Previews

Trailer comparison: Hidden Figures and Fences.

I saw Hidden Figures back in early January at a preview screening at Odeon. Since then I’ve been bombarded by trailer after trailer for the film.

This wouldn’t be a problem if it were a teaser we were talking about, but no. The final Hidden Figures trailer is the most tragic case of spoiling an entire film since we saw the same thing happen to Room around this time last year. These aren’t isolated cases, either. Trailers for Batman vs Superman and Viggo Mortensen’s Captain Fantastic were the other major culprits from last year, and I could list more if I wanted to spend time thinking about it. The unfortunate mentality of sheer desperation – of studios and editors thinking the only way to get audiences to pay for a film is by showing everything to them beforehand – is currently one of my biggest problems with the film industry.

Honestly, this is a case of a film blowing its entire load prematurely – and yes, the analogy to an overeager, desperate man unable to contain his excitement for the payoff is entirely appropriate. Within the Hidden Figures trailer – having seen the film and liked it very much, I can tell you for certain – we see brief clips from every major scene in the movie, beginning to end; we hear literally every relevant piece of dialogue, swiftly cut together at speed so as to fit it all in; and the overarching theme of the film is thrust upon you with virtually no sense of subtlety.

I’m going to put the trailer below to help illustrate my point. However, I will say this: if you have not yet seen this trailer and plan to see the film anyway (it is actually worth your time, hence my frustration), don’t watch it. Don’t ruin it for yourself. I know if I had seen this trailer beforehand, I likely would not have enjoyed Hidden Figures as much as I did. But then, I like to be surprised when I watch a film; perhaps you see a cinema trip as more of a risk and like to know absolutely every detail you’re going to see, in which case go ahead and watch this trailer. We’ll just continue to not understand each other.

There is a clear stopping point for me in that trailer – or rather, a point at which it becomes obvious they’re giving away too much. It is the line “I don’t know if I can keep up in that room”, as the general tone shifts to not-so-subtly make it clear that ‘hey, this is a film with a serious message you know’. Tonal shifts like this should be the film’s domain, not its trailer. But again, the trailer is too focused on squeezing every possible detail into two minutes, to let you know you might like this movie, if you liked its incredibly condensed version. It’s not too difficult to decipher, as well, that there is likely an agenda at play with the trailer for this film, if not the film itself. However, I’m going to save this part of my analysis for another article on each of the nine Best Picture nominees.

In contrast, the first trailer for Fences, another Best Picture nominee this year, is a much better example of a well executed trailer than the fast, desperate cutting of the Hidden Figures equivalent. If you watched the one above, now check out this trailer, and observe the clear difference between the two. Note there has since been a second trailer, similar to this but with only a few extra details added, though I haven’t seen that version shown in UK cinemas.

We’re left in no doubt from the Fences trailer that it also tackles some interesting themes and social issues; but it communicates this in much less words than the Hidden Figures equivalent, and does it without spoiling many of the film’s major scenes. In fact, this trailer communicates its message through clips from (seemingly) two major scenes, showing only brief glimpses of a few others while leaving the rest to the imagination, in effect building anticipation for the overall film. I think Hidden Figures could have achieved this too, though perhaps not to the same effect (there aren’t many actors with the screen presence of Denzel Washington, after all).

Bear in mind my comments here are not directly related to the quality of each film; rather, I’ve focused entirely on critiquing their trailers, though to do so is important as the quality of a trailer does correlate with how many people are going to see the film in question. I will be giving my thoughts on the films themselves when I give my breakdown on each of the nine contenders for the Best Picture Oscar in a separate post, to come soon.

Film reviews

Interstellar.

Interstellar review.

For all its hype, does Interstellar rank among Chris Nolan’s best work, or have we seen it all before?

Interstellar is a film not just about intergalactic space travel. It is a film about the big questions; what lies beyond our understanding of the universe? Are we alone here? How far will we go for love? What is love? These and other topics related to humanity, society, physics and philosophy are all themes that Christopher Nolan aims to explore with his latest ambitious project. Though in the end, it’s his desire to provide a conclusive narrative tying them together that spoils what would otherwise be a mesmerizing experience.

Set sometime in the near future, the film begins with Matthew McConaughey playing Cooper, a farmer and the typical Hollywood version of an American single father. In this future, Earth’s natural resources have become scarce and most of the world depends on corn as their sole food source. Farming is seen as the essential occupation for young men, being one of the last few options people have for survival.

Cooper is one of these men, although he is haunted by the memories of humanity’s past scientific achievements and laments their regression to a time before we dreamed of going to space. NASA now operates in secret, and a seemingly chance encounter with them (‘seemingly’ in the sense that Nolan then goes out of his way to give an explanation later on) sets up the mission which Cooper – conveniently also a former pilot – is assigned to lead. He will lead a team through a wormhole to find an alternative planet for our species to settle on.

While my tone may come across flippant, make no mistake about one thing: this is probably McConaughey’s best career performance. It is thanks predominantly to him that you will be brought close to tears more than once while watching Interstellar. When you aren’t doing that, the core emotion this film will evoke is awe, though the extent of this awe will depend on how familiar you are with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and, to a lesser extent, last year’s Gravity (Cuaron, 2013).

From a critical point of view, comparisons to 2001 are clearly inevitable. In fact the main difference between Kubrick’s classic science fiction movie and Nolan’s film is the latter’s reliance on human sentimentality to progress the story and bring it to its eventual conclusion. Both films deserve praise for their scientific accuracy, while at the same time asking you to suspend your disbelief as they speculate about what lies beyond our current knowledge. But where Interstellar is held back in this endeavor is in its need to constantly bring you back down to Earth. Contrast this with Kubrick, who went as far from traditional narrative techniques as possible in creating a dream-like, almost non-verbal experience contextualized primarily by its classical soundtrack.

Unfortunately Interstellar does not cover any ground that the almost 50-year-old 2001 didn’t. Areas in which it does differ do not significantly add to the experience, leaving no doubt that Kubrick’s film is still the superior one despite its age.

In addition, I can’t help but feel some of the awe surrounding the more modern space sequences in this film will have been robbed slightly by Gravity, which is also a more powerful overall movie for one main reason. Although it did include some sentimentality, it left you with no doubt that space was still the majestic main event of the whole experience.

Interstellar does not give you this impression, instead using every opportunity it can to reinforce its true theme: family. Behind the smoke and mirrors of its vast universal scope, it’s really only about one thing. And this is the true gripe I have with Nolan’s latest film. Visually it’s stunning. Emotionally it’s hard hitting. But in the end, it is essentially no more than a domestic drama told across the stars, with the universe at its whims, the main threat coming from whether or not Cooper will make it home to see his kids again; whether or not they’ll still love him when he does.

For me this goes some way to reducing the film’s appeal; for others it may instead heighten it. On my way out of the screening of Interstellar, I asked myself how I would describe it in a phrase and one line came to mind: it has the soul of a Kubrick film, with the heart of a Spielberg movie. To you, that may sound like heaven. To me it was more like, well… Earth.

7 / 10