the story of the film in much shorter time than 90 or 120 minutes.
I have told many people how much I love this trailer (and the movie!). It works so perfectly.
James Berardinelli had an interesting piece on the idea of the necessity of the trailer and its purpose here: Though it’s 10 years old, (and Berardinelli has a habit of writing on and on), it still has relevance and insight. However, I don’t recommend his film criticism.
One of the most aggravating “trailer things” (I don’t know what to call them) I can think of is when a trailer utilizes a certain song that doesn’t appear in the actual film. Most recently I am thinking of Pineapple Express, with Paper Planes, and Benjamin Button, with a song from the Nutcracker. In Pineapple Express, the song makes the movie seem much cooler, for lack of a better word, than it actually was. I thought I was going to see a more edgy movie, production wise, than I actually saw. I guess that’s a negative. In Benjamin Button, I think the Nutcracker song playing over the seminal images of the film, with bits of “heavy” dialogue interspersed, kind of created an emotional expectation from the film that I don’t think most could live up to, and especially not continually over a two hour plus period. I’m not saying that they ruined the movies for me, but these trailers kind of lead me to be disappointed, only because they could probably never live up to my expectations, thanks in large part to the trailer. That being said, the Benjamin Button trailer is still one of my favorites.
This movie was as campy as Tommy and Mommie Dearest. It’s going to make a great midnight movie one day. The trailer does an excellent job of hiding this. If I have to watch DiCaprio scream and hit a wall or a cupboard one more time I’m going to scream and hit a wall or a cupboard for the first time.
I don’t want a trailer to deceive the audience. If the purpose of a trailer is to arouse curiosity, trailers must do it honestly. The trailer of Revolutionary Road gives the gist of the film, and we know what to expect from the film, which is a good thing. I loved it.
Actually, I must disagree, one of the worst trailers ever made.

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