I saw the trailer for Geostorm in front of Wonder Woman last week and although the film seemed generic, with the apocalyptic scenario and the subpar CGI, the cover of “What A Wonderful World” stuck with me. The new rendition added a great deal of irony and the song itself was hauntingly beautiful. In true nerd fashion I went online to see if anyone else shared my opinion, and came across this article. This well written (no sarcasm) rants details the “trend” of trailers using sombre covers of famous and well-regarded songs, which apparently started with The Social Network using a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’.
This first article mainly lists examples, mainly from movies that I haven’t seen, such as The Great Gatsby and Fifty Shades of Grey (which I will only see if someone gives me The Clockwork Orange treatment).
I have to point out that this list still only includes a small minority of the trailers released over the past few years, trying to make it seem like every other film trailer follows the trend nowadays. There are enough examples for us to say a trend is at work, but why are we acting like these examples warrant a call for a moratorium?
I digress. This blog post comes as a reaction to a linked article. This article also breaks down the history of the trend and uses Suicide Squad as a case study, comparing the teaser that used a cover of Bee Gee’s “I Started a Joke” to the second trailer that used Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The reason I feel the need to discuss this: The thesis of the article is that the second trailer is better because it is more “fun”. I have previously discussed my disdain for the belief that fun always equals good, while serious or “dark” equals bad. However, I have mostly discussed this in relation to comic book films, with my article on Kingsman being an exception.
There has been a drastic shift in the reception of dark comic book films since The Dark Knight era. That is not to say that there isn’t a single dark comic book film that gets good reception these days e.g. Logan, but as a whole people value their “fun” now more than ever. People love the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for its insistent levity and humour, and despise the DCEU (partly) due to its “dark” tone. Note that a lot of the positive reviews for Wonder Woman attribute its rating to its “hope” and “fun”. I am not a miserable person, I don’t mind levity and “fun”. I just don’t mind darkness or anything that is serious either. It seems like people desire simple escapism now more than ever, where everything should be “fun”, regardless of the subject matter.
I must agree with the author on one of his points. In some cases, especially Avengers: Age of Ultron, the song choice adds gravitas that the film does not deserve. The Age of Ultron teaser built Ultron up as a frightening threat, who was ultimately neutered and played for laughs. However, I have to say that this issue of misdirection is not isolated specifically to sombre covers of well-known songs. Any dramatic score or serious song can have the same effect on a movie’s marketing. Many people hated the Matrix sequels and the music used for that marketing would likely be deemed just as “self-serious” to this author. It honestly seems like the covers of the well-known songs aren’t the author’s real issue. He just hates the serious or “grim” tone that it bestows on the trailers.
In this case the author calls the Geostorm trailer and its accompanying music, “self-serious” and “grim”. As I’ve noted before, the focus on tone ends up overriding any other issues of artistic merit, since “fun” becomes synonymous with good and serious of “dark” becomes synonymous with bad. Let’s look at the author’s comments on Suicide Squad as an example. He argues that the second trailer, with Bohemian Rhapsody is more fun and markets the film better. Obviously the second trailer will market the film better. The second trailer isn’t a teaser, therefore it is meant to show us more of the characters backgrounds and their interactions. Yet as expected, this author thinks the trailer is better ONLY because it’s tone is improved.
Many people, who do not know comic book characters as well as they think they do, insist that these films should all remain colourful and fun, no matter the storyline or characters being portrayed. Although I disagree, I can understand how a simplistic notion of a certain character or fictional world can lead people to think that one size fits all in terms of tone. However, Geostorm is not an adapation, yet alone an adaptation of “lighter” source material. Why does it have an obligation to be “fun”? It is a film about a global catastrophe, a dark tone suits it. Of course, some apocalyptic films can also have a lighter tone e.g. Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean that they all have to follow Independence Day’s example.
Pictured above: A perfect opportunity to use some “fun” music
Why can’t any film be allowed to look serious for a few minutes at a time without people labelling it pretentious or depressing? Even if a film is depressing, it doesn’t mean it is bad. Unless the film is explicitly meant to be a comedy, a film’s rating should not suffer because it didn’t make you laugh or smile enough. Since when did we become so sensitive that we need films to cushion us from the ugly realities of life? Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. People argue that is why films should offer us fun, but I argue that is the best reason that they should offer us whatever the director or editor feels. Films often reflect reality, why have we forgotten that? There is nothing wrong with films having different tones. We can choose to watch different films based on our moods. There is variety. I would hate to scroll through Netflix or Kodi and come across a library of films that are all the same tone. Likewise, I would hate to go to the theater and have one preview after another with the same tone, whether it is dark or light.