How the Man of Steel Trailers Have Hoodwinked Us All

Ever get your hopes up way too high for a movie, only to be crushingly disappointed when it turns out to be terrible…or worse, just ok…? I know I’ve been guilty of unrealistic-expectations-syndrome one too many times. I’ve been unfairly teased by one too many brilliant teasers, been deceived by one too many slick marketing campaigns. Usually it’s too late. I have no reason not to let my hopes skyrocket and my imagination soar until the credits roll and I realize how much time and energy I’ve wasted in anticipation of something average.

But not this time!

I’ve seen the signs, my friends, and it’s time to speak up and sound the alarm on Man of Steel. Let me be clear; I deeply want this movie to be great, for it to be the most monumental addition to the superhero genre since The Dark Knight. But I urge extreme caution. We live in a time where movies (especially of the summer blockbuster variety) are so fast-paced and visually oriented that they are tailor-made for knockout trailers that the films themselves rarely live up to. Select the right music, choose your most stunning images accordingly, and you’ve got a movie looking way more important than it has any right to look. And the primary offender in this trend is none other than Man of Steel director Zack Snyder.

So as the Man of Steel release date inches ever forward, allow me to temper some of these through-the-roof expectations.

Let’s start with that first teaser:

Anyone else have goosebumps? How could we not with that music? The piece is Howard Shore’s “The Bridge of Khazad Dum” from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, conjuring up memories, whether consciously or unconsciously, of the supreme motion picture trilogy that defined a generation. That’s a tall order, Mr. Snyder, especially considering the context of that musical cue. When we first heard it, we were pretty sure (or at least those who hadn’t read the books were pretty sure) that the-one-and-only Gandalf was dead. Those are some pretty potent emotions to stir up in a trailer, especially for a reboot of a remake of a comic book franchise.

But let’s move on to the second trailer:

Again with the emotions! This time we hear the unmistakable voice of Lisa Gerrard, who helped redefine the film score with Hans Zimmer on Gladiator. Who can resist those haunting, soulful melodies that implicitly remind us of the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied an emperor… But to accentuate the swelling pathos of Gerrard’s voice we have the kind of fleeting images and abstract voiceovers that have become oh so familiar in superhero trailers that take themselves a bit too seriously. With a story and screenplay credited to David S. Goyer of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, we can certainly expect a whole lot of brooding and not much in the way of fun. Still, with glimpses of acting heavyweights Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, and Michael Shannon, it’s hard not to get carried away with those pesky expectations again…

Now for the third trailer:

Yowza. Led off by Crowe’s gravelly, oh-so-significant voice and a taste of some breathtaking special effects, we appear to be in business. We have some more philosophical musings via voiceover, as if Terrence Malick decided to venture into mainstream Hollywood, but the proceedings are propelled by a sample of Zimmer’s new original score. The go-to composer for action films of all shapes and sizes, he seems to be coasting on his laurels a tad, but it’s easy to get swept away by these dynamic drum-and-string arrangements. Meanwhile, Michael Shannon looks positively out-of-control in the best way, an instinct fully supported by…

The fourth trailer:

With some super-menacing terrorist threats (think Bane or the Mandarin on steroids), Shannon seems primed to cap off his recent career tear with a villain for the ages as General Zod. But the rest of the trailer is far more telling. The poetic sensibilities of the first two trailers have been swapped for a busy, frantic tone, no doubt far more indicative of the film’s actual style than the quiet contemplation and intimacy of earlier footage. And then we’re reminded: “From Zack Snyder/Director of Watchmen and 300” and the spell is broken completely.

So before we prematurely ordain Man of Steel the next “Best Superhero Movie Ever,” let’s not forget that this is what Snyder (or at least what his marketing team) does. Recall the Watchmen trailers. Using choice songs from Muse and Smashing Pumpkins, they cranked our hopes up through the stratosphere for a movie that ended up decidedly mediocre. Or how about that 300 teaser, boasting a nifty Nine Inch Nails track that promised a movie far better than anything that muscle-porn schlock-fest could have hoped to achieve.

Snyder’s a director who serves up bite-size morsels of movie magic, a marketing team’s paradise. With the right tune and the appropriate glory shots, they can make him look like the next Cecil B. DeMille. But close up, under the microscope, his films are forgotten as soon as they’re experienced. I hope for the sake of everyone that enjoyed the rush I did from these Man of Steel trailers that this time is different. But I wouldn’t hold my breath…

Call it a defense mechanism, but I’d much rather have my expectations surpassed than bitterly and cruelly shattered by a director who has yet to prove himself as anything but a second-rate pop artist.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Brett has an MA in Cinematic Arts (Critical Studies) from USC. Exhilarated by the arts, he is an avid scholar, writer, critic, and teacher of Film/TV.

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17 Comments

  1. Dale Barham

    It’s interesting that you’ve posted this. JeremyJahns uploaded a video review of Man of Steel onto YouTube today and confirmed that the film is far different to what you expected from the trailers. I am a sucker for a good trailer and it usually does add to my excitement only to be let down, so I’ve tempered my anticipation and plan on going in with a blank slate. Jeremy had most very good things to say about this nonetheless.

    Thank you for a great and intriguing read!

  2. Sara Roncero-Menendez

    This is a really funny, well written article. It’s amazing what good or bad marketing can do to a film, and I had a sinking suspicion Man of Steel was going to be less than expected. I think this is a great way too look at movie advertising, and now I’ll be paying much closer attention to trailers now!

    • Brett Siegel

      It’s fascinating, isn’t it? I think there’s a stigma nowadays that trailers have gone downhill. I know several people who ignore trailers altogether because they give away too much of the plot, which I can certainly respect, but trailer-making really is an art form unto itself. I know a good portion of the movie-going experience in my mind is watching the previews!

  3. Tom Beasley

    I’ve had a massive problem with the marketing for this film. I don’t want a Terrence Malick version of Superman and I don’t want Superman Begins.

    Superman should be fun. This looks moody and dull.

    Michael Shannon as Zod though. Yes please!

  4. Nick Saade
    0

    I’m really hoping Christopher Nolan’s influence will tip the scales positively for this movie. Great article Brett!

  5. LightSaber
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    My motto is: don’t get hyped over trailers and don’t rely on critics. I will watch it when it comes it and make my own mind up.

  6. Dani Lindo
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    When watching the first trailer on the big screen, I remember the initial chills and excitement… until I saw that the trailer was actually for a superman movie. After so many recent superhero flicks I think this film has an oncoming uphill battle. This was a really fun, witty read!

  7. David Startup

    Great article Brett! What I love about the marketing campaign for Man of Steel is that they have released so many full-length and short (TV) trailers, yet I am still none the wiser as to what film’s narrative actually is – where a lot of marketing packages/trailers for films these days tell you too much of the plot, these have been very cleverly done.

    On the Snyder front, I too felt very concerned when this was announced – he often does wonders with the visuals but leaves the spectator feeling robbed in the story/character/emotion department. However with David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan on script writing duties, fresh out of the incredible Dark Knight Trilogy, it looks like a match made in heaven – great writing with great visuals, win-win! If Justice League every sees the light of day, this could be the winning formula the film will need…

  8. Abby Frisch
    0

    Great article, Brett! Very thought-provoking.

  9. J. Bryan Jones

    Well, you know what? I thought the exact same thing of The Dark Knight, and it surpassed my ridiculously high expectations.

    A bigger problem I have is when they outright deceive -like most recently Iron Man 3’s (no explanation needed). Also, The Amazing Spider-man movie suggested sub-plots of his parents’ death and his spider bit not being accidents using dialogue that was never in the movie!

  10. Jessica Koroll

    This is pretty much why I’ve become largely apathetic towards new trailer releases. There are some wonderful ones out there that really show how creative the medium can be as a marketing tool, but most of them seem content to just rely on blatant emotional manipulation. I’m also not a fan of how common it’s become for movie trailers to simply reuse music from other film scores.

  11. Great points about the way the ‘movie industrial complex’ tugs at our heart strings so that, while our conscious minds might be saying “No way I’m going to see that!” other forces illuminated above (e.g. trailer pairings with scores that we’re sure to associate as Good) come at us from a different angle by tugging at our heart strings. I’m often left with, “Huh, maybe I should see that; it looks good” while part of my brain is wondering why I feel that way. I’m gonna look out for manipulation through the musical score more now! Thanks!

  12. Amanda Gostomski

    Best teaser trailers and advertising for a superhero film with all that americana. Too bad I bet Man of Steel will be painfully average.

  13. Francesca Turauskis

    I lost interest in Superman a bit when they first used the music from other scores – it just seems lazy.

    But I liked 300.

  14. Andrew Wilkins

    Couldn’t agree more with this article. I had exactly the same feelings about the first two trailers. The tone of these trailers suggested an almost art-house, subtle and gritty take on Superman but the film was anything but.

    I have an inherent problem nowadays to shy away from trailers right before a film comes out so I avoided the latter trailers that you mention. I didn’t realise how different the film was going to be before it was too late!

    Trailers are becoming more and more frustrating these days. Most give almost all of the plot details away, allowing viewers to piece together half of the action beats before they’ve even sat down in the cinema. It seems that trailers are getting more and more deceptive and harmful as time goes on which is a shame because they used to be much more withdrawn and yet so much more powerful. Check out the original trailer for Alien. It was short, gave minimal plot details away and showed nothing of the alien itself. Talk about less is more.

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