Coming Soon

In 1963, with DR. STRANGELOVE still a year away, film critic Andrew Sarris had already dismissed Stanley Kubrick: "He may wind up as the director of the best coming attractions in the industry." Sarris couldn't have been any more prescient in summing up EYES WIDE SHUT, Kubrick's final project 36 years later. The theatrical trailer and TV ads for EWS were amazing: dreamlike, scary, mysterious. Those images are still vivid in the finished film--when Leelee Sobieski coyly beckons Cruise to come hither, I leave the film behind for a few seconds and flash back to the trailer--but they're surrounded by two-plus hours of what can charitably be described as erratic overreach. Great foreplay, disappointing sex. The trailer for EWS was good enough to deserve its own trailer. This is not an isolated phenomenon. Time and time again the past few years, I've spent months anticipating upcoming releases on the basis of knockout trailers, only to be left drained and puzzled by how ordinary (or worse) the real thing turns out to be. THE BIG LEBOWSKI had a stunning trailer: Busby Berkeley-like split-screens, the First Edition's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" (which I hadn't heard, or even thought about, for years; within weeks I owned a First Edition compilation), a wildly suggestive shot of John Turturro going down on a bowling ball. Six months later, a rather tame, genial mess, with Turturro getting about five minutes of screen time. I remember seeing the trailer for CASINO and thinking that Scorsese was improbably about to outdo GOODFELLAS: whirling camera movements more elaborate than ever, the Rolling Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," Joe Pesci chewing out De Niro in the middle of the desert. Packed into 30 seconds, brilliant; at three hours, overkill times ten. I've had similar experiences with TRAINSPOTTING, THE TRUMAN SHOW, SUMMER OF SAM, TWISTER, SHE'S SO LOVELY (on the shortlist for decade's-worst--but what a trailer!), CRASH (ditto), and many others. On rare occasions, a great trailer will precede an even greater film: I was hyped for BOOGIE NIGHTS and RUSHMORE, and both went above and beyond my already inflated expectations. Such exceptions notwithstanding, I'm starting to think that the more eye- opening the trailer, the clearer the signal to quit while you're ahead. The reigning Kings of Letdown are Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma. If you put aside the exceptional CASUALTIES OF WAR, De Palma's been operating on borrowed goodwill that goes at least all the way back to BLOW OUT, maybe even to CARRIE. I always come away from his invariably striking trailers with a sudden case of amnesia: "A new De Palma film! Finally, a return to form." As Santayana once said, those who cannot remember history are condemned to suffer through RAISING CANE, CARLITO'S WAY, and SNAKE EYES. (This piece is actually an advance preview of a much longer article I have coming out next spring on the art of merchandising movies. My advice: it doesn't get any better than what you're reading now.)

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