It’s summer movie season, which means distribs are scrambling to attach trailers for their big fall releases to maximum-exposure tentpoles. Amid all that long-distance hype drops a new extended trailer for “Elysium,” an August release with relatively little awareness, hoping to muscle up the anticipation factor with 197 seconds of stunning dystopian-future intrigue.
Though the MPAA caps trailers at 150 seconds, each studio is allowed one “overtime” exception a year, and TriStar has packed this one with the two ingredients most likely bring big audiences to a movie like “Elysium”: star power and sci-fi production value. An earlier, more streamlined trailer teased the film’s basic concept, establishing a caste system in the year 2154 where the privileged live on a giant space station called Elysium, while “the rest of us” are stuck on earth — which looks an awful lot like the shantytown director Neill Blomkamp orchestrated in his previous film, “District 9.”
Though full of impressive moments, this new promo follows the familiar tactic of boiling down a three-act film into roughly three minutes, hitting most of the major beats along the way, including tantalizing bits from the climax itself. This approach represents a less elegant solution than the previous trailer, which gave a better sense of the film’s tone while leaving more to the imagination, but it no doubt calms the studio’s nerves, expanding our sense of the world and emphasizing Matt Damon’s role in things.
It opens with a scene that allows Damon to crack a few jokes, assuring auds that we’ll like the character he plays. But it’s a bit too heavy on key plot points, revealing, among other things, the reason his terminally-ill character must travel from Earth to Elysium, where disease has been eradicated. We also learn that while Jodie Foster represents Damon’s rival, most of the physical conflict will come via robots and a character named Kruger (“District 9’s” Sharlto Copley, virtually unrecognizable).
A decade ago, men with clipboards would go to shopping malls and test which moments from upcoming movies resonated most with randomly selected moviegoers, using the data to dictate the footage that should be featured in trailers. This extended “Elysium” trailer represents the latest iteration, where split-second glimpses of the film’s most potent shots are stacked one after the other, but reduced to almost-subliminal length.
Back in the day, Roger Ebert repeatedly opined, “Trailers use exactly the same principle as supermarket demonstrations that supply a sample of cheese on a toothpick. Once you eat it, you know exactly how the cheese will taste. All you lack is having eaten the whole cheese.” With nearly all the visual effects done by now, the studio wants you to know exactly how big the scope of Blomkamp’s vision is, but they’ve shaved the cheese squares down to the smallest possible size, offering up a trailer packed with power-images that runs a minute longer than most, yet still leaves you hungry to sample the main attraction.