[$9 Trailers is a feature that examines movie trailers, and judges how well (or poorly) they execute their job of making me want to shell out nine bucks to see them.]
In today’s installment of $9 Movie Trailers, I’ve decided to switch tactics and look at a trailer I feel is a failure. Plenty of movies look bad outright, and we find our preconceived opinions on them confirmed when the trailers surface. However, there are also the rarer (but not uncommon) occurrences where a movie with high potential yields a very subpar preview. We all know trailers well enough to ignore them when certain criteria are involved, which in this instance would translate to, “well, it’s the new Quentin Tarantino movie, so I’m definitely seeing it.” But let’s table that and take on the trailer for Django Unchained with an entirely blank slate.
By far and away, the opening moments of the trailer are the best. The scenic shots of a slave chain-gang shuffling across shifting landscapes are intriguing. Our ears are treated to Johnny Cash’s “Ain’t No Grave,” and then we meet Christoph Waltz (of milk-drinking Nazi fame in Inglorious Basterds). Waltz approaches the slaves and upon finding Jamie Foxx aka Django, attempts to take him. The man in charge of the chain-gang will have no part of it, and with a gun aimed at Waltz, tells him “last chance fancy pants.”
Now Tarantino is nothing if not an innovative dialogue writer. To this day you will hear friends and strangers at parties quoting random snippets of Pulp Fiction, True Romance and so forth. But “last chance fancy pants”? Yes, I’m taking a line of dialogue out of context, but in my defense, it’s the first significant exchange between characters in the trailer. Of all the dialogue in the movie to choose from, that’s what we need to lead off with?
Christopher Walken’s scene about a watch, an ass and Vietnam perfectly illustrates Tarantino’s dialogue skills.
Apparently Waltz’s character doesn’t care for the line either, because he shoots the man and heads off with Django. Immediately we are jarred into a James Brown tune with the quintessential superhero removing his cape shot as Django tosses a blanket from his back. Waltz explains that he’s a bounty hunter, and he needs Django’s help tracking down some people that he knows Django has seen before.
It’s a bit expository for my tastes, with Django proceeding to tell Waltz about the incident, which involved his wife being taken. Since when has the plot of a Tarantino movie ever been its selling point? I look to a Tarantino trailer as a chance to see the kind of set design, aesthetics and action that will inform the picture, not to see two characters set-up the back story plus one menacing shot of Leonardo DiCaprio.
If someone made a Tumblr called ‘Leo DiCaprio Looking Menacing’ , I’d visit.
Speaking of DiCaprio, he represents what makes me so excited for Django Unchained. Tarantino has worked with a number of highly-respected actors, but the sheer power of a Tarantino/DiCaprio picture has me giddy with anticipation. Which is why when we only get a few insignificant shots of him as a plantation owner, I was bummed out. Yes, there may be aspects of his role that viewers ought not to know before seeing the film, but let me see him punch someone or say something truly menacing (he is allegedly the bad guy after all).Instead, the summation of his scenes in the trailer (quick shot, whooping at a table, “Gentleman, you had my attention, but now you have my curiosity,” and his closing observation riding on a wagon) just feel like obligatory inserts from an editor instructed to make sure some shots of DiCaprio get in the trailer.
The final third of the trailer is a montage of tepid explosions, Django voiceover and the tagline (“Life, Libertyand the Pursuit of Vengeance”) flashing on the screen. Ok, the tagline I love, but this isn’t $9 Movie Poster. In what should be a climatic reveal, the part of the trailer where things ratchet up to one significant snippet of a scene or dissolve into foreboding credits, we are instead treated to more exposition and a throwaway line about how it’s “Django, the D is silent.”
Maybe I’m being overly critical, but a Tarantino feature film is not a very frequent occurrence. I can distinctively recall how excited the previews for Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds made me; the biggest letdown was the release date at the end not being tomorrow. But with Django? I remain excited for the movie, but simultaneously concerned that this film may mark some kind of “departure” from his previous filmography.
I may not need Chuck Palahniuk to write the same novel for the eight time, but Tarantino’s filmmaking has never seemed tired. If you like him, and I totally get why someone point vehemently do not, I can’t really see how you don’t like all of his movies. Who likes Kill Bill but not Resevior Dogs? How can you own Grindhouse on DVD but not love Jackie Brown? All his movies are like different shades of the same color. He has a lot more reds to get through before he needs to worry about making the leap to green.
Perhaps the second trailer will be drastically different, and perhaps it won’t but the film will be a classic just like the rest. The only thing I can state definitively is that this first look at Django has planted a microscopic seed of doubt. Let’s hope Tarantino can DDT that sucker this Christmas.