I was in the theater to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, when, prior to the movie trailers, the product “trailers” screen. I resisted the seductions of sound, image, sound and story for just long enough to register that the Chevrolet Stingray 2014 (the new Corvette) 1:33 commercial and the trailer for the Coca Cola Polar Bears’ Movie were performing virtuoso feats of advertising, positioning and awareness. Madison Avenue has taken a page from the Hollywood Dream Merchants.
In this post, I consider the trailer component of the expensive and expansive campaign for the gorgeous (and oddly affordable) American legacy supercar. While the decision to sell an automobile with a commercial that looks as if it were advertising a movie is not unprecedented, it is notable rare. Ordinarily, the situations, characters and conflicts of a commercial for a non-media product terminate with the realization of the concept, the pitch, the gag or the anticipated emotion. While they may be episodic and complex, commercials are not typically narrative, with its implication of plotting, coherence and a meaningful organization of events into a story, but rather scenic and anecdotal.
Given that story telling has recently been (re)discovered by artists, marketers, politicians and branders as the royal road to engagement and persuasion, it is not surprising to find an imaginary film narrative mobilized to promote and sell an exemplary object of masculine consumer desire–a Corvette in this case, the sine qua non of American car fetishism). But in this latest instance of the current mania for narrativizing everything, I see not only smart marketing, but something symptomatic and compensatory about oue zeitgeist. The occasion also provides an oblique angle on trailer theory and practice, given the non-media product and the different relationships that obtains among audience, consumer and advertisement.
In this 93 second trailer, the following frame narrative is presented. In the moments, however, all is revealed to be a dream sequence. Nevertheless, there is a revealing persistence of characters and objects and desires between the waking and the dream state; the day’s residue has infiltrated the dream engine of unconsciousness.
As the trailer opens, an airplane in the shape of a Stingray (similar to the Stealth bomber) flies over and through an urban landscape at night (LA, presumably, given the appearance of the Library Tower), hunting an attractive young man (and audience surrogate) who flees on foot. Sheltering in a high-rise car park, he pulls up short as a beautiful, black patent-leather-clad woman strides toward him.
Approaching briskly, she, with an arch, sidelong glance of her eyes, transforms (in mechanical Transformers style, becoming machinic and folding up) into an electronic key fob that flies into his hand. The camera focuses on the Corvette logo in the protagonist’s palm as he, with amazed good sense, clicks it. He is suddenly surrounded and engulfed by the new Stingray which assembles itself around him out of the concrete floor.
Now driving, our protagonist plays cat and mouse through the city streets, pursued by the ominous, omni-directional stingray air-craft. Seeking shelter in a tunnel, he is compelled to reverse and drive backwards from his sanctuary when his predator enters at the opposite end. His (or perhaps the car’s?) next ploy is to pull beneath the tractor trailer of a passing 18 wheeler, which conceals the vehicle from view of the aircraft above. Notice that the car’s low profile is simultaneously underlined in a motivated and demonstrative manner.
After another feint or two, he throws the car into a power skid and leaps from the vehicle as it dis-assembles itself and disappears into a subterranean bay. When the protagonist steps forward to confront the approaching aircraft, it blasts him with a burst of blinding light.
He wakes with a start in a dimly lit bedroom. Arising, he circles past a beautiful, sleeping partner (the woman seen earlier in the dream), in order to peer out the window, where his Corvette Stingray sits innocently in the driveway. “Stir more than your unconscious/ The all new 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray,” recommends the Voice Over artist. The trailer cuts to a card featuring the same copy above the Corvette logo, and so concludes.
At first view, I believed this to be a product-tie in for a new Batman film and I was confused because I didn’t think Mr. Affleck’s turn was scheduled before 2015 at least. The color palette, the Christian Bale lookalike actor/model, and the Batlike aircraft fooled me–but I don’t think unintentionally.
Indeed, the commercial owes debts to several films, notably Transformers (the transforming woman and car); Blade Runner (blue/grey palette, City Scape, hovering, futuristic aircraft, cyborg women) and just about any other action film with high-tech gadgets, urban car chases and CGI effect. But this dream world is also and explicitly, the terrain of the unconscious, as expressed in the V.O. and in the various physical impossibilities that confound and yet are assimilated by the protagonist.
Indeed, this commercial/trailer belongs to the cinema of desire, given the phallic symbolism of a sports car and the magical delivery of the gorgeous, threatening and in-human woman into the very hand of the astonished protagonist, the invaginating car and engulfing pavement. It’s both wish-fulfillment and castration trauma, a dream that’s both moist, feverish, confounding and frustrating: he’s inside a Stingray being chased by a stingray; resolution or satisfaction never arrives.
There is his futile attempt to find safety by penetrating deep into an urban tunnel, only to be chased out by a terrifying, probably castrating rival. His inverted and displaced desire is composed of representative moments from the “film” we will never see, starring a protagonist who is relived to learn that he and his new car are safe from the terrors of the nightmare, and that his sexual and automotive desires are proximate to satisfaction.
We, the movie trailer savvy audience, know better or as much as any trailer viewer can know: the “movie” for which this commercial is the trailer will probably defy his demand for safety, certainty, speed and release. It will be full of these “is it real? Is it a dream? Is he awake or dreaming” questions. It must defer satisfaction for 90 minutes (or so) of cinematographic foreplay.
Unwittingly –or not–the commercial producers have done more than imitate and reference film trailer formulae, editing and structure. They here exploit the logic of the trailer as the perfect film, without the consequent reality check of the actual film. If a trailer is the film you want to see, which will never let you down, this commercial on behalf of product that has no film-world correlate, is pure promise and proposition. There is no Corvette Stingray Movie to disappoint consumer expectations, and only a booby would complain that the car s/he bought wasn’t like the one s/he imagined in the advertisement. We graduates of American High School Driver’s Education curricula know that a video monitor is the next best thing to peering over the dashboard into oncoming traffic.
The positioning of the product — a highly desirable and technologically sophisticated and beautiful sports car–is achieved through a story that will never be resolved, but one which cunningly and effectively mobilizes spectacle, desire, action, danger, excitement, sex and fantasies of agency, if not control. Apparently, Corvette’s marketers have read the psychobiographic profiles of their target customers. Apparently, Corvette’s marketers have recognized and mobilized the unconscious art and paradox of the trailer.
movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License