Sunday, February 15, 2009

RA's critique of the week

Ken's entry

I thought Ken started off the week on a solid note. It seems to me that for a fake movie trailer for an old TV show to be funny (not necessarily indicative of a good movie) it needs to have a stark tonal shift from the source material. The source material should also be something with which the audience is very familiar. E.g. NYPD Blue turned into a frathouse movie or Starsky and Hutch as a gay romcom.1 His Tarantino meets Tootie succeeded on both fronts, taking a well-known and recognizable little romp and flipping it on its head into a darkly comic shoot em up.

One area where I feel Ken didn't succeed was including Tarantino's heavy use of popculture references, both in dialog and in shot selection. We're all working on short deadlines when we write these sketches, so I suspect another day or two would have made a big difference. Especially with a show like this, I think a few winks and nods toward George Clooney, or the difficulties the Different Strokes kids have had as adults would really kick this up a bit.

RA's entry

I succeeded in what I set out to do, though I could also have used another day or two to polish. As I said above, but applying a tonal shift to a well known property, I get a lot of humor based on the audience's inverted expectations. Added to that, the genre I picked - blaxploitation flicks - lends itself to parody. In a genre where many of the foundational entries were nearly self-parodic, it's hard not to get some easy laughs. Like Ken's, mine feels basically like a trailer, though we both wrote ours in mostly chronological order. A few more cuts, a little less narrative arc, and I think I'd have been closer to the feel of a trailer.

But more than pulling the scenes out of strict chronological order, I needed to watch a bunch of genre trailers and work on the dialog for the characters and especially the narrator. It's vaguely close, but not right by any means. Watching those would also have given me a better idea for what to do with those spray painted titles, though I got pretty close with those.

Peter's entry

I like Peter's entry quite a lot, but I don't find it very funny. Where it fails for me is taking a light actioner and turning it into an action-thriller. It just didn't change enough to have any inherit humor, leaving it up to Peter to write a lot of funny bits. But because it's now an action-thriller, there's not much funny there.

Of all the entries, his feels the most like a modern movie trailer. It does suffer a bit from chronological scene ordering, but gets away with it better because the underlying film jumps around in time.

I'd definitely be interested in seeing this film - a strong antagonist for Sam is what QL always lacked - but I wouldn't expect it to be a comedy based on this trailer.

David W's entry

David admitted to having some trouble with this topic and it didn't help that we changed it late in the week leading up to the battle so he only had a couple of days to work on it. This sketch feels very little like a trailer. It plays out more like the opening scene for the movie. It also doesn't have a consistent tone. At times, I think this is going to be a light-thriller, like E.T., where nefarious forces find out about Ed and come looking for him. At other times, it feels like a straight up family comedy, in line with the original show. Because the sketch isn't clear what it wants to be, I'm not clear how I should take it.

Criticisms aside, there are a few chuckles on display. It's juvenile, but the poison gas bit is cute, as is the "now you've stepped in it" line. However, it's these very chuckles that make this out to be a family comedy in the Beethoven age group.

Michael's entry

Michael also wrote something that plays out more like a single scene from the movie than a traditional trailer. I think he manages to balance his two genres well, though. Keeping the voices of his characters true to the originals but moving them into a horror film works *because* of Wes Craven.2 His Scream series pushed the light horror genre into the mainstream, making a horror film where Woody's making dumb comments about Occam's Razor feel perfectly natural. The humor in this sketch comes from the character interactions and very little from the setting. It could as easily have been a Halloween episode of Cheers instead of the trailer for a film.

I think I would have liked this one a bit better if it had hewed to the conventions of trailers a bit more, at least by cutting together more scenes. Nonetheless, I think it's a funny one.

Dave's entry

If I were ranking the sketches, Dave's would have come in first by a large margin. Now, *technically* he cheated the topic a little bit. Entertainment Tonight isn't exactly the type of TV show one would ever expect to see as a film, but it obeys the letter of the law. Beyond that, it is *funny*. By twisting the genre completely - turning ET into an All the President's Men look into an Oscar conspiracy - Dave really pulled me in. At the same time I'm laughing, I'm thinking this might be a *good* movie. Silly, maybe, but he's not taking it that way.

Dave's also feels the most like a modern trailer. From the very opening to the final shot, the cuts scenes tell the story without *spoiling* the story. A really fine example of the form.

RA's bonus entry

Ken and I had both been toying with second ideas during the week, his a full sketch and mine just a teaser. He actually posted his first, but I scheduled mine to run a few hours earlier so his would be top of the blog until the wrapup.

There isn't much to mine, but I think I perfectly nailed what I was looking for. In fact, when Ken commented that he heard Danny Elfman playing while reading it, I knew I'd hit my target. This should feel like a cross between Tim Burton and Barry Sonnenfeld, and an Elfman score would fit it perfectly. What the movie is? I don't know or care. But the teaser came to me fully formed.

I think it works because, well, there isn't much there. The movie's tone was hopefully obvious from the description of the camera work and the final weirdness of the maze spelling out the title of the movie. Once the tone wass set and the title delivered, my job was done.

Ken's bonus entry

There is nothing not funny about a title mashup. This sketch works not because it defies genre conventions, but because it pairs two incompatible genres. The silliness of Chico and the Man dropped into the thriller world of Manimal succeeds on its fish out of water strength.3 The sketch feels like a trailer, and because it doesn't attempt to go from film's start to its end, it doesn't even feel as chronologically bound as most of our other trailers this week.

In some ways, I think Ken's bonus entry is better than his first entry.

1. See how a funny trailer can be a NOT funny movie. Each comedy idea has an ideal length, something the writers of SNL have *still* never learned. Week in and week out they stretch two-minute ideas into five-minute sketches. Likewise the atrocious S&H movie. Funny for a trailer, not two hours.
2. To a lesser extent it also works because of George Wendt and John Ratzenberger. I don't know if Michael has ever seen House or House II: The Second Story, but they were horror films from '86 and '87. The first starred William Katt and Wendt. It was slightly light horror. The second starred Arye Gross and featured Ratzenberger and was *extremely* light horror. I actually recommend them both as easy-going fun.
3. Yes, I know. Manimal is silly too, but it wasn't *intended* to be silly. If we accept Manimal on its terms, it is a light actioner more in line with Knight Rider than a self-parody. With a modern SFX budget, I think a big screen Manimal could actually hit its target, making Chico's presence very out of place and therefore funny.


hujhax said...

Good points re the Quantum Leap thing, and it pretty much agrees with my assessment of the trailer.  (I got about halfway into writing it and realized, "Oops, I guess this won't be funny.")  I hadn't thought about the 'chronological scene order' criticism, though -- interesting point, that....