In a new, occasional, series here on the site, I'm going to feature some of my favourite film trailers and explain why I think they work so well.
Most trailers tend to be hastily-assembled collages of money shots and vaguely-memorable lines of dialogue. How often do you see a film, only to realise that all the best parts you'd already seen in that trailer for it that you saw three months earlier ? However, every so often, a trailer rises above the dross and shows exactly how it should be done.
Let's start with not one but two examples. I first read about Alien in Starburst magazine sometime back in '78. The news item was brief - it was an upcoming 20th Century Fox sf film, apparently; the director - some guy called Ridley Scott (never heard of him). There was no synopsis, just a perfunctory group shot of the actors on the set. No picture of the title character, though.
So far, so uninspiring. Then, a few months later - the teaser trailer arrived in the cinemas. And after seeing it, the thought began to dawn on me that maybe - just maybe - this Alien film was going to be something a little bit special:
There's not a scrap of footage from the actual movie in it but as a teaser, it works perfectly. With it's stark imagery, minimalistic sound and bleak tagline, you just know from the trailer that whatever the "alien" of the title is, it's not going to turn out to be cute and cuddly.
After a few more months - they brought out the extended version:
Finally, we get to see clips from the actual film - but they're quick cuts, out of sequence, unexplained. Sure, there's brief shots of the derelict spacecraft, the alien egg and an emerging face-hugger...but you only understand what they are, after you've seen the film. There's no context, no explanation. It's a genuinely unsettling trailer, ratcheted up to unbearable levels by the bizarre sonar 'ping' shrieking on the soundtrack.