Monday, May 23, 2016

On Trailers and Ghostbusters

So my wife and I sat down and watched the first Ghostbuster's trailer to figure out why people hated it so much. Yes, it's a poorly-made trailer that's not very funny and yes, I'm sure some people do just hate it because 'women' or 'nostalgia', but when something generates this powerful of a negative reaction it usually means there's something artistically-dysfunctional going on, and as a professional creator I like to use these opportunities to figure out what it is.
(Note: My thoughts are right below and I try to keep them short, but if you want to read my wife's Master's-level addition where she reduces the trailer to a smoking crater, I've posted that comment below mine.)
1. We're starting to figure out that the boxes we've made for female characters to check in order to prove how 'strong' they are are, in fact, also limiting, and the trailer made very little effort to introduce the characters in any way except telling us what box they fall into. The biggest offenders for this where "I'm the obligatory super-genius math girl designed to be a STEM role model for young girls which is why we must point out I'm apparently the BEST EVER." and "I'm a stereotypical poor racist strong black lady who's so stereotypical it's physically painful to watch."
I am very sure the characters will be much more interesting in the actual movie, but the way this trailer introduced the characters just made both me and my wife recoil.
2. Comparing the feel of the the trailer to the feel of the old movie, I'm struggling to find a way to express it other than the trailer feels like bad fan fiction.
The original movie straddled the line between comedy, action, and horror, and was surprisingly grounded, given the subject matter. It had action in it, but certainly didn't have kung fu scenes or shoot-outs, and never tried to convince us the characters were anything other than 4 guys in over their heads. The original character's equipment looked like they'd built it themselves in a basement, which in fact they did. I'm sure it had more to do with the special effects capabilities of the 80's than an artistic choice, but the movie felt real, even when ghosts were popping up all over the place.
The trailer, though, felt like they were marketing the movie based entirely upon how they had 'improved' the original. Like someone telling you why you should read their fan fiction because "Its totally like the original, except I added a hundred giant ghosts and dual-wielding pistols and now they have power gauntlets they use to PUNCH GHOSTS IN THE FACE!" To connect point 1 in above, it felt like there was no time to get to know the characters nor thematic room to invoke the horror genre because they were trying so hard to make sure you knew these characters could totally be super hero role models for young girls and what other reason could you possibly have to see this film?
3. I think, because this movie has billed itself so heavily on being a gender-swapped remake rather than a reboot that just happens to have more women in it, it's reinforcing its connection to the original so strongly that points 1 and 2 above jump from being small irritants into being big problems. If they kept one of the main 4 a guy, kept the secretary a woman, and had two black cast members instead of 1, I think people would be more able to approach the new movie as its own thing and not compare absolutely everything it does to the original. But because the main characters are supposed to invoke in us the original cast just gender-swapped, it puts people on alert, increasing their natural desire to compare the two movies. By forcing them to think even more strongly about that, it makes everything the new movie does that differs from the old movie feel wrong somehow.
Or, as my wife puts it:
"I think the best way to compare what the new movie lacks is by comparing the 1984 trailer with the 2016 trailer. The 1984 trailer starts off by cheesily introducing the problem of paranormal activity by being highly serious and yet also invoking cheesy horror films and crock documentaries. It then introduces the solution as the ghostbusters--the heroes who are our only hope, a fact the trailer continues to subvert by repeatedly showing how incompetent they are. The humor of the trailer (and movie) is created by carefully playing epic expectations against the reality of the buffoonery that is Bill Murry, Dan Akroid, and co. The trailer also ends by dropping some pretty big names for the era.
"Now the 2016 trailer tries to begin on a simlarly serious note, and introduces the new ghostbusters. The first scene we see them in is shockingly similar to the library scene at the beginning of the original. Inviting such an direct comparison between the two films many will walk away with the impressions that a) this is just a cheap knock off and b) Bill Murry and Dan Akroid had better comedic timing in that scene. So having started off by establishing the inferior knock off status of the remake it proceeds to introduce the characters as highly competent scientists, not buffoons, thus removing the key form of humor from the original. The only shortcomings shown are that they're kind of awkward women who sometimes stumble over words and situations, ala Anna in Frozen. But Anna's awkwardness just doesn't carry the same comedic punch as Bill Murry's buffoonery. These women are as flawed as Hollywood allows 'strong women' to be, aka not very flawed at all, aka boring.
"But don't worry, the trailer proceeds to introduce our highly flawed and character driven women. The walking talking black stereotype. She is painful to watch and a perfect representation of the lack of diversity in Hollywood. The black guy in the original was a black guy who happened to be in a movie. He has some character traits that invoked a southern black man, but otherwise he was unique for how average he was in a crazy situation. The black women in the reboot is BLACK- a walking talking stereotype prevented from doing anything that isn't BLACK, further entrenching stereotypes about black women being fat, loud, sassy, angry, uneducated, and poor. Thanks 2016. Thanks for allowing a wider range of expression for black actors than they had in 1984. And for increasing the number of black people represented in film. Oh wait...
"The trailer has now established that it's four leads are either bland knock offs or walking stereotypes, not the best way to garner audience enthusiasm. At this point it moves on to show that the film has AWESOME special effects (not a big pull for audiences these days--we've seen it all before) and EPIC action sequences (in the age of super hero films, a little been there done that). Oh and speaking of super heroes, they immediately cut to show you they've got Thor! There's no instruction of Chris Hemsworth, he functions merely as a reminder that there will be eye candy.
"The trailer ends without listing its cast. I found this a notable omission since it's fairly standard in trailers and the film clearly has the agenda of highlighting female comedians, so you'd think they'd want to name them. Personally I don't know the names of all four of them, so you know names would be nice. But they don't include them. To me this suggests they lack confidence in their casting, the producers have already concluded these women's names won't sell tickets.
"And there's the problem that by far the biggest name in this girl power film is a man. They could have easily avoided this by casting someone other than Chris Hemsworth, but instead they cast B-D list women for a girl power blockbuster and then overshadowed them by an A list man. Thus in almost every way the trailer failed to hit its mark as either nostalgic or girl power."

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