The use of a ‘trailer’ to advertise films has developed in the last ten years into an art almost separate from that of making the film itself. As seen last summer when ‘Star Wars Fever’ was at its height, the release of certain eagerly awaited trailers has become almost as hyped as the release of the film itself. More and more attention is paid towards the making of trailers and ‘teaser trailers’, because of the huge role they play in boosting the profits of the film. They have become longer, they give away more of the plot lines than ever before and in some cases specialist directors have been called in to make them.
Both of these trailers are ‘teaser trailers’. This means that they are released quite some time before the film, in the case of Harry Potter, nine months before the film is due to be released. They contain less information about plots than normal trailers, merely introducing the viewer to the genre and possibly some of the major selling points, although some teasers may be quite minimal. Their basic aim is to get across the information, what film and when its coming out, not to provide detailed information about the film.
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone is a film that has been eagerly anticipated for months. The series of books has been hugely popular and the making of the film has been under the public eye ever since the boy to play Harry was chosen. The audience and therefore profit for this film was more or less guaranteed, so giving away plot-lines or establishing genre is less important for this film than it is for Mission: Impossible 2. The trailer therefore concentrates more on showing off other selling points, such as famous actors and special effects.
MI 2 although the sequel to a highly successful film cannot rely on instant audiences on sheer hype. It therefore needs to give away much more of the plot and action than the Harry Potter trailer. Mission: Impossible has one major selling point, Tom Cruise. He is an ‘unique selling point’ in his own right, attracting large crowds into the cinema. This is shown in the way that he is the focus in almost every shot throughout the trailer. He is not introduced until about twenty seconds into the trailer, when the camera quickly zooms into a shot of his face covering the whole screen. He is dangling from a cliff face with one hand, but he doesn’t panic like a normal person, he takes one deep breath and gives the camera an ‘I’m cool and in control’ look. With this one shot we are introduced into one of the major themes running through the trailer (and film), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) gets into many dangerous situations but remains cool.
Almost all film trailers and films start with a shot of the logo of the film company, in these cases Paramount and Warner Bros. Both of these trailers do this however they take this standard a step further and incorporate the logos into the rest of the trailer. The Paramount logo is of a mountain surrounded by stars, and the word ‘Paramount’. This logo is manipulated by taking it into three dimensions with a helicopter shot panning round the outside of the mountain. This instantly introduces us to rocky mountainous landscapes, making the transition into the first shot of the film, a long helicopter shot, speeding across a barren, rocky desert, seem much more natural. In Harry Potter, the logo is shown, as the non-diagenic words, “There’s no such thing as magic!” are heard, swiftly followed by the hoot of an owl. Suddenly the logo shakes and owls come flying out of the gold lettering, changing the blue background into a sky-scape. In these first ten seconds, the genre of the film is immediately established.
Establishing the genre of the film is a very important part of film trailers. Some trailers, like MI 2 prefer to leave this until later, drawing as much of the audience into the film as impartially as possible. If ‘Mission: Impossible 2, Action Movie, Violence, Gadgets, Girls!’ was splashed across the screen with the first shot of the trailer, it would discourage a large amount of the viewers from going to see the film. By leaving these statements until later in the film, they hope to increase the range of their target audience. Harry Potter however, establishes its genre almost immediately with the opening words, “There’s no such thing as magic!” Harry Potter is a household name across the country and so concealing the story line and genre for as long as the MI 2 trailer would be nearly impossible. Instead they grab the viewers attention immediately with the booming slam of a door and loudly spoken words. The trailer then continues at this breakneck speed right up until the last shot.
The two trailers are shot in very different styles; MI 2 is shot and cut, using the very distinctive style of John Woo. Woo is well known for his martial arts and action films and uses many camera tricks, shown in this trailer. These unconventional styles give the film a cooler status than Harry Potter which more or less uses the same standard style all the way through. Woo is particularly known for his habit of altering the speed of shots, slowing down the frame speed, often during fight scenes. This emphasises the skill and brutality of the fights and allows the viewer to take in more detail, especially facial expressions. This is used principally with Tom Cruise; in the first fight scene we see him execute a spinning kick in slow motion. This allows us to see the anger and concentration on Cruise’s face and also puts more emphasis on the fluidity of the movement – the swinging of Cruise’s hair following his movement catches the eye.
Up until halfway through the MI 2 trailer, there are almost no fast action scenes at all. It is filmed with long, sweeping, panoramic shots, some more than 5 seconds in length. Fades are used instead of straight cuts to add continuity and ‘mise en scene’ shots are used to show the size and scope of the landscape. And then, louder music cuts in, an explosion rips across the screen as his glasses self-destruct and the action begins. A series of short one or two second cuts begins, showing action from the film. These includes fight scenes, car chases and sex scenes. Many special effects and stunts are shown, with a variety of different camera effects. Frame speed is altered and colour filters are used. Several shots are shown in black and white, this has many effects. It adds contrast and definition to the shot, removing the distraction of colour; it adds dramatic impact to the shot as these black and white shots are in contrast to the rest of the trailer which is shown in colour; it also adds verisimilitude, especially for the younger generation. Black and white has connotations with the truth; CCTV footage is shown in black and white, and television documentaries often contain black and white footage. The flames from the original explosion, licking across the screen link all of these action shots. Adding a sense of violence and danger to the shots, as they are all tinted with red. It also seems to add continuity across otherwise disjointed shots.
A similar linking effect is used in the first part of the Harry Potter trailer. After the original flurry of owls covering the screen, a steam train is seen travelling through a valley. It then moves into another shot but as it fades into the next the same train is seen from a different angle. This continues until, finally, we see the train stopped at a station. Fade cuts are almost always used between shots, which gives the trailer an overall feeling of wholeness. It also gives the one time a straight cut is used great dramatic effect, as it appears very sudden. There are also far fewer close-up shots in this trailer; this gives the trailer a feeling of space. This could also be to do with the fact that the actor who plays Harry Potter is not a major star, and the film is more to do with the story or the relationships between the different characters than one major star, like Tom Cruise in MI 2
The target audience of Mission: Impossible 2 is very much teenagers and young adults. The film appeals to their sense of what is cool and what isn’t. Tom Cruise wears cool clothes, drives fast cars, and attracts beautiful women. He has a very relaxed attitude towards danger shown when at the end of the trailer he says with a smile, “You’ve gotta be kidding.” This gives him a status among the viewers and makes it a film worth seeing. He is set up as a role model and everything that a young man should want to be like. Harry Potter on the other hand is mainly targeted at pre-adolescent children. This audience is attracted by the fantastic world of wizardry and by the magical special effects shown. Much time is spent showing children flying on broomsticks for example and the soundtrack has many sound effects such as rolling thunder and hooting owls, associated with magic.
Both films are linked with a non-diagenic voiceover that speaks a well-known phrase. In MI 2 the almost legendary words, “This is your mission should you choose to accept it” are spoken by the well-known voice of Sir Anthony Hopkins. This voice continues until the action sequence begins and then again at the end the words, “This message will self-destruct in five seconds” are heard. These phrases are intertextualities with the television series, in which every episode began with a similar dialogue. Interestingly in both trailers the voiceovers are letters to the main character of the film. In Harry Potter, the equally famous voice of Sir Richard Attenborough, reads the letter telling Harry, “You have been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”. This letter will be extremely familiar to children who have read the book, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone and they will link this trailer, in with the book by intertextuality. People new to Harry Potter will also find their interest evoked by this simple introduction to the story.
The soundtrack to the Harry Potter trailer is an especially composed, orchestral piece that links directly in with the action going on during the trailer. For example, we see Harry, Hermione and Ron screaming, but instead of hearing a scream we hear the music reach a climax at exactly the same moment. The music is quiet and tuneful during calm scenes and when there is a frightening or dangerous scene it is loud and threatening.
In MI 2 the music is another intertextuality with the television series, from which the main theme for the music was taken. The soundtrack was commissioned to a cool rock band (again adding status to the film among younger people) but still revolved around the same basic theme. The music doesn’t fit around the action going on in the trailer, apart from when the loud guitar theme begins simultaneously with the action sequence. Also it pauses to let Cruise say the only diagenic line at the end. Less care was probably taken with the soundtrack in this trailer, as it would probably be reused during the actual film. This is impossible for a tailor-made soundtrack such as is used in Harry Potter.
These ‘teaser trailers’ are much shorter than a normal trailer would be, and instead of immersing us in plot lines, intend to expose us to high-paced special effects and action, instantly grabbing our attention. However short and uninformative they may be, they are still glimpses of what is to come and so command huge amounts of excitement among dedicated fans.