MAN OF STEEL Teaser: Another Key Art Award Winning Preview

While I love writing about teasers because they’re so creatively wide-ranging yet constrained in length, this teaser has the added attraction of having been presented a gold medal at the the 2012 Hollywood Reporter Key Art Awards.

The teaser is 1:33 and comes in two versions, both using the same visual presentation but one with a V.O. by Kevin Costner and the other– that I’m analyzing here– by Russell Crowe, who plays Jor-El, Superman’s father.

This teaser was released this summer, a year ahead of the release of the much anticipated Man of Steel, directed by Zac Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan, both of whom are mentioned in it as guarantees of its quality and studio bonafides. (Provenance) As teasers go, it is oblique and shy, inviting the audience with atmospheric music and gorgeous visuals to indulge their curiosity. As for the Superman reveal, that comes at the end, where we see the caped hero rocketing through the clouds, breaking the sound barrier before crossing the upper atmosphere into outer space. Then, the elaborate bronzed “S” appears on screen. Odds are, this will be the key art signature of the campaign.

The trailer opens with the four production credits: Warner Bros., Legendary, DC Comics and Syncopy succeed each other with dispatch. Cut to an ocean wave lapping a rocky shore. Then, clothes flapping on a line below a modest salt-box home perched along the coast. A seagull floats in the updraft as the familiar strains of Howard Shore‘s haunting score from Lord of the Rings cues up.

A card appears: NEXT YEAR. Tracking shot across a local shipyard, a bearded man pets a dog. Cut to a small fishing boat plying rough seas. Our bearded protagonist heaves a buoy, stares into the distance and drops a lobster trap into the foaming wake.

A man’s hand falls on a sepia toned photograph of a boy with his fishing trophy. Russell Crowe’s voice intones the following:
“You will give the people and ideal to strive towards/ they will rise behind you, they will stumble they will fall.”
Meanwhile, a boy runs through the yard beneath clotheslines. Our bearded protagonist hitchhikes along a wintry mountain road.


Cut to a gorgeous, mist-shrouded landscape at dawn, as Crowe’s V.O. continues: “But in time, they will join you in the sun / In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” A butterfly caught in a chain; a German Shepherd’s toothy grin, with a boy in the background, amidst the drying clothes. As Crowe speaks the words “accomplish wonders,” we see the boy, a towel fastened around his neck as a cape, assume the iconic Superman position: fists on hips, chest out, in a very subtle intimation of what is to come.

The title card ‘MAN OF STEEL” emerges into light, then fades to black. We are back at the scene described above: a blue sky with light clouds through which a speeding superhero flies heaven-ward.

For a project with the anticipation and the budget and the source material of Man of Steel, a teaser has great flexibility since it needn’t explain the situation, the characters, or the conflict. What it must do, however, is position the film relative to its many predecessors (on screens both big and little) and introduce the actor chosen to wear the S and the cape.

Looking like one of the protagonists of The Deadliest Catch, bearded and brooding Henry Cavill is a departure from the all-American clean-shaven type that has historically inhabited the tights. Moreover, the reference to his work in the manly and dangerous fishing industry is a backstory innovation, but one with topical currency and relevance to his character development.

The LOTR music confuses me. Although it certainly establishes atmosphere and emotional gravity, it is so recognizable as to be distracting. Still, perhaps the trailer makers figured enough time had passed to dilute the associations with elves.

With respect to editing, the trailer unfolds at a stately pace, a series of beautiful, blue-gray colored shots of dogs and kids and work clothes drying in the breeze: scenes of nostalgia and heartache and wistfulness hearkening to Kal-El’s early years on a modest Kansan farm. The Butterfly caught in the chain is a nice image, suggestive of Superman’s fragility and susceptibility to various “iron” constraints, but I hesitate to overinterpret the metaphor.

All said, a lovely piece of work: nuanced and subtle, nothing flashy or pyrotechnic. It sells the spectacle by emphasizing its substantial counterpart in story, character and emotion. It’s nice to know what my peers are approving!

Thanks to Jeremy Jahns reviews for much useful information.

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

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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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