$9 Trailers: Prometheus

[$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.]

Of all the different categories movie trailers may fall into, none is more divisive then whether an audience’s first look at an anticipated new film is satisfactory. In some cases, failure is seemingly impossible because fans are so eager to see footage. A good example would be the later Harry Potter films, or the new Star Trek reboot. In both cases, the precedent of past installments made these trailers guaranteed gold. We knew the characters (at least to some extent), and had a working basis for our expectations.

On the other hand, there are films like Prometheus. When a well-respected director takes on a new project with a dynamite cast and sci-fi overtones, people are going to speculate. Except for a few leaked stills and set reports, very little is known about Prometheus. It stars Michael Fassbender (Magneto of X-Men: First Class), Noomi Rapace (the OG Lisbeth Salander) and Charlize Theron. Oh, it also may or may not be a prequel to Alien.

When we get our first glimpse of a film like Prometheus, we’re looking for ground on which to build our vision for the film. Let’s look at Cloverfield. I tell you, “it’s a movie about a monster in New York City as shot by someone’s handheld camera.” Well, that’s vague. Are we talking about Godzilla levels of destruction, or something more stealthy and sinister? Should we be looking forward to buildings collapsing and air fleets being called in or will this be a covert-ops mission to bring down the creature? The trailer’s job is to somewhat corral the range of possibilities so that when you actually sit down to watch Cloverfield, you have a vague understanding of what the film might entail.

After viewing the Cloverfield trailer, you get the feeling covert operations will not come into play.

By this logic, Prometheus’s first trailer informs we’re in for space violence and psychological terror. The practically dialogue-less preview is smash cuts of characters descending upon a foreign land, running, screaming and looking like they’ve just realized some real bad stuff is about to go down. Against a throbbing, monosyllabic score (think the last third of Inception), the title slowly forms superimposed over the scenes. Then we get out tagline: They Went Looking For Our Beginning /What They Found Could Be Our End.  Spooky stuff. Given this trailer is built on the classic teaser model, I won’t focus too intently on it. Overall, it’s a bit unoriginal and lazy. I’m not too big on the teasers that decide they don’t owe the audience anything because they’re already a lock to fill the seats. Still, we get some enticing visual moments and our first glimpse into the setting for this story.

Things get real in the full Prometheus trailer. We’re treated to a voiceover from Charlize Theron, telling us that kings have their reign, and then they die. Next we see several “person pods” open aboard a spacecraft, revealing our main players. In a series of exchanges, we learn that cave drawings have been spotted across a wide array of sites where ancient civilizations once existed. It seems our space explorers may be seeking evidence regarding where or how life originated. As we reach the latter half of the preview, things turn dark in a hurry. Best of all are flashes of helmet full of something, with a scrambled voice screaming for someone to cut “it” off. All in all, the full trailer does an excellent job of setting the table without revealing the meal.

Sure I have complaints, chief among them giving us any indication of what year, society and culture the film is set in. Is space travel common, or are we seeing the cutting edge of what the world can offer? Maybe these things are irrelevant, or conversely, so relevant that learning too much about them would jeopardize the integrity of the film. Clearly you don’t show the Statue of Liberty in the trailer to Planet of the Apes. Otherwise, we get a careful glimpse into our main cast, the world they’ll inhabit and the dangers that await them. There’s no guarantee that Prometheus will be good, but the trailer has guaranteed I’ll shell out to give it a shot.


  • Piratey

    See that still picture in the trailer you posted? That’s the space jockey from Alien. It IS the prequel. Weyland Corp? Alien. No question that this movie takes place in the same “universe” as Alien, though it might not be a true prequel.

  • Ryan

    I liked the trailer but I feel that they setup the climax of the film too plainly.

    – We see giant alien ship take off
    – We hear voice over saying they are headed for earth
    – We see human ship and pilot kamikaze into the alien ship
    – We see the alien ship crashing back on the planet

    Takes the suspense right out of the movie.

  • Sideshow

    Have you seen the TED talk teaser starring Guy Pearce? Fantastic setup.

  • Ryan

    I don’t understand why anyone would go to the cinema without consulting trusted reviews. $9 is no small sum these days. Very clever people make trailers as enticing as they can, often packing the only good content of the movie into them, it’s their jobs.

  • Skeebo

    Yeah, it is an Alien prequel, zero doubt after that trailer.

    1:23 alien… wall-art?

    But the 100% for sure it is an Alien prequel kicker,

    1:49, med-tube (I assume) that’s a baby alien.

  • Andy

    Trailers ruin movies nowadays. I’m going to try to avoid info on this one and go see it as I genuinely liked the alien series.

    But I did see the TED thing, which was pretty cool.

  • Thanks for all the feedback.

    @Sideshow I will definitely watch the TED talk teaser. Sounds great!

    @Piratey @Skeebo Yes, clearly the trailer is indeed a part of the Alien world at large to those who know what to look for. I do think more casual fans may not immediately draw that conclusion, although I may be totally wrong on that point.

    @Ryan To me, “trusted reviews” is an oxymoron. I’m genuinely glad you have a source that you agree with, but for me, no critic or personal acquaintance has matched-up with my tastes often enough to be the final word on whether or not I see a given film.

    @Andy I agree with you on the potential of a trailer to over-expose a film’s plot. That’s part of the reason I write this column – to reward trailers that manage to rise above plot regurgitation and chastise trailers that don’t. I totally respect your choice to avoid trailers at large, but we both know the majority of people will continue to watch them the second they hit the internet.

  • Hmm

    “I’m not too big on the teasers that decide they don’t owe the audience anything because they’re already a lock to fill the seats.”

    I find it hilarious that you say that because I am big on those trailers. I want those trailers all the time for movies that are a lock to fill the seats and sometimes movies in general. What movies I see is sometimes based on how much the trailer showed me. Movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises. A lot of movies have been completely ruined for me by the damn trailer showing every scene or all the action scenes. Iron Man 2 was disappointing to me because of the trailer, they spoiled War Machine which should have been a surprise and then they spoil the best battle in the whole film which doesn’t even last more than two minutes. I feel like Avengers is going this way with all the trailers it has but luckily I’ve avoided all except two of them. I pray The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises don’t get any more trailers, I’ve seen enough of those movies already (until I actually see them of course.)

  • EJ

    I used to have the full set of the Micro Machines Alien toys, one of which was something always called “the Derelict Ship.” Guess what, it was the ship seen in Alien and later in Aliens, and it is the same ship seen taking off and then crashing in the second trailer there. No question in my mind. Also, that is clearly the space jockey, as has been mentioned.