For a little fun relief in the heat of this election season, I recently watched the trailer for the 1993 film The Pelican Brief. You should too! Check it out. 1:28 of awesome.
They don’t make trailers like this anymore. But they did. Oh, how they did. It used to seem that every trailer was made this way.
These days, there’s a whole grass-roots cottage industry devoted to making trailers NOT look like this one; the “Honest Trailers” series is only the most visible. And even at the studios, they work to make their current trailers look like something that isn’t this. That was the subtext behind Lake Bell’s directorial debut, In a World…, the idea being that as a woman she can’t possibly compete with all those trailers that begin “In a world…”
Trailers are more than trailers. They are ways of framing our lives. We think of our next big event in terms of trailers. We live our lives as if they’re movies, and then we condense what happened, and what’s going to happen, into trailers. We say to ourselves, and others, “You don’t get it do you? You just don’t get it.”
Trailers didn’t always need the words “In a world…” What’s so sweet about the trailer for “The Pelican Brief” is that it falls right off the cliche tree and hits every branch on the way down. Let us count the ways:
1. Gravelly-voiced guy making it sound like nuclear Armageddon is coming. Check.
2. Reading aloud the titles word-for-word even though we could presumably do that ourselves. Check.
3. Ticking clock noise and slight swell of dark music to make us sweat the small stuff. Check.
4. Egregious stock footage of White House at night, even though story has nothing to do with White House/President. Check.
5. Julia ROBERTS. Den. Zel. WASHINGTON. One reason I know we don’t really have stars anymore is their names aren’t read like this in trailers anymore. Anyway, check.
6. “But in a SINGLE night, TWO” of its Justices are assassinated, like that SINGLE makes it worse. Two shots of gun barrels exploding that aren’t in the movie (and don’t happen), because this trailer needs more violence. Check.
7. Why yes, it’s always Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Check.
8. Even though the book’s character wore short wigs to hide her identity, Roberts rocks her trademark locks cause it’s the 90s before “Friends” created the “Rachel.” Yes I realize this isn’t in every trailer, who cares. Check.
9. A lot of typing and 1993 high-technology. Click that F, hit send, oh, that’s the good stuff. Check.
10. “NOW she has become a target and the only person she can trust is…” Denzel! Why the hell hasn’t any current trailer told me that the only person someone can trust is some awesome star?! Suck it, current trailers! Check.
11. 12. 13. Fades to white, pan and scan, knife-sheath sounds. Oh God that’s the good stuff. Check, check, check.
14. Even though this trailer is less than 1:30, there’s still time to repeat the names of the two stars. “Julia Roberts. Denzel Washington. The Pelican Brief.” This movie will not be about waterfowl-files, right? Right. Big old check.
15. Absolutely no quick fades to black with a heartbeat noise while we linger on the black for one second. In other words, would not qualify as a blockbuster trailer today. Check.
I might mention that this movie went on to earn $100,000,000 back when that meant something. So I guess the trailer worked. Also, in the book, the two characters, both white, have major sexual tension, but in the movie, nope. I’m not going to say that “worked.” Get a young Denzel and a young Julia kissing, we could have been looking at $150,000,000.
So these days, Julia Roberts’ trailers look like this and Denzel Washington trailers look like this. A little different, right?
There’s no real moral here. Hollywood changes. But when it does, it changes how we look at others, and ourselves. And I simply find that fun.