Sneak peeks into upcoming movies are almost always futile attempts to make us interested. Where’s the vibe?
People seem to be of the opinion that the third installment of the Men in Black series is better than the second one, but I cannot add to the chorus. I can hardly remember what the earlier films were like – except, of course, that they involved men who liked to dress in black. The most vivid takeaway from those films were the sunglasses, and I wondered who, other than Ray-Ban executives, would be interested in a second sequel. And the trailer that began to make rounds was anything but appetising, its sole speck of wit coming from the visual of the Columbia-logo lady sporting the series’ trademark dark glasses. Then, in order to refresh our memories, there’s this line: “Our mission is to monitor extra-terrestrial activity on earth.” And afterwards, it’s just the usual mash-up of peals-of-thunder percussion (why do Hollywood’s event movies always sound as if Armageddon were around the corner?) and fast-cut images that don’t really add up to anything.
Well, the trailer does establish that K (Tommy Lee Jones) is now dead – J (Will Smith) gets a good laugh mimicking K’s smile as a frown – and that J is going to travel back in time to solve the mystery, but as an incentive to take a trip to the theatre to another installment of a series that’s not quite a pop-culture milestone, it does very little to convince us. (Or maybe I should say “convince you,” for people like me have to watch everything, regardless of trailer quality. Buy me a drink someday, and I’ll tell you all about my existentially questionable life, ebbing away slowly in darkened movie halls.) And that’s the way most trailers are. We know we want to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, but it’s not because the trailer does a bang-up job of selling us the film. We can only hope that whatever Christopher Nolan and Co. serve up is going to be better than the peals-of-thunder percussion and fast-cut images in the sneak peek.
That is the case with Men in Black 3. I had a really good time, and I don’t think it was just due to the underwhelming expectations derived from the trailer. The director, Barry Sonnenfeld, has at his disposal a fairly witty script. (When J undertakes his “time jump,” to travel back to 1969, he literally takes a giant leap, and while slipping through other eras, he finds himself accompanied, at one point, by a fellow-jumper – a Wall Street executive, presumably, during the Great Depression. When they make Men in Black 16, maybe J will find himself alongside a 9/11 jumper, for that event, by that time, might have receded far enough into history that it’s safe enough to make jokes about it.) And the creature design is fantastic, especially the villain, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), who gnashes several sets of teeth and is aided by a scurrying sidekick situated inside his palm. Special-effects movies, these days, are all about blow-‘em-up bluster, and it’s a pleasure to see these latest technologies being employed to service genuine vision. Men in Black 3 is that rare film that makes you happy we live in this age of digital effects.
Though the best special effect is probably Josh Brolin, who is exactly how you think Tommy Lee Jones would have looked like in the Age of Aquarius. (There’s a very funny Andy Warhol gag, whose mind-scrambling premise makes it entirely appropriate that the song on the soundtrack at the time is Strange Brew.) Had any of this appeared in the trailer, would we not have been as surprised, as pleasured? Or would we have been better primed for the late-sixties wackiness, with even Boris the Animal recast as a clamorous Hell’s Angel? But even if trailers aren’t obliged to provide a peek into every element of plot, they should be considered a failure if they don’t hint at the film’s vibe, the mood we’re in for when we seat ourselves in the theatre. The vibe suggested by the Men in Black 3 trailer is “business-as-usual summer blockbuster,” while the story is actually something else. This is a sequel with character and attitude, and that the trailer never tells us.
And that’s what the trailer for the Tamil film Attakathi tells us. I haven’t seen, this year, a trailer with more character, attitude, vibe. By its end, we know very little about the “story” of the film – just that it’s about a young man who cannot help falling in love with women, all kinds of women. The trailer strikes a pitch-perfect balance between showing us too little and leaving us with too much (and it’s set to a bouncy accordion score that buoys the spirit). There’s a bit of humour, a bit of sentiment, a bit of action, which is what we see in every film – but the oldness of content is superseded by newness of form. Here too, as with trailers from Hollywood, we are presented a procession of fast-cut images, but these images actually add up to something, and by the end (which contains a charming twist in the tale), that something is what makes us want to watch the film, bask in its vibe. We can only hope that the two-plus hour film lives up to these two minutes.
Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here.
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