There’s an old joke: Why don’t they make the whole airplane out of the stuff they make the indestructible black box out of? And I’d suggest a movie version: Why don’t they let the person who puts the movie trailers together actually make the movies?
Face it, oftentimes, the trailer is much better than the movie it hypes. It includes all the best jokes, the searing special effects, the stars and their flashy costumes. It smooshes a two-hour film down to the basics and makes it look as if every second offers heart-pounding excitement or hilarious quips.
The movie often disappoints by comparison. It's a lot harder to stretch out the drama over two hours than two minutes. But for those few magic moments when we're watching the trailers, every film can be magical, every star an Oscar winner.
Here's a look at a few trailers that caught my eye recently.
‘Toy Story’: A+++
How can you not want to stand in line for “Toy Story 3” after watching any of the multiple trailers Pixar has released? Not only do you get the plot summary — the toys are donated to daycare after Andy goes to college — but you meet the new characters and get a sample of the new setting. The new star of the show is the ascot-wearing Ken doll, voiced by Michael Keaton, who comes down from his dream house and is gobsmacked by his first sight of the bodacious Barbie. "Love your legwarmers!" he coos to her. "Nice as...cot." she returns. You get the idea: The kids will love it, but parents will be laughing at the jokes that sail over the young ones’ heads. “Toy Story's” trailers do exactly what a good trailer should do —whets your appetite to see the whole thing, and gets you buzzing to your friends — and kids. (Film opened June 18)
‘Knight & Day’: C+
Can you say “generic action film trailer”? Things blow up! Cameron Diaz looks beautiful, blonde and confused! Tom Cruise wears shades, shows those awesome choppers, and there are lots of bullets and explosions! They trade quips and look cute, but I have no idea what's going on. Still, Cruise has charm, and mindless action isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the summer. The trailer could sell it better but that doesn’t mean the film won't attract an audience anyway. (Film out June 23)
‘Twilight: Eclipse’: B
Edward looks pale, Bella looks nauseous, and Jacob looks like he’s allergic to shirts. The main trailer jumps around a bit — Jacob and Edward argue! Vampires are eating Seattle! They're all going to swim to Forks, apparently! But Taylor Lautner steals the show as he rounds up his snarly wolfpack and admits that even though they’re in on the side of the vamps, they still don’t like them much. The fight scene is unintentionally hilarious, with giant CGI fluffball wolves doing a kind of Cirque de Soleil leap over the vamps. The main trailer, however, does a much better job of selling the flick than some of the other released clips, which include a completely random one of the Volturi that makes no sense if you haven’t read the books and one of Bella and Rosalie having a fairly useless conversation. But does this film series even need a trailer? Its fans would line up even if the cast were replaced by mimes. (Film out June 30)
‘The Last Airbender’: C
I’m not familiar with “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” the Nickelodeon show that was the basis for this film, but the trailer spells it out: There’s one kid who can control all the elements, but it may already be too late for him to save the world. Do you think? I don’t. He’ll find a way. M. Night Shyamalan directs, and it’s in 3-D. (The trailer doesn’t tell you that it wasn’t filmed in 3-D, it was converted later, a strike against it in my book.) Not sure this film can reach beyond the audience who already are familiar with it. The trailer alone just isn’t selling it to the uninitiated, and for a $100 million film, don’t you need to reach beyond Nick fans? (Film out July 2)
It's summer. Not every movie is going to be Tolstoy. Sometimes we just want a good scare, even with a few gross-out scenes thrown in for good measure. And that’s just what the “Predators” trailer promises. The creepy creatures from the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick are back, and this time they’ve taken the humans to their home planet to hunt them for sport. The trailer spells that premise out quickly, then builds on it with plenty of creepy quick cuts of the humans freaking out as they try to hide from the monsters hunting them down. Every horror flick needs at least one money shot, and this trailer fulfills that with an image of Adrien Brody as what appears to be a laser gunsight lands on him, and then multiplies all over his body. This may not exactly be an Oscar-winning movie, but the trailer delivers. (Film out July 9)
“Inception” is earning good buzz, but director Christopher Nolan, known best for the re-imagined Batman films, does have some knocks against his latest project. A completely vague title. A plot that can’t be easily explained. A genre that’s tough to peg (sci-fi? action? thriller?). Leonardo DiCaprio plays a futuristic thief who steals secrets out of people’s minds, and then is hired to do the opposite — plant an idea. Sounds intriguing and intelligent, but the trailer could be about anything. A top is spinning! Cars drive down a highway! Someone gets dragged away! Water tilts in a glass! DiCaprio looks scared! Menacing! Does a “Matrixy” move in what appears to be a hotel hallway! This first trailer is just a tease — later ones do get into the plot more specifically — but this is a difficult film to sell in a couple of minutes. It’s a lot easier to show us panicked people running from Predators than it is to show someone planting ideas in another's subconscious. (Film out July 16)
The trailer for “Buried” is proof that you don't need great visuals — or really, any visuals — to sell a movie in a trailer. This trailer could air on the radio. It’s pretty much a black screen. Ryan Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, and as the trailer begins, he’s desperately using his cell phone to call 911. Turns out he’s a civilian truck driver in Iraq who's been kidnapped and buried alive. If you're claustrophobic, the idea of the movie alone is going to freak you out, and the trailer will make your skin crawl. “Buried” has an unfair advantage, perhaps — unlike “Inception,” it comes readymade with a super-simple concept that can be explained in a sentence. But it's still impressive how much a black screen can freak you out. (Film out Sept. 24)