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Friday, May 19, 2006

"The world saw evil that day"

The trailer for Oliver Stone's upcoming movie, World Trade Center, is now in theatres and available online here.

The Althouses, mother and son, are unimpressed.

I'm not blown away, but I don't think it's as bad as they make it out to be. First of all, it's a trailer, not a film, so bashing Oliver Stone seems a bit premature. Yes, the trailer itself is a bit "maudlin," as Mama Althouse says, and yes, the music is overly schmalzy, as Chris Althouse notes, but to go from that to ouright derision is a little much, no? Chris in particular wants you to know that he's too sophisticated to fall for all the little Hollywood tricks:
Soft, pretty little piano chords play over images of the sun rising--the morning of September 11th. Yes, we know that it was a nice day before the attacks started. An American flag hanging out an apartment building feels anachronistic, given that this is the pre-9/11 world we're seeing.
Oooooookay. "Yes, we know that it was a nice day before the attacks started"? A snarky comment about a shot of the sun rising in the morning? Are you kidding me? And, um, people did hang American flags in the "pre-9/11 world," as unfashionable as that may seem to the tragically hip.
Cage gives a morning roll call speech to some in the NY police department. "The color for the day is green," he says. The color for the day is green? Please tell me the NYPD does not really begin their work day with their "color for the day." I'm sorry, I thought this was the police department, not kindergarten. When's nap time, by the way? If there's some inside meaning to that phrase that I'm not aware of, please let me know.
NYPD's color for the day refers to a method of recognizing undercover police officers. It's an odd line for the trailer, but that doesn't excuse showing your ignorance by talking about kindergarten and nap time. It's not that there's any reason Chris should have know this, it's the tone of superiority he takes that's irksome.
A surprisingly fake-looking shadow of one of the planes passes over a New York building, juxtaposed in the same shot with a nearby billboard for Zoolander--starring Ben Stiller. I suppose the billboard is supposed to remind you of what was happening back in 2001, in order to give you a cultural frame of reference. Good thing that's there; it really helps me place myself back in that former, 2001 world.
Is it me, or are we just looking for reasons to make fun of the trailer now?

Professor Althouse goes one better, giving us a complete analysis of Stone's mindset:
I believe that in this case "maudlin and sentimental" is an expression of Stone's low opinion of the intelligence and sensibility of Americans. He's talking down to us and thinks 9/11 has turned us into simple-minded sentimentalists. He may also have that attitude that Americans were admirable right after 9/11, in the immediate pain of the events, when we concentrated on grief and helping victims, but that we subsequently lost our way (by fighting back). The sentimentalism thus essentially expresses opposition to the war on terrorism.
Once again, I merely point out that this is a trailer! Why not wait to see the film before you say things like Stone is "talking down to us" and that he's expressing "opposition to the war on terrorism?" He may well be doing both of those things, but making that call based on a two minute edited clip is silly.

I'm not defending the film here: how could I, when I haven't seen it? But that's the whole point, isn't it? World Trade Center may turn out to be everything that the Althouses say, but as the saying goes, you can't judge a film by its trailer.

What strikes me the most is a line of text at the end of the trailer: "The world saw evil that day." I'm shocked at the lack of nuance here: calling something "evil" is reflective of a simple-minded notion of the world, an unfortunate tendency to view things in black and white. What about root causes? What about America's imperialistic and hegemonistic foreign policy? Saying we saw "evil that day" sounds like, oh, I don't know, something George Bush would say! The horror...the horror.

Blogger John said...

Would you find any nuance in the follow up to that. Doesn't it leave you wondering when it says..The "World" saw evil...but two men saw something else? What is the "something else" that they saw? That one left me kind of leery. However, I've got folks telling me that the film stays away from politics and focuses on the human side of the story.

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

Interesting. I didn't take the "two men saw something else" line that way. I took it to refer to their overall experience, along with the courage of their rescuers. That seems in line with the story, at least as portrayed in the trailer...

Blogger John said...

After watching it again I think you are right. Can you still see the light they say.

Blogger Christopher Althouse said...

Interesting that the one and only complaint you have about the trailer is that it refers to the attacks on 9/11 as "evil." Incidentally, I think anyone who isn't a moron is too sophistated to fall for the "tricks" of this preview.

As for the whole color issue, I go into that in an update on my post. Basically, I simulblogged my immediate reactions to everything in the trailer, and most people's reaction to that part of it was the same as mine. This is advertising, after all, so the immediate response it stimulates is on some level the most important to the preview. Frankly, I still find it hard to believe people in the NYPD phrase it like that, and I think Oliver Stone used it in a way that had a sentimental, and nauseating, double-meaning.

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

Um, Chris? My "complaint" about referring to the attacks as evil was sarcastic.

Blogger Christopher Althouse said...

Okay, that's good. I don't regularly read your blog, so I wouldn't know.

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

Fair enough. Only a select few possess the gnosis to read me regularly.


And as far as you thinking that that was my only complaint, that's not necessarily true. I just don't think it's fair to judge a complete film based on its trailer. I've seen many great looking trailers for awful films, and vice versa.

And I agree with you that the use of the "color is green" line in the trailer is misleading (it'll be interesting if it gets a little more context in the film) - it sounds like everything was "all clear" until the planes hit. I just think you shouldn't have gone after it as heavily as you did without knowing what it actually means. Just my opinion, tho, and again, it's easy to see why someone would think it had a different meaning.

Blogger Christopher Althouse said...

I will admit that two of the least appealing trailers I've ever seen, both of which made me think they would be terrible--Boogie Nights and Freaky Friday--ended up being for excellent movies. That will not happen in this case, though.

Blogger Ann Althouse said...

"you can't judge a film by its trailer"

Well, you can review the trailer by the trailer, which is what I (and Chris) were doing. I think you're entitled, as well, to decide whether to see the movie based on the trailer. That's what it's there for. They're trying to lure you in, and turnabout is fair play. You can say when you're repelled. I stand by my opinions.

As to "the world saw evil," the follow up line is what matters. Movie trailers are always contrasting "the world" with the individual protagonist(s). In that rhetoric, it's quite clear that what the individuals see is the correct perception. The world was blinded by big ideology, but the individuals knew that life is about individual relationships.

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...


Of course you're entitled to decide whether you're going to see a movie based on its trailer - as you say, that's what it's there for.

My quibble with you (and I only quibble out of respect!) is that you extrapolate Stone's "message" from a two-minute edited clip that he may not have even put together himself. (Given his stature, he probably did, or at least had final cut, but you never know: Warner's could've been so leery of letting him direct a 9/11 film that they put it in his contract that they would have control over all marketing.)

I actually suspect you're not far off the mark in what you think Stone believes, but again, ultimately I think you have to wait for the film to make a final determination.

As for the tag lines, I completely disagree with you. My take is that they're saying that as the world was witnessing evil, these two men were experiencing something else, whether that's their own courage, the courage of those rescuing them, the will to live, the importance of individual relationships or whatever. I don't think the second line negates the first one in any way. If anything, for me it sets up a contrast between the evil actions of the terrorists and the courageous (or whatever) actions of the two men. But that may just be because that's where my mind is. And, again, the film itself may prove you right.


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