Sounding Off: The (Sometimes) Misleading Nature of Music in Film Trailers
Trailers are a fantastic way to get an audience excited or intrigued about an upcoming film release. I used to love watching trailers and would frequently go online to view them in handfuls at the beginning of each month. This led me to some movies that I ended up enjoying as much as I thought I would, but it also tricked me into seeing some movies that I did not end up liking at all.
Obviously the goal of a trailer is to paint the film in the best light possible – whether that means pulling together only the funniest clips, most heartfelt speeches and charming moments, or picking a certain song that will grab people’s attention upon hearing it alone. This latter move is what irks me the most about film trailers and its manipulative use of music. Time and time again a song that people fall in love with as it relates to the film’s trailer does not end up in the film (see: Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” from the WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE trailer or Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” from the WINNIE THE POOH trailer). In instances such as the Keane song, its use gives a very distinct impression of the tone of the film and had audiences going to see WINNIE with tissues boxes clutched firmly in hand only to find that it was simply a joyful trip to the Hundred Acre Wood.
Having had the opportunity to attend a few film festivals this year, I was able to watch a good number of films that are now getting wide release. However, having already seen many of these films and now watching their trailers, it is becoming increasingly clear how misleading trailers can be and how much music can play a part in that. Case in point, the trailer for THE ART OF GETTING BY (formerly HOMEWORK) makes the film seem like a quirky little indie coming of age story, and the use of the song “Second Chance” by Peter Bjorn and John is what really drives this impression home. I saw this movie, I did not enjoy this movie, and yet, this trailer almost makes me forget all that. At the same time, the trailer for another Sundance film, LIKE CRAZY, uses Ingrid Michaelson’s version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” that nearly drowns out the mumbly dialogue and practically made me lose interest in the film. One that I have seen, and enjoyed!
Obviously, a film’s trailer is a huge part of its marketing and regardless of what impression it gives, the goal is to get people into the theater to see the film. It becomes frustrating not only when you know a trailer is misleading, but as an audience member who pays to see a film that turns out to not exactly be what they were expecting. When THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE was released on the big screen, I was excited as I had enjoyed the book and was relieved when the trailer (featuring Lifehouse’s “Broken”) seemed to hit the emotional marks the book had. But then I saw the film, and it did not move me the way I had anticipated it would. I kept waiting for that emotional climax the trailer had given me, but (as is often the case) did not hear that song again until the film's credits.
We all know how important and how much of an impact music can play within a film, but that effect is almost more powerful in a film’s trailer as it is condensed and a single song can almost become a character in itself. But what happens when that song makes for a great trailer, but does not necessarily paint an accurate picture of the film? As an audience, we use trailers to help us decide what films we would be interested in seeing and as filmmakers, want the trailer to give a good impression of the creative vision of your work. Yes – someone watching television will probably look up when they hear Florence and the Machine over a WATER FOR ELEPHANTS spot more than if the spot used a track from the film’s composer (James Newton Howard), but it seems slightly disingenuous to use a current artist to promote a period piece.
Of course, film and music are all subjective mediums and a song that may catch one person’s attention would not work for someone else, but I begin to worry when it seems trailers are working to simply grab attention and not accurately promote what a film is truly about. Music can be the final magic touch to a film and it is disheartening when it is used to trick rather than entice.
Does the use of certain songs in a trailer affect your view of a film? Are you disappointed when a song used in a trailer does not end up in the actual film?