Few tools used in a summer movie’s publicity are as lavishly forged and conscientiously sharpened as the trailers; see how even in late April the commercial for the Jennifer Lopez cyberthing The Cell gets our movie-mad blood boiling four months before the film’s release. But it pays to be wary, because the equations formed in trailer montages are nothing if not mercenary and unscrupulous. What we see is most often not close to what we get, though these marketing lies are usually just constructed from the movie’s raw materials, and decades of TV commercials have trained our consumer muscles, when we choose to use them, to look for the essence of a product within the spiel. Commonly, a trailer will quick-cut on a line, turning it into a punch line that isn’t there (as Alfred Molina’s sputtering “I love this part!” in Boogie Nights slam-bangs right into Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me [Not to Come]”). In the film, the line lies like a lox, nine times out of 10.
But often movie trailers go a step further, and include footage that’s not in the movie. Remember the trailer to Twister, with its neck-snapping final shot of a thrown pickup landing and shattering, the wheel drum of which flies right into the camera? Not in the film. Bruce Willis almost getting run over by a bus in the Sixth Sense ad? Willis fans presumably need even a spittle of action, but it didn’t happen in the movie. It’s sometimes difficult to discern the sleight of hand, but the trailers for Men in Black, Playing God, Mad City, Ravenous, and The Blair Witch Project all had memorable footage that wasn’t in the finished film. The early trailers for The Haunting and Ronin were obviously manufactured commercials, as is the glimpse we’ve had of Mission Impossible 2, revealing little more than how many ways Tom Cruise can put on his Ray-Bans. This is OK if, like Alfred Hitchcock walking you through the Bates Motel Cabin #1, the spot’s contrivance is self-acknowledged. (For John Woo’s sake, let’s hope it’s not in the movie.) Otherwise, isn’t it a clear case of false advertising and product misrepresentation?