The Trailer is the Movie

After seeing Kong: Skull Island yesterday, I had a thought that went beyond the usual trailer complaint : “they give away the ending in the trailer”. This isn’t precisely true, as they show clips from the scenes at the end of the movie, sure, but they don’t exactly show you how it turns out. Anyway, there’s a shot in the trailer where Brie Larson’s character gets knocked off a cliff into water and another when we see Kong reach in to pick her up. When it got to that point in the movie I thought, ‘ok, so I know Kong is going to save her, but that means he has about 20 seconds to beat this boss of a monster before she drowns’. Did the scene lose tension? A little, but instead of being annoyed that I knew how it would turn out, I was further engaged in the story by trying to figure out how Kong was going to win so quickly, because he wasn’t in the best of positions himself. So my question is this: are movies doubling down on the endings in trailers and using them in some sort of multimedia visual language to enhance the movie or do I just think too much? Plus, the fast edits of the trailers seem to be making their way into the final film, thus merging the trailer and movie through stylistic choices. This is more prominent than it has been.

I think it is presumed that people who see the movie saw the excellent trailer. Trailers are having a bit of a renaissance now that the Inception Waugh! is dead and it shows in this, one of the best previews in years. Have a look if the embedding works.


That’s how the movie is edited. There are frequent blasts of period appropriate rock music and the action is beautifully timed to the soundtrack and vice versa.

As much as I would like to think it’s a melding of styles that goes beyond just hiring the same guy who cut the trailer to edit the movie, a la Suicide Squad, it might merely be the guy chosen to edit the movie cut the trailer as well. In a perfect world, the answer would be that the language of film is evolving.

I was first struck by a couple of scenes which skipped past cliched moments with a smash cut of shots, and in doing so, Kong avoided losing the pace and the tension. Specifically, after surviving an encounter with a larger than life creature, the squad takes a moment to rest and mourn those lost in the fight before moving on. Where as most movies might have a scene of a minute or two discussing this, Kong shows a quick shot of the soldiers wounded and dismayed, then another of their commander calling them on. This sequence is no more than 10 seconds, yet the exact same information is conveyed. Does it work for people who haven’t watched lots of war movies or monster movies? I don’t know. I’ll find out when I have kids and make this movie their first viewing experience – yes, I am that mean.

Like any form of language, editing of films must evolve to better communicate ideas to the current generation. Imagine how boring conversation would be if we still used the same longwinded phrases of the past. Films are like that if we don’t change them. We have the entire back catalogue of cinema to watch and most film buffs have seen the majority of it. So all the old techniques are firmly a part of our visual vocabulary already. We don’t need to be shown a sequence step by step. Just give us something that suggests such a sequence, we can then draw upon our memory of the technique to know what you, the filmmaker, are trying to communicate. That gives the movie more screen time to impress us with something new or expand on a big scene and it makes the audience feel satisfaction because we were engaged in a new way and worked something out

In this way, I was very satisfied with Kong: Skull Island. It impressed me with spectacle, wowed me with action and made me proud of being an active viewer. So much so, that I suggest it colored my perception of the negatives and made them seem inconsequential. I could criticize the movie for establishing a number of threats, but never having them reoccur later in the film, making the island seem safer than it should of. I could complain about the obvious shoehorning of a pretty Chinese actress into the story to secure Chinese funding for the production and having no impact on the plot whatsoever. I could complain about the war movie cliches that you see coming a mile away (If you’ve seen any war movie at all, you know in the first 20 minutes which characters are going to die). The point is, I don’t want to because I delighted in the rest of it. Had they not advanced the editing however, the film would have dragged and these niggling concerns would have crawled their way to the surface and onto my review, perhaps knocking a star off the rating.

As it is, I’m happy to give Kong: Skull Island an excellent rating. The editing keeps it fresh, and the sometimes stunning imagery pays homage to war movies of the past and completely destroys them at the same time. It’s a skilled project.

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