I can tell you categorically that it was not because the new Superman: Man of Steel trailer (found below) was bad. No way. In fact, the trailer displayed some decent innovations for the character and the universe. My problem didn’t arise from the content of the three-minute long showing at all. My problem was its length.
To begin with, the trailer opens with an incredible sweeping image of a planet destroying itself. It seems that Krypton is now subject to a civil war of sorts, rather than the natural disaster and political mismanagement seen in the widely-accepted origin story. Once the move onto Earth has been established, we’re introduced to Jonathan Kent, reworked as a wizened Kansas UFO enthusiast played by Kevin Costner, stating that Clark is the answer to the question ‘are we alone in the universe’. This was a surprisingly decent detail to add, and one relevant to a portrait of a contemporary man from the American Midwest.
Zack Snyder and his team are clearly exercising more creativity than usual in this outing; it can’t be said that many of Snyder’s previous films took many unique steps in the stories he worked with. But let’s get to the point- I didn’t watch this whole video for two reasons. The first one is simple.
It was three minutes long.
This is a trailer for a film. It’s goal is to tantalise the viewer, to show them what plot direction the film might have in store, to show the thrills that it might be able to give you in it’s (probably two-hour) running time. In this day-and-age, the film trailer is increasing in length; what used to be a thirty second or one minute slot is now stretching to several minute long epic displays of set pieces and overly taut drama.
Basically what we have in this trailer is a montage showing the best bits from the first half of the movie. Maybe even more than the first half of the movie- I didn’t watch it to the end for this explicit purpose. I don’t want to have most of the film told to me before I see it. I want to see it firsthand, fresh. It would have even been nice to see very little, or even nothing of Russel Crowe doing a decent (if not Marlon Brando-quality) job of Jor-El. It would have been nice to discover the new approach to Krypton’s woes on our own terms. Worse, I don’t want to see the plot of the film in this level of detail; S-Man’s parents throwing out generic dramatic rubbish about his meaning on Earth, Jon Kent building a nuclear-family father-son bond with Clerk, the discovery of his powers, yadda yadda. We already know this stuff, and a three minute trailer isn’t going to make it fresh or compelling or punchy.
And that leads on to the second problem at work here. While there are some modicums of creativity on show, this still looks like a mainstream, problematic reproduction of a classic story. I didn’t need to watch the trailer to the end because we already know the sweep of the thing; the exciting devil will be in the details.
I still get angry at Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen, as he seemed to miss the core tenet of adapting a textual work for cinema. As Cormac McCarthy put it, you can’t just take the story of a text and put it on a screen. This won’t work as a narrative. You end up with hours of material too long for the 90-minute format, or a 90 minute film with its seams bursting from the stress of a story which doesn’t fit. You have to pick and choose the (fewer) threads of plot you want to explore, and reduce it to that. But clearly, Snyder has no ability to exercise cinematic restraint. Everything has to be as full and as exploited as possible, from the designs to the use of computer generated imagery to the story.
The trailer for Superman: Man of Steel continues Snyder’s legacy of bloated cinema. A legacy which looks shiny and appealing with its all-too-modern aesthetic, but doesn’t deliver when it comes to creating a meaningful work of art.
Naturally we’ll have to wait and see, and on June 13th 2013 we’ll find out how successfully Snyder balances on the knife-edge of bombastic style and subtle substance in Superman: Man of Steel.