Sunday, June 5, 2005

Spoiled!--The Trailers for The Island and Flightplan

This post contains spoilers of the soon-to-be-released Michael Bay sci-fi extravaganza The Island and the not-so-soon-to-be-released Jodie Foster psychological thriller Flightplan. I haven't actually seen either of these movies, but I have seen their trailers, which seem to give away their movie's major plot twists.

Based on the trailer, The Island looks like a cross between contemporary sci-fi action spectaculars like The Matrix and old-fashioned 1970s "messagey" sci-fi movies like Soylent Green. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are even dressed in jumpsuits that look like the ones from Logan's Run. Its premise is that the characters who seem to live in an overcrowded futuristic city, hope to win a state sponsored lottery where the reward is a chance to live in a utopian paradise called "The Island". The movie's twists--which are both revealed about halfway through the trailer--are that (1) "The Island" doesn't really exist (funny thing about those utopias) and (2) the main characters are actually clones of people living full, happy lives in the "Real World".

The trailer for Flightplan waits until it is about 2/3rds of the way through before it gives away the movie's big twist. This movie's premise is that Jodie Foster and her 6-year-old daughter are flying on the maiden voyage of a brand new, super-duper, double-decker passenger airplane (that Jodie's character designed, 'natch!). Jodie and the kid get in their seats and decide to take a nap. When Jodie wakes up, about halfway through the flight, her daughter is missing. Jodie asks around, and everyone else on the plane, including a creepy air marshal played by Peter Sarsgaard, tells her that, "No, sorry, your daughter was never actually on this plane, in fact, she died six days ago!" At this point, the trailer seems to promise one of those is-she-crazy or is-it-a-ghost or is-it-some-kind-of-evil-scheme movies that keep the audience guessing right to the end. Whoops, no need to guess. The trailer then reveals one of the movie's plot points--Jodie discovers physical evidence that the daughter was indeed on the plane--which proves conclusively the "evil scheme" hypothesis. (Incidentally, the "discovery of conclusive evidence of an evil scheme" moment is almost exactly the same as a similar scene in the underrated, overlooked David Mamet conspiracy thriller Spartan.)

Now, I know this isn't a brand new phenomenon, but I can't help wonder: what does it mean when a studio is willing to give away practically the entire story in the trailer? I kinda/sorta get it in the case of The Island: it's a big, fx-driven sci-fi flick, and so maybe the studio figures no one really cares about the plot all that much. This fits in with my theory about Philip K. Dick adaptations: studios like to take a clever little sci-fi idea and wrap a big, noisy action picture around it. They aren't really interested in the kernel of an idea at all, though: it's just kind of an excuse for all the violence and explosions. I suppose it makes for better interviews if the actors can tell the press that they wanted to make the movie because it tells an interesting story about what it will mean to be human in a future where cloning/memory implants/precognition is possible instead of telling them that they wanted to make the movie because noisy sci-fi fx pictures attract big audiences.

Even so, one of the things that made the original Matrix movie such a success was that no one really knew what it was about until they were actually watching it. It gave audiences a kick to experience all the twists and turns of the plot without knowing where the story was going. It was this feeling of excitement that people took out of the movie with them, and then they told their friends to see it quickly, before they learned enough about the movie to spoil the surprises.

What I really don't get, though, is why the people who made the Flightplan trailer decided to give it all away. Flightplan doesn't seem to be aimed at the male adolescent, fx-junky crowd, but rather at adults looking for a smart, creepy movie--after all, Jodie Foster isn't exactly all that big with the kids these days. Flightplan looks like a Hitchcock-Twilight Zone-Sixth Sense-style psychological/supernatural thriller, and one of the big conventions--if not the big convention--of this kind of movie is "There's a Big Exciting Twist That the Audience Doesn't Know About". Letting the audience in on this twist before they've even seen the movie seems like poor form.

It's kind of a bummer, because Flightplan looked pretty interesting, but knowing, in advance, one of the major plot twists in a thriller really undermines the suspense. And what's the point of going to see a thriller that's had the suspense drained away by an over-explicit trailer?


Kevin said...

Excellent post since I was forced to see both of trailers yesterday as well and can't believe how much of the film they give away. (Although I am big Sean Bean fan, so I'll probably Netflix it when it comes out.)

Your comment on the Matrix is a good one, but I think the film Dark City is a better example. Here was a film before the Matrix that has that same film noir setting but while watching it you have no real clue what was happening (and if it wasn't for some stupid New Line executive there wouldn't have been the opening narration . . . er).

I love a good trailer, but it seems that by watching them now it gives away too much of the movie. Or if you remember certain scenes from the trailer while watching the film, you can quickly figure it out.

Waldemar said...


I think what we have here is a case of the studio marketing departments wanting their audiences to feel "smart" even before they have a chance to solve the puzzle movie.

It's typical studio behavior.

The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, Memento and The Others were hugely successful "twist" or "puzzle" movies that gave audiences an opportunity to sell their smarts in their peer group by either claiming that they've figured out the movie or, in the case of Memento, just being able to follow it. There's now a sense of faux-erudition around these types of movies (and the people who get excited about them) when they're released.

Of course, with the aforementioned examples, word of mouth lead to hot box office, in the case of good (Suspects, Others) and bad (Sense, Memento)but now, with the push for big opening weekends, the studios are shooting their loads before the audience even take their shoes off, just so they can say they had sex, if you pardon the clunky, porno metaphor. It's a ridiculous notion, but it will probably spike the opening weekend takes and have a negative effect in subsequent weeks.

It's sort of funny ~ instead of allowing movie fans to see the flicks, react and share, they're doing the sharing for us.

In the evil ad world, we call the geeks who see stuff opening weekend, buy the new video game system the first day, and switch to HDTV before their neighbors the "early adopter". Marketers count on these early adopters to spread buzz. It looks like the studios are cutting out these middlemen and going straight for joe consumer. Something tells me this won't thaw the B.O. freeze.

The Bizness

kevin said...


Good point on early adoptors. My brother is one of those whom the bizness should study because generally I find if he gets a new technology piece or album or whatever and likes it, it soon becomes popular.

Myself, I generally choose technology that is more likely to be functional years down the road if ever (recall the NEC Turbographix, the first 16 bit system, I still have mine).

Heck, the recent Star Wars has almost all of the key scenes in the trailer. So, there are zero surprises at all.