Don't Believe the Summer Movie Trailers

A new preview for Man of Steel relieved fears that Zack Snyder was going to screw up Superman, reminding us that previews aren't movies, and open minds make for better summers. Today's lesson? The Lone Ranger and The Great Gatsby might not suck either, at least according to people who have seen more than two minutes of them.

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At some point late last Tuesday, there was a collective sigh of relief among those who anticipate big summer movies based on their big summer trailers — which is to say, a lot of us, what with the parsing and hyping and revealing of movie previews these days. You see, Warner Bros. had released its rebooted trailer for its rebooted Superman franchise, and damn did Man of Steel suddenly look good. A lot of us had worried from the first round of trailers that director Zack Snyder was going to screw this one up, and of course he still might, but still: Here's a fresh reminder as we approach blockbuster season that previews aren't movies, and open minds make for better summers. Today's lesson? The Lone Ranger and The Great Gatsby might not suck either.

Let's take The Lone Ranger. Based on what we've seen from multiple trailers since Super Bowl Sunday, we've been down on on Gore Verbinski's $250 million adaptation of the classic TV characters, what with its seemingly endless train sequences and queasy racial politics. And a new trailer last week didn't do much to raise our hopes—you know, more trains, more Johnny Depp as Tonto in full stereotype mode. But coming out of CinemaCon last week, one exhibitor transformed from iffy to impressed based on, you know, actual footage from the movie. On Thursday, Drew Taylor of Indiewire's The Playlist gave us reason to hope following a special presentation of 20 minutes of footage. Prepare to get excited again:

This looks like Verbinski at the top of his game – full of quirky tics and grand visual embroidery. And for those worried about the trailer's uneasy mix of humor and action, fear not - the two work beautifully here. The gags are funny without every being too much (when Dan asks Tonto what his crime is, he stoically answers: "Indian"). The audience was really loving it, too, and from what we understand from people who have seen it, is that it's just as much breathless fun as Verbinski and Bruckheimer's original "Pirates of the Caribbean" was. It's enough to put our fears to rest – "The Lone Ranger" seems like the real deal, and just as much of a potential heavy hitter as anyone wearing a cape or tights this summer.

So, apparently, The Lone Ranger is a movie that is as much about the chemistry between its two lead performers, Depp and Armie Hammer, as it is a freight train of visual wizardry. And, sure, we got some hints of that in last week's trailer, but it's more explicit than that. Because everything is more explicit when you give a movie 20 minutes instead of two. Just think about the possibilites when you've got two hours and some heavy air conditioning.

Because let's remember that movie trailers, even now that they're on a stage of their own, can be deceiving. They are made to get people in the theater, no matter what that takes. Consider the most recent trailer for The Bling Ring, which features Emma Watson predominantly. Then consider the reality:

Indeed, the Hollywood preview factory is an increasingly particular one—always has been. Matt Brubaker, an executive at the leading agency Trailer Park, told that the "best scenes" often make the commercial cut "because our job is to get people interested in the movie, to go to the theater. Whatever the best combination of story, humor, graphics, music, or whatever that gets you to the theater, that's what we're going to do." And things have changed, Brubaker says: "Filmmakers are keenly aware of how trailers are scrutinized. The reactions to when a trailer launches — studios are very aware and reactive." And Brubaker should know, he and his team, for instance, worked on The Great Gatsby. 

Which brings us to the folks in West Egg. Gatsby is a film that has been hyped, then delayed, then hyped again this year with a wave of promotional material that has prompted a wave of emotions: It's F. Scott Fitzgerald, it's in 3D, its soundtrack is produced by Jay-Z, and Baz Luhrmann's last feature, Australia, flopped. And those much green light, Baz. But that's the thing: the trailers aren't all Baz, and there is obviously a confidence lurking behind this film as it heads to theaters on May 10. That it's opening the Cannes film festival next month after its North American theatrical opening—that's a risk, but it also means that producers and the studio think Baz really has something. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Warners seems genuinely convinced it has something special on its hands. Early tracking bodes well, and if the film fulfills its promise it will remind audiences just how unique Luhrmann is in today's film world."

At this point we basically know what we're getting with Gatsby, but the jury's still out as to whether it all fits together. And we're at peace with that. Now let's go to the movies. Summer is coming.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.