Better Than The Film


Recently on a long haul flight I decided to watch Jack Reacher, the Tom Cruise thriller based on novels by Lee Child.

Now my critical tolerance levels on plane trips are unusually high, so it takes a pretty rotten film for me to be underwhelmed to the point of writing about it.

But…I’d seen the Jack Reacher trailer in cinemas, and was blown away by its editing power, the cleverly mesmeric use of the same sound effect “punch” under any impact shot, the driving guitar of Drop the Lime’s version of State Trooper…just the unutterable coolness of it all.

So kudos to the responsible agency, which I haven’t been able to track down online. Maybe there is a reason for this. It’s not the first time that the phrase “the trailer was better than the actual film” has been uttered. Indeed it is a tightrope that all of us walk in entertainment marketing every day. How do you condense all of the positive attributes of a show down to a single compelling piece of creative work, without in some way overselling or mis-selling the totality of the eventual content?

But the more I read about this trailer, the more interesting the story became (unlike the film itself). Firstly there was a dramatic shift in the marketing of the film. The trailer that I’d been smitten by was fundamentally recut in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Primarily this was to remove the use of semi-automatic weapons, but actually it has a dramatic effect on the overall approach to the film. From something with a Reservoir Dogs like hipness – all snappy dialogue, clever set pieces and visceral action - to something a bit well…meh.

And then the story took another twist when I discovered that a movie goer in New Zealand attempted to claim damages back having been misled by the trailer. A chance for me to join in on a mass civil claim perhaps? But it turns out that the complaint hangs on a specific shot in the above trailer – the exploding cliff -which didn’t make it into the film. The complainant states that it was the fundamental reason he went to see the movie.

This is a really interesting test case again for those of us in TV and film marketing. Since time began movie and TV trailers have included material that isn’t in the actual final piece. Whether specially shot in their entirety like our new work for Gillian Anderson in The Fall, or for Luther, say, where the desire is for a communication that leaps out distinctively in the marketplace of a junction…or more commonly in Hollywood where scenes are included that don’t make the final cut of the film.

Classic examples of this include the helicopter being caught in a web for Spiderman in 2002, the robot assembly in Terminator 2…and, perhaps the daddy of them all, Tony Seineger’s flying arrow shot for Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. As many Hollywood trailer firms are working from dailies or rushes, alongside the editing of the actual film, it’s not uncommon for whole scenes, or at least different takes, to be included rather than those that make the studio’s final cut.

As both an audience member and a professional trailer maker, I think that is great and in no way worthy of legal action. But none of those examples involve mis-selling, which is a more dangerous path altogether. I always tell my creatives that you can trick an audience once, but very quickly viewers will stop trusting your brand, which will have longer term damage than a few extra thousand on the overnights. Every piece of marketing has to be faithful to the truth at the heart of a show or film. Jack Reacher wobbled a little unsteadily along that line.

Charlie Mawer, Executive Creative Director