The first Super Bowl I watched from beginning to end was in 1995 and, like most ‘Bowls, my team wasn’t playing. I was watching intently to catch the newest movie trailers, which Hollywood consistently unveils on Super Bowl Sunday, not only because it’s the highest profile time to air an ad on television but also because, really, for the amount of money it takes to put a one-minute spot on the air, the movie has gotta be good, right?
Before examining the best trailers that aired during the XLII (that’s 42nd) Super Bowl, here’s a recap of the best, most eye-catching ‘Bowl trailers from the past ten years.The Matrix (1999): Action movie trailers naturally come off best during a testosterone-fueled game of soccer (sorry, this is America- I mean, FOOTBALL! GRRR!). The brief but pitch-perfect spot for the mysterious-looking Keanu Reeves thriller kept the plot a secret (in fact, the tagline, “What is the Matrix?”, made not knowing the story part of the allure). Instead, we got a barrage of psychedelic action sequences, set to Enigma’s “The Eyes of Truth”. It proved absolutely stunning (so much more so than the other Warner Brothers ‘Bowl trailer for “Wild Wild West”, which premiered to groans during the same game). The teaser for “The Matrix” did everything right- it was quick, flush with eye-popping visuals and action, gave nothing away story-wise and rocked the football crowd with a shot of visceral adrenaline. Whoa, indeed.
Gladiator (2000): Four months before it hit theaters, Ridley Scott’s epic didn’t look like a sure thing. The quaint sword and sandals genre had been long retired, Russell Crowe was best known as “the guy from “L.A. Confidential”, Scott hadn’t had a hit in years, and the summer movie with the most buzz was “Mission: Impossible II”. The “Bowl teaser for “Gladiator” changed all that: it opened with an aerial shot of a stadium and compared the gladiatorial games of the past with sporting games of today. Brilliant. Right there, the movie sold its concept and the following montage of Crowe battling lions and masked warriors only sealed the deal. A year and two months later, Scott’s return to form won Best Picture.
The Devil’s Own/The Fifth Element/Men in Black (1997): Here’s something you never see anymore: a triple feature teaser trailer. Sony bought a chunk of time for quick but eye catching spots for their spring-to-summer line-up. The spot for the famously troubled “Devil’s Own” was underwhelming (a lot of Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford running around), and the amusing “M.I.B.” spot was fun but not through the roof great (if anything, it looked like another round of Will Smith blowing up aliens…just like he did the summer before!). It was the thrilling spot for “The Fifth Element” that stood out- dialogue free, it was a collage of images set to techno music. That’s all it needed. Weeks later, I was still having discussions with people about how the movie looked like tantalizing morsels of “Blade Runner”, “Dune”, “Dick Tracy” and “Star Wars” blended together. Until the ‘Bowl spot, the film had been shrouded in secrecy. After the teaser aired, it became an overnight must-see.
Hulk (2003): This controversial teaser for a still-controversial summer attraction gained both good and bad word of mouth, initiating the love-it-or-hate-it criticism of the movie that lasted the entire year. On one hand, the eagerly anticipated unveiling of the Green Giant lead many to note that the effects looked unfinished and the Hulk looked fake. On the other hand, the action packed trailer (set to Grand Theft Auto’s “We Luv U”) was awash in wild action (see Hulk toss that tank!) and made the movie look like what fans wanted: a wall-to-wall smash ‘em up extravaganza. When audiences showed up for a Freudian, slow, character-driven, action-lite and altogether weird Ang Lee art movie, it was the theater patrons who declared “You won’t like us when we’re angry!” and Hulked out on the movie.
Batman Begins (2005): The cast spoke for itself (Christian Bale! Michael Caine! Morgan Freeman! The Chick from “Dawson’s Creek”!), and the goodwill was pre-sold (no batsuit nipples? N
o problem! We’re there!). However, the ‘bowl trailer was a knockout. Once we got a peak at Bale and Freeman behind the wheel of the Batmobile (“Does it come in black?”), it was clear Chris Nolan’s reinvention of The Dark Knight was going to be off-the-scale awesome, which it was.
Minority Report (2002): An edgy spot for an unusual thriller; Tom Cruise smashes through a window, arrests a guy for a crime he didn’t commit YET, robo-spiders are stalking people and we get the Top Gun jumping from one magnetic car to another and FLYING! It looked weird and utterly cool, like a scary episode of “The Jetsons”.
War of the Worlds (2005): Speaking of Tom Cruise, this teaser did a lot by showing very little. Instead of showing the tri-pods, the aliens, or the death rays, we get a subtle set up: Cruise tells someone to get in the car, NOW, and drives away while something bad happens in the background as he drives away. Once again, Steven Spielberg sells his films by suggesting the selling points but showing you jack squat.
Now, for a graded (1-10 scale) look at this year’s big Super Bowl trailers.
Drillbit Taylor: Nothing that wasn’t in the theatrical trailer, but the spot fits the model of most ‘Bowl commercials: it was brief but funny, rude and full of contact violence. Score: 6
Wanted: Lots of improbable, CGI-enhanced action (see Lara Croft, I mean, Mrs. Smith narrowly miss getting decapitated by a train tunnel!). The cast, on the other hand, is great (Morgan Freeman, James Mcavoy and Angelina Jolie!) and it looks fun. Score: 7
Iron Man: Not much of Robert Downey Jr.’s rapid fire dialogue, but more seriously exciting action. Once again, we only see blink-and-you’ll-miss-them glimpses of Terrance Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges, but, unlike the prior trailer (which only previews the film’s first act), we get more of Downey Jr. in the suit, blowing stuff up. YEAH! Score: 9
Prince Caspian: More of the same (nothing here you didn’t see in the theatrical trailer) and really brief. Looks altogether better than “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”, with action galore, but over too quick to make a lasting impression. Score: 6
Leatherheads: Another case of, if you’ve seen the prior trailer, you saw a longer and better preview. Even though it capitalizes on the football angle, the movie looks like Coen Bros.-lite and a romantic triangle doesn’t feel right for the time slot. Score: 4
Semi-Pro: The initial trailer is more of the same. It gets yuks, but less than the average ‘Bowl ad. Score: 4
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan: It looks stupid, but the spot gets a cheap laugh or two. Score: 5
Wall-e: One of the longest trailers to air during this year’s game; hosted by Buzz Lightyear and Woody (Disney must’ve paid a fortune for Tim Allen and Tom Hanks to do this- even with the forthcoming “Toy Story 3”, its unlikely they do freebies!), we get an extended gag about the title robot and a bug. Its simple but cute and memorable. Score: 8
Jumper: More of the same eye-popping visuals that you’ve already seen in the longer trailer. The spot is ideal for the ‘Bowl, though it is mind boggling for reasons that have nothing to do with the plot: it stars Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson and Samuel L. Jackson, but the ONLY person involved in the film who gets noted is Doug Limon, but only as “the director of ‘The Bourne Identity’ and ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’”. Score: 6
Semi-Pro: Will Ferrall, in character, doing a failed Budweiser ad. Sure, Ferrall is doing the same cocky jerk routine he did in “Blades of Glory” and “Anchorman”, but the bit is hilarious; he blows all of his lines and improvises one hysterically inappropriate sound bite after another (my favorite: “Budweiser- Suck One!”). Not only do you get one of the funniest beer ads of the night (of which there were many) but the movie gets an almost unheard of second trailer to remind audiences a second time. If the movie makes $100 million (which it most probably will), this second ad is one of the culprits Score: 10
See you next year!