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What’s In A Trailer?

Public interest in John Carter is seemingly minimal – despite some outstanding reviews – in large part, if not entirely, because of the trailers that made the movie look like some generic SF movie we’ve all seen before, but this week’s release of the Avengers trailer prompted widespread excitement about what’s facing Thor, Captain America and Iron Man this summer. How much power does a trailer actually have… And what makes a good one?

What’s in a trailer? Public interest in John Carter is seemingly minimal – despite some outstanding reviews – in large part, if not entirely, because of the trailers that made the movie look like some generic SF movie we’ve all seen before, but this week’s release of the Avengers trailer prompted widespread excitement about what’s facing Thor, Captain America and Iron Man this summer. How much power does a trailer actually have… And what makes a good one?

I’ll be honest; the latest trailer for Avengers really doesn’t do it for me, because by focusing on the slam-bang action sequences and special effects, what I am interested in in the movie – Joss Whedon and his dialogue, to be brutally honest – gets entirely minimized, with the result seeming like a particularly generic action movie. The post-title reveal of Iron Man being chased by some flying robot worm at the end of the trailer just underscored how non-Avengers-ish the trailer feels in comparison with the original comics, and also how similar parts of the trailer feels to the Michael Bay Transformers movies.

To me, there’s not a massive amount of difference in terms of structure or content between that Avengers trailer and the John Carter trailers that have been much maligned online in light of the atrocious pre-release tracking of the movie (Is Carter this year’s Green Lantern? I wouldn’t be too surprised, to be honest, although it looks as if it may be a better movie than Lantern ended up being). That isn’t to say that I think that the Carter trailers are better than most people think, because I don’t; I simply find both to be similarly underwhelming, filled with action and dialogue that don’t really sit together well, glimpses of familiar faces, and sound effects that sound like a tractor burping being slowed down really far (You know the noise I mean, right…?). So why is one successful in getting people psyched up, and the other isn’t…?

I’m tempted to say that it’s because the Avengers trailer correctly identifies the selling point of the movie for most people: “It’s all these guys in one movie! Look! There they are, standing next to each other and frowning to prove it!” That you can’t really tell what’s going on in the plot or what’s going on is entirely secondary, but that’s okay, because it’s entirely secondary to the movie, too; this is a movie where the selling point is “It’s all these guys in one movie.” By comparison, if you’ve never read any of the original John Carter books, what does the name mean to you…? Noah Wyle in er, if anything, and there’s nothing even vaguely medical about the trailers we’ve seen.

The value of John Carter is hidden in the trailers because, I suspect, it’s a much harder sell; it’s that it’s a well-executed epic adventure, and… well, how do you get that idea over in a couple of minutes? The latest round of trailers is probably the most likely one to succeed, because it not only emphasizes the historical importance of the story, but also has the all important one word reviews to grab attention. Even this, though, isn’t any different from what we’ve already seen before, and even the worst movies – Last Airbender, anyone? – can seem to dredge up promises that it is “outstanding” or “breathtaking” from one tiny-type source or another, so perhaps it’s a case of too little, too late.

But maybe I’m being too narrow in my idea of what works in trailers and what doesn’t. Can over-the-top special effects sell you on a movie, regardless of any hint of plot? Does JJ Abrams’ “mystery box” approach work without the JJ Abrams brand name? Use the comments section, people: What are your favorite trailers – and why?


  • Warpangel

     The difference is, people know who the Avengers are. even people who dont read comics know that Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk and Thor are a team. The promotion started back in the solo movies with all the teasing and appearences by Nick Fury… the propaganda wagon has been in overdrive, slowly building the excitement.
    You’d have to be a hard core sci-fi fan to even know who John Carpenter is. he’s not a character that’s widely known. Despite having comics, novels and TV movies out there already. he’s just not an iconic character like some of the more ‘super’ types. You’re guaranted ‘Bums on seats’ with a film starring Batman or Superman, because people already have an idea what they’re gonna get. The trailer would have to be awesome to get movie goers to really make an effort to go see John Carpenter, I think it’ll do ok but thats all.

  • Coryjameson

    “John Carpenter”??? Even you don’t know who John Carter is.

    I think the problem is that young people don’t read ANYTHING any more. They’re all a bunch of illiterate morons. I’m surprised they’re even able to text. It’s as though the cast of Jersey Shore really does reflect America. Scary.

  • HoneBadger

     As a fan of the books I’m
    anxious to see the movie, yet the arena scene in the trailer is slightly
    reminiscent of the arena scene in Attack of The Clones…it’s off

  • Doctor Timebomb

    I’d love to see JOHN CARPENTER OF MARS. A crusty old director battling aliens, jumping five stories in the air. “Plissken got everything from me!”

  • Coryjameson

    HOW CAN YOU COMPARE?? What an appalling comparison, one with no basis in reality.

  • Lackshmana

    You can’t honestly think that Attack of the Clones came up with the idea for a big arena battle.

  • Cardinalredhood

    The difference is the “So What?” factor.  In the Avengers trailer they are going to lose, and lose New York, and they are “desperate”, its very straight forward. But in John Connor, he seems to be doing very well for himself, kickin ass, but it seems convoluted, and why do we care what happens on Mars? Why do we care if these people are crushed? I feel no sympathy for Mars, but I really don’t want Earth to fall.

  • Juan

    To me, this last Avengers trailer was what really got me finally excited for the movie because of the music and a better idea and scope of the problem they are facing and they also underscored the fact they’re all coming together in one big epic movie. And they gave us really cool action shots but just enough to tease us, while leaving the really good stuff for the rest of the movie. Or so it seemed.

  • Elias Algorithm

     If only he’d have done that with Ghosts of Mars.

  • Elias Algorithm

     That’s not what HoneBadger is saying, and its something I’ve read as John Carter gets closer. It’s been seen on screen before is all, and isn’t going to matter than Burroughs did it first. Not at the box office anyway.

  • Elias Algorithm

     lol, John Connor. Does ANYONE know who John Carter is?

  • Cardinalredhood

    AND…. does the trailer even tell us he’s on Mars? Just one less thing the audience may identify with… Who the hell is John Connor? Everyone knows who the characters of the Avengers are and knows how they roll.

  • Elias Algorithm

     That’s not what HoneBadger is saying and he’s not the first I’ve heard it from. In the end, it isn’t going to matter at the box office and I guarantee someone is going have this argument in real life, trying to defend Carter.

  • Josh Henaman

    Queue the “Welcome back KOTTER” theme.  

  • Matthew S Pulido

    Gotta say that I am not a fan of Whedon and the Avengers trailers have looked good to me because it doesn’t look like a Whedon movie.

    I know who John Carter is but have not read the books. The trailers, however, look like any of a slew of generic, 1980s, Conan rip offs.  The newer trailer with him bounding around like 1940s Superman is pretty cool, but they haven’t really given us anything to show us why this is special,

  • Frank

    “The post-title reveal of Iron Man being chased by some flying robot worm at the end of the trailer just underscored how non-Avengers-ish the trailer feels”

    interesting, because the “big flying robot worm” reminds me of the midgard serpent.  Very Avengery.

    But to be fair, all of the trailers, and movies, have been more “Ultimates” than “Avengers”.

  • Moose100

    It is the vague advertising for the movie that is the problem. They are advertising it like we suppose to know what it is. I am aware of the books. But some may not be.

  • Chad Vieth

    I personally want to see The Avengers, BUT am dying to see John CARTER, loved the books. and Dang people, where do you think Lucas, and any of the sci fi directors got their ideas? “John Carter” looks amazing, and hopefully will pull an underdog win, and we get maybe a few more movies. Long live “real” sci fi, not sci-fact. What surprises me is Disney doing it, kinda harkens back to “Black Hole” days of odd movies. Barsoom for life! (excuse any misspellings)

  • Josh Henaman

    For me, I’d say that the John Carter trailer failed to capture the wonder of its world.  The reviews have been good to great, but the only real excitement I’ve seen generated from its promotional efforts have been with the Mondo IMAX posters which emphasized the awe-inspiring location.  Instead, we’ve received action beat after action beat, which, as everyone has pointed out, feels like generic sci-fi film #…  True, some people might not know who John Carter is, but they can see the trailer and say, “Oh, it’s another Gladiator… or another 300… or… etc… with aliens”  Unfortunately, that’s what is being sold, so people aren’t really talking about it because they HAVE seen it before or felt like they’ve seen it before.  Familiarity equals complacency, so there’s no buzz (they’re going to have to rely on a ton of word-of-mouth.)  The Avengers, while reminiscent of Transformers, still has that, “Wow, these characters together?!”-factor going for it.  John Carter should have been a slow build of its universe and not generic action movie of the week.  Remember, performance of Green Lantern aside, that movie really only started to gain good buzz and excitement after the trailer that highlighted Oa and the universe, not bland superhero stuff.  

  • Mummra the ever living

    I think the issue is that (as noted) very few people know the legacy of John Carter, and so the trailer (looking like an “Attack of the Clonex”/ “Avatar” mash up) just comes across as unoriginal and derivative.

    Avengers on the other hand is not just exciting in terms of fans of the franchise, but fans of cinema as the Avengers represents (what should be) the pinnacle of universe building within the film industry (arguably the first time this has been done in this way).

    Plus the fact is that the Avengers have maintained a fan base for the entire lifetime of most of the movie-going public on a continuous basis. Although John Carter has been around alot longer, it can’t say the same.

  • David Fullam

    Never read the source novels (did read several of the Tarzan books though), but I’m very familiar with the Barsoom books. My older brother read them and those iconic covers made quite an impact on me, not to mention the various comics put out by Marvel and DC. That’s how I see John Carter and probably always will. I think that’s why I find the trailers so disappointing. It doesn’t look like what is ingrained in my mind. I’m also getting a Cowboys and Aliens vibe, and that film failed to wow me. The Avengers on the other hand? I’m there on day 1.

  • Staindcruiser

    You have to look at the basic marketing, too. The previous Marvel movies were all big hits, and thus people are familiar with the characters. It’s not by accident that all the Avengers trailers have focused on Iron Man more than the rest of the team, since the Iron Man movies are by far the most successful and therefore the most well known. You look at John Carter, hardly anyone knows who he is or what he’s about. When you’re launching a new franchise with unfamiliar subject matter (and the Barsoom novels ARE unfamiliar to most people), the mass public looks at the title to get an idea of what the movie’s about. “John Carter” tells people nothing. Had Disney left the original title in place, “A Princess of Mars”, well, there you go. It’s about a Princess on Mars. At least then people can make a decision on whether or not they want to find out more about the movie or see it at all.

  • Lastnamecumbie

    the problem is many people know who the avengers are but no one really knows what John Carter is and with ticket prices and concession prices being the way they are more people want to pay for familiarity then they do with an unknown now if the prices were a lot cheaper then people would see John Carter but until that changes movies that do well will be what people know a lot about look at the horrible twilight movies

  • lead_sharp

    I’m going to be honest here, we KNOW there’s going to be cool dialogue in it (and there was a little in the trailer) but the trailer isn’t for us, it’s for people who don’t really know the comics (they may know the characters but not in the way we do). 

    The action in the Avengers trailer is amazing, varied and heartfelt, the action in John Carter just looks like a hyped up episode of the Clone Wars. Hulk catching Iron Man, Thor landing on a Quin Jet wing, three way rumble, Cap’ whooshing down and as for the big worm thing, who cares if it looks like it came out of Transformers? IT WAS VERY COOL! All I remember form the JC advert is some glowy spaceship zapping another one, a skinny guy leaping about and some aliens going ‘rah’. 

    Marvel know they have the geek audience, so the’re selling it to the none geek.

  • kalorama

    Yeah, because the Avengers never fight giant robots.

  • kalorama

    The big problem with the Carter trailers is that they failed to address the most important/interesting part of the story: that Carter is a normal soldier from Earth who suddenly finds himself transported to an alien planet. That adds a sense of scale and wonder to the concept that, in theory, could make it come across as more than the generic sci-fi actioner that the trailers make it look like.

  • fred

    i might be nuts, but the John carter movie looks so good to me. i wait to see it.

  • Jacob

    Dude, this isn’t an adaptation of an Avengers comic. It’s an adaptation of an event comic. There’s a difference.

  • Lord Prong

    It’s unfair to even compare John CARTER to Avengers.  Avengers has a built-in audience already – the people who have already seen and enjoyed Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor, or Captain America.  It gaurantees that a big audience is going to see it as all those films performed well.  Even a shit trailer won’t affect it’s box office.
    I liked John Carter’s trailer, and it makes me laugh how blase’ some people can be about the film after seeing the trailer. But they seem to be the same people who automatically run on “pessimistic” mode (which actually makes up 99% of the internet audience, especiall comics-based sites.)  John Carter’s trailer actually made me believe that it may be a well written movie with a focus, not just on action, but characterisation.  Did I know it was on Mars? Sure, as I’ve got the books, but you’d have to be a fucking idiot to be confused and think it was set on Earth.  The trailer conclusively establishes that John Carter has been transported to an alien world – it doesn’t matter if it’s Mars or friggin’ Timbuktu.  The point is he’s on an alien world!
    The Avengers trailer looks little different from the endless number of Transformers trailers I’ve seen over the years, and bears little difference from the Battleship trailer, or the Battle: Los Angeles trailer.  The only thing about the trailer that gave me a buzz was the scene where Hulk rescues Iron Man.  But the “midgard serpent” scene made me think, “Hey look, it’s the Decepticon Worm from Transformers 3!”

  • Lord Prong

    You’re right – our inability to empathise with an alien culture’s plight on film is what made Avatar fail so miserably.

  • morganw

    To Cory,
    You know what’s a great way to get a new generation into reading?!?! COMICS!
    …hold on.
    Unfortunately mainstream superhero comics are “exclusively” reserved for readers older than their mid teens (with some (very few) exceptions). Off the top of my head I can name more indie comics catered to kids then superhero. (this excludes marvel adventures, which in some ways is condescending. Kind of like seating a kid at the kids table. This is not to say that MA has bad stories).  It’s kind of funny that the studios go out of their way to make this an all ages film and have toys, costumes, etc. directed at kids, peek their interest on these characters. Then when it comes time for them to seek out the source material, there’s almost nothing to accommodate them.

    Please explain what you’re doing to help out aside for criticizing them? I would suggest starting an after school program or reading club. You know? Encourage them to read? Don’t lose hope? Be positive? :)
    These “illiterate morons” are the future. They will be taking care of you when you’re old. Do something constructive maaan.

    Let’s still be friends.
    NOTE: to be read with extreme sarcasm. BUT no disrespect or conflict intended. Only insight.

  • Mythos

    I guess, to me, part of the appeal of The Avengers is that they’ve starred in their own movies and, as such, I’ve had opportunities to meet them. Of course, Hawkeye got only a cameo, Black Widow had a minimal, undeveloped role and Bruce Banner was recast (although I’m liking what I’ve been seeing of Mark Ruffalo), but it’s still essentially a sequel to all that’s come before. I loved Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, and the trailers are a (admittedly action-packed) first taste of their first meeting. It’s just cool to see these famous characters come together in a movie and really become Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
    Plus, there’s just the inherent geek factor of watching Hulk save Iron Man from a fall and stuff like that that’s pretty much a fanboy “what if?” scenario in the big screen.

  • Keith

    The Hobbit kind of killed it, right? It was far more like a trailer you’d see in the 90s … a full two minutes long (still barely scratching the surface of only the first half of the story) introducing the world, the characters, the quest … and there even seemed to be a touch of older 80s style narrative and exposition to the whole thing.

  • Ketan64

    This has to be my favourite trailer of all time.The Russian movie Nightwatch,from Timur Bekanov. Gives you the feel of the movie without giving away plot details.

  • Bill

    You’re overlooking the fact that most movie-goers are not comic book fans. If you want to sell out a movie, the trailer has to be geared to the average movie-goer. Not the average comic book. John Carter is an epic to the literates that know his name. To try to sell him to a new generation of fans, you have to go Hollywood. The Avengers trailer is the same way. Make money, sell tickets and get the average movie-goer in the theater. When the comic-book fan buys the DVD for her/his collection, they make more money. Hollywood has never been about putting out a movie and not making money.

  • Orphan

    The real problem with the John Carter trailers is that the entire movie has been spoiled by the recent onslaught of multiple showings especially on FX.As usual by the time you’ve seen the trailers you’ve already seen the movie.What the hell were these people thinking going into a panic this early and destroying any momentum the film itself might have had once people got into the theater? This BS argument that Avengers has a higher brand name recognition over JC means nothing because people are always looking for something new.The Avengers higher brand name recognition works only for the fanboys that actually think this ridiculous concept is going to work.Quoting the Marvel Grand Master Plan of Easter Eggs linking movies together only works if the wider non fan boy audience  even cares about that sort of thing which they don’t because they have embraced some of these movies and not others.Any non fans who have suffered through both of the Hulk films wouldn’t necessarily run to see Avengers.As far as worrying about trailers featuring action over dialog,what possible dialog could Whedon possibly have written(and I like Whedon) that could possibly make Avengers work?First the aborted Wonder Woman project and now the Avengers? What a waste of Whedon. 

  • TJR

    The problem with the John Carter trailer is that it needs to quickly give the audience an historical sense of the books and it’s characters. I read a recent Facebook post where a friend said that the trailer should use the following titles (Intercut with the films actions sequences):  BEFORE AVATAR   –    BEFORE STAR WARS   –    BEFORE SUPERMAN…….There was……..JOHN CARTER OF MARS!  – I agreed with him that trailering the film in this fashion would have better piqued the interests of movie goers who don’t know about the books……Of course they should also call it John Carter of Mars, instead of John Cater. 

  • Serdar Emra
  • Serdar Emra
  • Ken

    Is there a special reason that the 1st paragraph is almost 100% identical as the 2nd? Is someone getting sloppy with cutting and pasting?

  • Scooter313

    The problem with John Carter is all about the title.  As we can see just in this comment section even semi-informed posters can’t get the name right because John Carter has no traction these days.  They should have focused more on MARS!  The whole point of planetary romance/sword & planet stories is that they’re set on another freaking world!  I mean just the word Mars with some faded imagery from the movies would’ve strirred up more buzz than the early JCM posters which then oddly dropped to just John Carter.  Disney failed in creating any buzz for what could be an awesome movie.