Second Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser

The second teaser for this Christmas' release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has dropped.

If we're being honest, this teaser and its predecessor aren't really all that remarkable. They're largely just montages of random characters, spliced in some random order, like the famously opaque teasers for the next episode of Mad Men. 1

  1. The studios forced showrunner Matthew Weiner to have bumpers teasing the next episode, against his wishes, so he countered by assembling them in such a non-linear, random fashion, almost like some William Burroughs narrative deconstruction, that essentially they give away nothing.

In fairness, teasers often contain the most minimal of narrative coherence and are merely meant to whet one's appetite with any seemingly finished footage. In essence, teasers are meant to, umm, tease.

But if I'm being honest, this trailer excited me more than the last one, largely because it includes more familiar callbacks than the previous one. Star Wars is a shockingly enduring franchise. Even my nephews who haven't seen a single Star Wars movie love the franchise and know most of its characters. Through cartoons, toys, books, and other forms of merchandise, the story has become one of the defining mythologies of modern entertainment. It has both a grandeur of scale and yet an intimacy that characterize some of history's most operatic epics. Not even three cinematic duds in a row were enough to kill off the franchise, it is that indestructible.

Given our long and deep collective history with the saga, anyone cutting a trailer can tap that mother lode of nostalgia with the gentlest of tugs. Just hearing the first cue of John Williams elegiac Star Wars score and seeing a desert landscape are enough to summon an image of a young Luke Skywalker, standing in the sand, staring out towards the horizon of Tatooine, wondering if there's anything more to his life than working his Uncle's farm.

Christmas can't come soon enough.

The Knight of Cups

That's the title of Terrence Malick's next movie, and here's the trailer.

Of course I will rush out to see this at the earliest possible date, but it is amusing how easy it would be, at this point, to make a spoof Malick trailer. I'm surprised no aspiring editor out there has recut some other movie's trailer into a Malick-style trailer, complete with the soaring, lyrical classical music score and whispered voice-over.

Mark Woollen

I had never heard of Mark Woollen until I read this profile, but then I realized I knew him from his work, which I love. Among the movie trailers he has cut:

A much longer list of movies whose trailers are covered with his fingerprints reveals a guy with particular taste. In what is usually a vulgar craft, Woollen is an artist. He has a trademark style: no voiceovers, an occasional expository text card (perhaps his one concession to the advertising imperative), heavy reliance on a musical track to carry the emotional through line. Watching his work, it's clear he understands that it's not just about conveying the outline of the plot but the mood of the thing.

Like Woollen’s most impressive trailers, Birdman hinges on music. Early on, editors tried scoring the trailers to David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” and “Heroes.” Both felt overfamiliar. Iñárittu suggested Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” but Woollen had the same reservations. Then someone in the office found a live version Cee Lo had recorded for British TV, singing to a drum machine. It synced beautifully with the shorter “teaser.” Still, the video “wasn’t feeling special enough,” Woollen recalls. Then he remembered a long shot, 32 seconds of Keaton stalking down a hallway. It could be the perfect introduction to a movie that feels like one continuous shot. An editor ran it for only five seconds, but “I said, ‘Let’s just put the whole thing in.’ And it clicked — the feeling we’d been looking for.”

Birdman and Gone Girl are about as commercial as Woollen gets. Summer blockbusters are neither his interest nor his strong suit. Woollen helps sell what 12 Years a Slave producer Dede Gardner calls films without an “obvious headline,” crossovers with the potential to expand the mainstream. “For movies that are elliptical or episodic, you need someone who really understands tone and mood, because the story isn’t going to help you sell tickets. Mark makes something that is not commercial seem absolutely watchable.”

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

This trailer for the upcoming adaptation of John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy does the trick, doesn't it?

I have a soft spot for spy novels. While the current flavor is Nordic crime novels (the Millennium trilogy, Henning Mankell, et al), I still remember the first time I read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. The terse prose, the elevation of human deception to the level of a high stakes game, it's all good fun.

The original Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy starring Alec Guinness is brilliant, too. Like a thick grey, somber wool blanket to wrap oneself in on a cold, autumn night.