The Medium Is The Message

After a few months of strategically released clips that ran no more than seconds, the first full official trailer for New Moon, sequel to last year's Twilight, has been released. (I believe the full title for the film is actually The Twilight Saga: New Moon, a retroactive decision born of a desire to brand each chapter in the film series with the word "Twilight," itself a canny but vaguely soulless move I just don't want to get into here; suffice it to say that there's a reason franchises reuse phrases like "Pirates of the Caribbean" before their subtitle, and it's really all about eliciting a knee-jerk response from viewers. It's also stomach-churning, a little.)Anyway: The new film arrives in theaters in November, and the trailer — viewable here for the morbidly curious or unbelieving — is notable because it's nothing at all like a normal trailer. At all. Most trailers, though they can vary when it comes to how much of the plot they give away or what kind of vibe they're going for or even how closely their atmosphere accurately reflects the film they're selling, follow a basic pattern: Scenes and dialogue from the film are edited to create a heightened, compressed experience. The movie itself is used as its own greatest selling point. But the New Moon trailer, though it features footage from the film, largely relies on an interview with star Taylor Lautner in which he discusses the way the new film differs from its predecessor, with shots from the film sprinkled between interview chunks and Lautner's voice-over covering the whole thing. This is weird, and telling, and depressing for what it says about the movies, their target audience, and what each expects from the other. Even eagerly awaited movies are trumpeted with trailers designed to ramp up excitement. Think of the first trailers for Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace or The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (the latter even had a teaser for the whole trilogy). Those were tentpole releases with huge audiences built right in — Star Wars is kind of one of those inescapable American pop cultural touchtones, and Tolkien fans are avid and many — but the trailers still did their best to hype those audiences up even further, as well as create engaging, fleeting looks at the upcoming films that were meant both to fan the flames of those already disposed to see the films and to win over anybody else. But the New Moon trailer is just a sloppy collection of clips that don't even attempt to reconstruct the plot of the first film or the new one, instead relying on the puff quotes of a co-star to plug the new release as if this is a featurette on a DVD or a sneak peak on MTV instead of a brand new trailer for the second installment in a wildly successful book and film series. It's revealing that the trailer doesn't even try to pretend the movie is about anything other than its own existence, e.g., there's no reason to see the movie except to satisfy an artificially created desire. There's no effort to provide any kind of narrative hook. The movie just is. Period. And that says a lot about the intended audience for the trailer, books, and movies, a group of consumers that's largely female and in their early teens. They don't seem to want anything more from the franchise than for it to continue to exist as a flimsily constructed soap opera; the fact that there's more faux-revealing sound bites from an actor than actual character dialogue in the trailer just underscores the fact that this audience, for this product, is as undiscerning as possible. They ask nothing more than for the shoddy books to be quickly make into cheap films, and it's no surprise that Summit Entertainment isn't interested in doing anything with the property except to cobble together a cheap 100-second preview built around one of the actors saying the movie is really good. Typically, trailers are selling a story tied to an experience: They offer an exciting new world but package it like the very act of going to the theater will be life-changing. The New Moon clip is eye-opening because it's all about the experience. There's no semblance of story, no attempt to look like a legitimate film, and no effort to do anything but remind young girls to get ready to spend their parents' money again in November. Most trailers are just fragments of a larger story, but the one for New Moon manages to sum up the whole sorry, vapid, uncaring franchise. Seeing this is like seeing everything else, only mercifully shorter.