The Hangover Trailer: A close reading


Name: The Hangover
Year: 2009
Length: 2 minutes 26 seconds

The Hangover, despite its overall box office success, actually had a better second and third weekend (bringing in over $100MM collectively) than its $44MM opening. This suggests that much of the film’s success can be attributed to word of mouth as opposed to traditional marketing. This is underlined by the studio’s second round of TV spots highlighting reviews and viewer commentary. But it also suggests that the trailer didn’t do as well as it might have done selling the film to a larger demographic, regardless of crude humor and the ‘R’ rating.

The trailer is constructed in traditional three act fashion. First, setting the stage: four friends go to Vegas for a bachelor party. Second, presenting the dilemma: the friends don’t remembering the previous night or can’t find one of their number. Third, resolution: will they be able to find their missing friend and make it back in time for the wedding?

The first act introduces us to the main characters and the premise of the story and ends after only 40 seconds with the ironic dialogue, “To a night we’ll never forget”. The music in the first act utilizes TI and Rihanna’s “So live your life” a typical club/ party song that one might expect in this type of movie. Everything from the mild pacing of the editing to the tameness of the scenes shown conveys that the film is about four friends taking a trip together.

Act two begins with a hazy POV shot of the characters waking up, having forgotten everything that happened the previous night. We quickly realize that this is a comedy, not a coming of age story. And not just any comedy– a raunchy slap-stick comedy reliant on crude, brash humor, profanity, violence and nudity. The music – like the main character’s memories – completely disappears for the transition into the second act until The Butthole Surfer’s “Pepper” begins playing over character dialogue.

The choice of music for this section of the trailer is interesting but appropriate: a mysterious song that corresponds to the mystery of the previous evening. As the characters discover clues about what took place, story information is presented in chronological order, allowing the audience to learn what’s happened as the characters do.

The first copy card appears about half way through the second act: “From the director of ROAD TRIP.” This might not have been the best way to sell the film since Road Trip was only popular with a young teenage crowd. No cast run is used, since none of the actors – apart from Bradley Cooper – had any star power. (Perhaps highlighting Bradley Cooper– known for “Wedding Crashers” and “How to lose a guy in 10 days”– to appeal to a female demographic makes more sense than aiming for a younger male audience with a story about 30 somethings on a road trip.)

As the mystery unfolds, the atmospheric music of “Pepper” cuts out and is replaced by an underlying generic rock sound track – a choice that avoids distracting from the scenes with lyrics and recognizable music. The pacing quickens only slightly from the first act, despite the complete change of tone. Act two is built on fragments of scenes and dialogue that convey humor and story info, concluding in a bombardment of shots, glimpses of the chaos and confusion of the night before.

Interlaced with this accelerating montage of images we get two more pieces of neon lettered copy: “It was the night of their lives” followed shortly by “If only they could remember”. This underscores the premise of the story and though it might not have been strictly necessary, it offers a break from the visual onslaught and gives the audience a moment to digest what’s going on.

A sudden pause in the music takes us into the third act where we really get a glimpse into their dilemma: they are missing the “bachelor” who is supposed to get married in 5 hours. This explains the sense of urgency about their need to piece together what happened the previous night, but it’s information that might have been better presented in the beginning of the trailer to establish the stakes and engage audiences.

The final act transitions from chaotic shots and images to a vital exchange of dialogue: “We’re getting married in 5 hours!” says the bachelor’s anxious fiancee followed by Cooper’s reply: “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” Another rapid display of images capped by Stu the dentist screaming “What is going on?!” as if asking the same question on every audience member’s mind. It finally ends on a scene of Mike Tyson as himself. It’s a great closing, because it’s quirky, inexplicable and engaging.

Although the trailer eventually shows just how broad the film’s humor is and that it’s not just another teen flick, the first act might have conveyed this earlier and more clearly. I also think the film would have been better served by highlighting Bradley Cooper (mentioning his name instead of the director’s.) By selling the film as they did, the marketers limited the film’s appeal. Happily, it broadened, once word of mouth took over. Otherwise, the trailer maintains a nice balance between teasing and revealing, while capturing its chaotic humor and appealing to audience curiosity.

Michael Malenitza is an MBA candidate (’13) at UCLA Anderson School of management pursuing a certificate in media and entertainment. He received his undergraduate degree from Chapman University with a double major in Film Production and Japanese. Shortly after completing his education at Chapman, Michael co-founded an independent film company focused on producing content from emerging talent in Asia. His most recent project is a film called Possession which won the audience award at the Newport Beach Film Festival.]

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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