It takes a significant period of time spent looking at trailers before you notice the most fundamental thing about them: “Is this a good trailer?” is a completely different question from “Does this trailer persuade me that this will be a good movie?” Commentary on trailers is often met with the objection that it’s impossible to know from a two-plus-minute trailer whether a movie will be good, followed by the counter-objection that when you see a two-plus-minute trailer, you’re within your rights to react to it for what it is — a piece of the marketing campaign, but also a piece of work in and of itself. Remember the “Creep” trailer for The Social Network? It would be absurd to deny that it’s a creative work beyond the film. The same goes for the early Les Miserables trailer that got accomplished technical singers tut-tutting, but got the conversation underway by being willing to stand on Anne Hathaway’s voice, the song that’s become the best-known of the show among mass audiences (you can complain about Susan Boyle all you like, but that happened, and just that one version of the YouTube video has been watched 109 million times), and some very simple images.
Certainly, the purpose of a good trailer is to make people want to see the movie, and that’s a strategy that continues to work despite the fact that we’ve all seen trailers that are massively better than the movies they advertise. I don’t know that any trailers have ever grabbed me like the ones for Twister, a movie that proceeded to strike me as only okay.
So that is what brings us to the trailer for World War Z, the upcoming zombie epidemic drama originally scheduled to come out this month but now planned for next summer. Based on Max Brooks’ 2006 horror novel, the film puts the focus on a U.N. worker, played by Brad Pitt, who joins the fight against the zombies. (Who, quite frankly, you can’t exactly tell are zombies here.) The question with any trailer for an action film is this: Can it do better than just assembling its best and biggest and most expensive effects shots and putting them over thumping music?
The thumping music, to be sure, is here. But the first 30 seconds of the trailer chronicle the painful death knell of normalcy and unwind as slowly as a trailer can possibly afford, I think. While what follows does include a lot of helicopters and explosions and shooting, it also includes a few very unsettling zombie-horde images (the one at 2:10 is a real creeper, for me).
This is not my favorite incarnation of Brad Pitt — as I said years ago, I prefer Weird Brad Pitt to all the other Brad Pitts, including Action Brad Pitt. Nevertheless, while I’m not at all sure I will enjoy the film, the trailer is a very well made, gripping piece, and manages in a short time to be pretty legitimately unsettling.