The Curse of the Misleading Trailer

How many times have you seen a really good movie trailer, only to be let down by the actual movie?

The problem is that the purpose of a movie’s trailer is to sell the audience on the movie. It is not necessarily intended to accurately represent the movie.

This can be a problem because it can affect what you actually think of the movie itself. It’s really too bad when the trailer kills the movie, but in some cases it’s hard to think of how it could have turned out otherwise.

Take, for example, three recent would-be swords-and-sandals epics. The movies I’m going to be talking about to illustrate this point are Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur, Ridley Scott’s 2010 Robin Hood, and Brett Ratner’s 2014 Hercules.

Let’s start at the beginning. Fuqua’s King Arthur has virtually nothing to do with the legend of King Arthur as most people are familiar with it. There is no sword in the stone, no quest for the Holy Grail, no love story between Lancelot and Guinevere, no Morgan le Fay, no Mordred, none of that.

king arthur psotre

This isn’t automatically a problem, mind you. I don’t mind people putting a new spin on a familiar story. The problem with all three of these films is that their trailers and titles all promise things that the movies themselves fail to deliver, even though the movies aren’t necessarily all that bad (another good title for this post would have been The Curse of the Misleading Title, but I thought The Curse of the Misleading Trailer had a better ring to it).

When you hear the phrase “King Arthur,” what are some of the first things you think of? Chances are they include some of the things I mentioned above. It’s somewhat galling that a movie called King Arthur has almost nothing to do with the King Arthur stories that most people are familiar with. I don’t even think Arthur is a king for most of the movie. Merlin is just some forest wizard who does almost nothing, Lancelot freaking dies at the end of the movie and has almost no relationship with Guinevere, the list goes on and on.

The thing is that Fuqua’s film isn’t necessarily all that bad, but it most certainly does not live up to its title. Maybe it would be slightly easier to take if it had been called something different, but this leads to my second point: what the hell else were the filmmakers supposed to call it? It’s a swords-and-sandals epic about a dude named Arthur and his pals, some of whom just so happen to be named Lancelot, Guinevere, Merlin, Galahad, and so on. So sure, call the movie King Arthur and that ought to put asses in seats. The obvious problem is that you’re setting yourself up for a fall when you (rather brazenly, in the case of King Arthur, since the movie claims to be a true story and, you know, isn’t) don’t deliver on the audience’s expectations.

The same holds true for Ridley Scott’s 2010 version of Robin Hood. When you hear “Robin Hood,” what do you think of? Robbing the rich to give to the poor, duh. Guess how much of that there is in Scott’s film? Yep, you guessed it: virtually none.

robin hood psotre

Instead, the movie is an origin story, telling how Robin, Marion, Little John, etc. all came to be living in Sherwood Forest and hunted by famous douchebag King John. The original script of Scott’s film actually began with the title Nottingham, and portrayed a more sympathetic Sheriff of Nottingham as the main protagonist. From what I’ve read about it, the script portrayed the Sheriff of Nottingham as a CSI-style forensics investigator, torn between his duty to serve the king (who was corrupt) and his sympathies for the outlaw he was supposed to catch.

I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds like a hell of a good movie right there. Unfortunately, Ridley Scott himself apparently didn’t think so, and filming was delayed while the script was rewritten. It’s really too bad, because the resulting film’s story, while not terrible, is nowhere near as interesting.

Again, I wouldn’t call it a bad film, but it most certainly does not live up to the expectations its title and marketing suggest. But again, what else would (or should) the film have been called? Calling the film Robin Hood should put some asses in seats, but it’s hard to blame the people those asses belong to for leaving the theater unsatisfied.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? You should, because it continues with Brett Ratner’s Dwayne Johnson-starring Hercules, which was released last year.

Brett Ratner is kind of a sleaze (I mean, he does have the word “rat” in his name), who has one of the most punchable faces I’ve ever seen. I mean, look at this face. Don’t you just want to punch it after looking at it for more than two seconds?

the most punchable face in the universe

Gah, so punchable. I feel kind of bad for saying that I liked his film more than the previous two, (and it feels especially weird saying that I liked a Brett Ratner film more than a Ridley Scott film, that’s not something I ever thought I would find myself saying), but it’s true. Fuqua’s King Arthur and Scott’s Robin Hood are both so relentlessly dour (not to mention overlong) that, while I still don’t think they’re terrible, they aren’t always very much fun. Ratner’s film, at least, is more consistently entertaining. As Alfred so wisely told Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, “Who knows? If you start pretending to have fun, you might even have a little by accident.”

So, here comes the first inevitable question. When I say “Hercules,” what do you think of? You probably think of the twelve labors, gods and monsters, that sort of thing. And here’s the second inevitable question: how much of these elements do you think Ratner’s film has? If you were to say “not very much,” then congratulations, you’re right.

Ratner’s Hercules is basically a mercenary with really good PR. He’s the guy who does all the hard jobs that no one else will do (although he doesn’t do them by himself, he’s the guy who gets all the credit for it), and he has a really good PR guy who spins tales of his legendary deeds.

hercules psotre

He becomes involved in a plot by a couple of douchey kings played by John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes, and the movie portrays him as a character separated from magic and mysticism. The whole point of the movie is that all of the things that people think of as being magical (centaurs, the hydra, and the like) turn out to be nothing but people (or just really mean animals, such as the Nemean Lion).

I kind of like this approach, to be honest. I love the idea of events becoming legends (such as in The Road Warrior) and Ratner’s Hercules taps into this. Not as well as The Road Warrior obviously, but the ideas are certainly there. The main problem with Hercules was the trailer, which hyped up the twelve labors of Hercules (such as the hydra and the Nemean Lion), and made it seem as if that was what the whole movie would be about.

But in the actual movie, all of those big trailer moments (the lion lunging at Hercules, chopping the heads off the Hydra) happen in the first five minutes, and are later revealed to not have been everything they were cracked up to be.

I feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but can you blame the people who may have left the theater unsatisfied? Not really. How else could the movie have been marketed? What else could it have been called? I dunno. The whole situation is a bit of a Catch-22.

It’s not that surprising that movie marketing is frequently misleading, advertisements are misleading all the time. There’s always a relationship between the consumer’s expectations of a product and the ability of that product to deliver on those expectations, and sometimes it skews dramatically one way or the other. Generally, when a product doesn’t do what it says it will do, it’s a bad product.

But it’s different with movies. A movie can maybe not fulfill all of your expectations, and yet you may still end up liking it to some degree. Such was the case for me, with all three of the films I’ve mentioned here.

So the next time you see a movie that wasn’t quite what you expected it to be, maybe try asking yourself: Okay, what did the movie do that I liked? Were there things about it that were really good that I wasn’t expecting?

I love movies, and I want other people to love them too. I guess that if there’s one thing writing this post has made clear to me, it’s that there is more than one way to like something, not just movies. So I guess what I’m saying is, try keeping an open mind and who knows, you just might end up surprising yourself.


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