Saturday, April 22, 2006

A New Approach

Tonight I went to see American Dreamz. Sandwiched between the trailers for Keeping Up with the Steins and The Break-Up was a new trailer for United 93. Except this wasn't so much a trailer as damage control. There was interview footage with director Paul Greengrass explaining why it's not tasteless to make this movie now, interspliced with interview footage of family members of Flight 93 victims justifying the film. The "trailer" ended with Universal making the same suggestion they do on the movie's website:

You can see it for yourself on the official site if you click on "ENTER THE SITE", then "MENU", then "VIDEO", then "FEATURETTES", then "A LOOK INSIDE".

What's interesting is that I can't ever remember a trailer like this being put in theaters (not as part of the pre-show ads, but with the rest of the coming attractions). You see spots like this all the time on TV (especially in LA, especially around Oscar time) where directors will talk about the "importance" of their films. But as a theatrical trailer? Of course, United 93 is not like any release I can remember. I do not envy the Universal marketing department. The original trailer has already sparked controversy and been pulled from several theaters. Many people are saying it's too soon and in bad taste.

I'm still reserving judgment until I see the film. Which I will (though not on opening weekend - I want the theater to be as empty and quiet as possible). And in some ways, it's hard to judge the marketing campaign without seeing how the film itself is handled. But I will say that the first time I saw the original trailer, people were still getting situated in their seats, talking on cell phones, laughing, conversing casually throughout... all this while actual images of a plane flying at the Twin Towers flashed on the screen. The juxtaposition of the casual movie-going experience with this heavy subject matter made me quite uncomfortable. It's possible that the film itself is not too soon, but an audience has to be primed for it and in the "proper" mood... which is part of why selling it is so tough. You can't prep an unsuspecting audience for the trailer or the TV spot.

Even the unique "trailer" I saw tonight seemed in poor taste when buttressed by two comedy trailers. And even though I haven't read anything about this latest push, I'm assuming that Universal sent it out this weekend attached to prints of American Dreamz. Maybe it's just me, but I felt a little wrong watching the real family members of the Fligth 93 victims tell their stories as I prepared to watch a silly comedy that lampoons terrorists. I don't know why this feels worse than, say, watching a September 11th special on CNN interrupted by cat food commercials... it just does. To me.

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