Trailers

5 Shorts That Became Feature Films

I’m at a crossroads. As gamer who still primarily plays retro games, I couldn’t be more thrilled about the recent trailer for Pixels, a mass destruction film where arcade classics from the 80’s come to wreak havoc upon Earth. On the other hand, as a film lover, I couldn’t be more worried that it’s a Happy Madison production. For those of you who don’t know, Happy Madison Productions is the company founded by Adam Sandler, whose title nostalgically reminds us that it was responsible for at least two good films.

I don’t normally like to criticize a film before I’ve seen it, but this one stars not only Sandler, but Kevin James as well, two actors who are much like the two chemical components that Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson ran around New York desperately trying to keep apart in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Sure, alone the actors are harmless enough, but put them together and they create a weapon of mass destruction capable of destroying any semblance of wishful thinking from the cerebral cortex.

What may be a saving grace is that Pixels is actually based on a relatively popular French animated short from 2010. Directed by Patrick Jean, the two-minute short is an homage to retro 8-bit era video games where classic sprites run amok throughout New York City.

This got me thinking about what other shorts have made the transition to full-length feature films, but I didn’t really want to do any research so I just cut and pasted five random links to YouTube videos in an attempt to trick the eye.

Ok, I kid, but if you scrolled down to make sure, thank you for reading the whole article and not just skimming to see the videos.

 

La Jetée

A lot of art film geeks and film students know this one. I was first introduced to it in film school. The French short is comprised almost entirely of stills to tell the story of a prisoner who is forced to time travel to the past to rectify the events that led to World War III. This is actually a pretty damn good watch, especially if you’re high because, “Dude that’s not a still! It just moved, I swear!”

Those familiar with the plot might already recognize that this film would become the Terry Gilliam classic 12 Monkeys, a film that ditches the stills and instead goes in the completely opposite direction by casting a manic Brad Pitt who never stops moving for a second.

 

The Dirk Diggler Story

Much like the feature this was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Inspired by This is Spinal Tap, the story follows the tragic story of Dirk as he begins a career in pornography only to get caught up in a life of drugs.

Of course, this film would eventually become the superb classic Wonderland starring the incomparable Val Kilmer, hot off the success of Aces: Iron Eagle 3, as well as Lisa Kudrow from the US version of the BBC series Coupling.

All right, you caught me. It became Boogie Nights and if you haven’t seen it you’re missing out on a true cinema masterpiece.

 

Monster

You know The Babadook, right? If you don’t, you really should. My favorite indie film of last year, The Babadook follows the story of a single mother and her child who are tormented by a supernatural force.

“Monster” follows basically the same premise as The Babadook, with the exception of starring some guy called Trash Vaudeville who is either the lead singer of a punk infused Cole Porter cover band or a creature created from the lesser parts of John Waters’ films.

 

Peluca

“Peluca” was made for the low, low price of $500. Shot on 16m black and white film, the short also stars Jon Heder in the role of Seth, a name that would go down in history when it was changed to the titular Napoleon Dynamite.

Watching the short you can see some of the familiar character traits and plot points that would eventually make it into the quirky Napoleon Dynamite. Much like Napoleon, Seth has an infatuation with martial arts and is always there to help his friends with their follicle mishaps.

 

Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse

“Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse” is less a short film and more a super early trailer for what would become This is the End. As the title suggests, the short stars Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel who would reprise their roles for the feature.

The short acts as evidence to the amount of attention Hollywood is giving viral videos nowadays. The short apparently inspired a bidding war to eventually get it to the big screen. Garnering a budget of $30 million, This is the End would go on to make $126 million at the box office.

 

 

 

 

 

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Trailers Have Really Changed Over The Years

One of the unfortunate byproducts of nerdery is the increased susceptibility to hype. Like many of you, I caught the first glimpses of the new Fantastic Four teaser this week and began trying to piece together what I had just seen. As far as I could gather, Reed (wide-eyed intern), Sue (the girl who programmed WOPR from WarGames), Ben (high school varsity baseball player who’s been held back two years) and Johnny (the guy who built KITT) all get in a bunch of steel tubes that explode and send them to Hell. From there, they spend the rest of the movie fighting enemies that are always just out of frame.

I suppose the teaser accomplished its goal. Sure, I want to see more, but only because I have no idea what the hell I just saw. This seems to be the new marketing strategy of Hollywood. We see a teaser, talk endlessly about it for three or four days then forget about it. Later, they release the next cryptic trailer that has us doing the whole song and dance all over again.

Was it always like this?

Searching for answers, a friend and I began to look at the trailers of our ancestors. What we found there was a world of movie marketing long since forgotten. Trailers from these ancient times differed in a number of ways.

Here’s how:

The Length

Nowadays it’s common for an official theatrical trailer to be preceded by a teaser. The lengths of these teasers fluctuate. Normally you’re looking at somewhere between a minute and a half. Then again, some teasers look like they just pieced together all the footage they had from the first day of shooting:

As I’m sure you know, that was the teaser for Breaking Dawn Part 2, unless of course you happened to blink and miss it. Taking out the green preview screen, this trailer clocks in at around forty seconds or around the time it takes to melt butter in a microwave.

Of course, eventually they got enough footage to make a full trailer for audiences, which clocks in at a whopping two minutes, which is about the average running time of current trailers.

Compare that with the official trailer for Lawrence of Arabia from 1962:

That trailer is almost a full five minutes long, where they basically take time to list the entire cast of the film. Furthermore, they take time to give you a basic rundown of who T.E. Lawrence was by opening with nice little quote by Winston Churchill. The equivalent to this would be if the Breaking Dawn trailer opened with a quote from Stephenie Meyer and finishing off by listing off each cast member of the Cullen Family.

The Intros

For some of you that may not be familiar with the Fantastic Four, you may have been curious as to whom these fresh-faced lads and lasses were decorating your computer screen. Now maybe this is because Hollywood is banking on the fact that fans of the FF4 are already familiar with these characters. Still, I’ve found that current trailers still make very little attempt to introduce their characters. Take this trailer from the upcoming Jupiter Ascending:

What can we gather from that? Well, we know that Channing Tatum is a badass with a neck tattoo and he wants to get Mila Kunis for whatever reason because doctors are trying to kill her for whatever reason. Kunis even goes as far as to ask, “Who are you?” to which Channing simply says, “I’m here to help you” for whatever reason. From there it seems clear that the story revolves around Kunis, yet we don’t hear her name till the end of the trailer, where everyone says, “Oh, like in the title! That explains why she’s moving up so many beams of light!”

Now let’s look at the trailer for the sci-fi classic Tron from 1982:

In this trailer we get a pretty good idea who we’re dealing with. There’s the villainous computer introduced in, what can only be described as, the most frightening Apple ad ever seen. Then there’s our hero, Kevin Flynn, who’s of course a genius because he’s searching for answers. They even briefly introduce Tron before explaining what it’s like inside the computer itself.

The Plot

Finally, a big unspoken rule seems to be that you don’t give away too much of the plot. This is particularly the case with modern horror movies that all seem to rely on some big twist at the end.

For instance, check out this trailer for Insidious:

If you didn’t have time to watch it, don’t worry. The trailer is simply a montage of all the scary things that happen in the film in rapid succession. There is virtually no dialogue to explain any of this, just a few blurbs about hiring the landlady from Kingpin and that their son is haunted.

Let’s see how they explained the plot of a movie in 1976 with this trailer from Carrie:

Oh sorry everybody, I should have said SPOILERS, but I believe the statute of limitations runs out at exactly thirty-eight years. Plus, now you don’t even have to watch the film, because that’s literally the detailed, step-by-step plot of the entire film. If they had Cliff Notes for feature films, this would be it.

But my absolutely favorite part of this trailer is the introduction of John Travolta in his first ever film debut. They could have picked any clip from the film to lead the viewer to wonder, “Oh, I wonder what kind of character he plays in the film?” But why even try to instill any sense of mystery? No, instead the editors decided that the best way to introduce this new burgeoning superstar was by letting the audience know within five seconds he was absolutely going to die in the most fiery and violent way possible.

Film Rant: What’s Truly Unique About #Blackstormtrooper

This week JJ Abrams released the teaser trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens and just like every other fanboy I watched the video over and over, often pausing to pick out even the most minute details. My dissection of the trailer was handled with the same level of precision as a group of Spaceballs with an giant fine-tooth comb. I mean this is JJ Abrams we’re talking about here. The guy who made Lost. Do you know how many Easter Eggs he snuck into that series?

Of course I wasn’t the only person with their eye on the trailer and it didn’t take long before people shared their discoveries and doubts to social media. It took no less than ten frames before some members of the Star Wars fan base had a collective head burst. The scene I’m talking about is the one that opens the trailer, where we see a stormtrooper with his helmet off, looking out into the distance with fear in his eyes.

Oh yeah, and he’s black.

The amount of outrage over this stormtrooper’s race has been well documented over Twitter and other social media outlets under the hashtag #blackstormtrooper. Although most is overwhelmingly positive, some try and point out the supposed “inconsistency” of his race due to the fact that stormtroopers were shown to be cloned from Jango Fett in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones:

Still others believe this is an attempt to appease the “PC lovers”, “Social Justice Warriors” or whatever other term kids are using these days to describe people who want to see women and minorities in films because they exist in a place we call society, just a small subset of the universe:

How this is still an issue is beyond me, although I’m sad to say I’m not surprised. I was under the assumption that science fiction had moved beyond this nonsense decades ago. Duane Jones was cast in a starring role in a major Horror/Sci-Fi film in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. That was in 1968, the same year Kirk kissed Uhura. Also, I don’t remember anyone accusing George Lucas of checking “diversity boxes” when he cast Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu in 1999. It’s 2014, a black stormtrooper shouldn’t be considered progress or pandering, it should be considered the norm.

That’s not to say the scene doesn’t mark a historic moment in the series. Go back and take a look at that scene.


There is definitely something striking and out of place about this stormtrooper that has nothing to do with the color of his skin.

Look again.

It’s his expression, or better yet, the fact that he has an expression at all. Provided this is truly an Imperial Stormtrooper, JJ Abrams has done something that has never been done in the Star Wars universe. He’s humanized a stormtrooper.

Stormtroopers have traditionally been portrayed as a cookie cutter military outfit. Their uniforms are monochrome, without any semblance of coloring. No personalization, like stickers. No nametags. Their appearance is skeletal, the most stripped down our bodies can be while still maintaining their shape. Their voices are monotone, devoid of any kind of inflection.  Even when they’re introduced as Jango clones, they are portrayed as mindless copies unlike the strong-willed Fett. For all intents and purposes, stormtroopers are meant to be mindless automatons, lacking any modicum of emotion or marksmanship.

There’s a reason for this in filmmaking, particularly Science Fiction, Horror and even some War and Western films. Things like zombies, robots, ninjas, orcs, brood-like aliens and the like are meant to be devoid of any humanizing features. This is so heroes can easily shoot and slash through swaths of enemies without eliciting an emotional response from audiences. It’s what differentiates Starship Troopers from becoming the sniper scene in Full Metal Jacket.

This method is used to great effect in the Star Wars franchise as the Empire is often depicted as masked or cloaked in battle, but the Rebels’ faces are exposed and possess features that make them unique. As an example take the first assault on the Death Star. On one side you have the the Imperial TIE Fighter Pilots, completely concealed in black helmets. Yet all the rebel pilots, from Wedge Antilles to my favorite, the portly Jek Tono Porkins, have their faces visible.

During the battle, no one cares as TIE fighters are blasted into particles, because they might as well be piloted by Death incarnate. But audiences feel for guys like Porkins as we witness him meet an untimely death as he sizzles (heh) among the stars. Porkins speaks with authority, we can tell he’s respected among his squadron and he sports a rocking neck beard. And for those of you wondering, yes, Lucas really named the heavy guy Porkins. (This was just to illustrate that Lucas humanizes his characters, not that he’s good at it.)

It’ll be interesting to see if Abrams is planning on giving the Empire a human side. It’ll certainly change the way we look at the Empire as well as explain the motivations of those within their ranks. Furthermore, it might reveal that there’s more than one side of the story when it comes to the battle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Perhaps like most rebellions the outcome didn’t turn out as planned.