MITTY TRAILER: Compelling and Connecting with Color

I saw the Mitty trailer ahead of the IMAX screening of GRAVITY and was impressed with its visual style, editorial intelligence and emotional appeal. Though not a re-invention of movie marketing or a challenge to conventional formula, it is a compelling, well-executed commercial film.

The 2:07 Official #1 trailer sells story and spectacle (and rather gorgeous spectacle it is!) using tried and tested means of a slow build toward a “fire all the guns” action montage, followed by a sweet but potent button, that explicitly revisits the implicit messaging of the trailer’s (and the film from which those shots are taken) shot selection.

The trailer uses one music cue, Of Monsters & Men‘s “My Head is an Animal,” as both an emotional hook and an index to the film’s thematics. Opening on a closet door being opened (an exemplary indexical shot), we watch protagonist Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), an office worker at Life Magazine, as he selects his clothes, eats his breakfast and walks to work. The color scheme is cool blue, grey, white and washed out prior to his entrance into his office and the ‘LIFE’ signs (white font in fire engine red) brand the walls in bold splotches of color.

At work, the cowed, unassuming and mild-mannered Mitty looks with longing at a lovely co-worker (Kristen Wiig), who peers back dubiously. He slips into a fond day-dream in which his alter-ego, a bearded, sun-tanned, and ice-rimed arctic explorer breaks into the office space from out of the frozen wilderness to engage the besotted lady. Mitty’s office mates mock his obviously unrequited desire, waking him from his momentary fantasy. The opening verse of the song concludes with the first act of the trailer conclude as the words “THIS CHRISTMAS” fill the screen (black letters against a white, sun-lit sky).

Next, during the dramatic synthesized bass notes of the cue’s bridge, a heroic figure (Sean Penn) beckons to Mitty from out of one of the epic, black and white Life Magazine-inspired photos that line the walls of Mitty’s office. Accepting the invitation, Mitty, grabs his coat and as the next verse of the cue returns with greater energy and volume, he runs from the office, past one giant photo (Life Magazine’s famous covers) of a 20th Century icon after another into a series of dramatic scenes, situations, adventures, stunts, conflicts, dangers and locales. What follows is an impressive 20 second set piece of the visual spectacle the film can deliver.

While the trailer never clarifies whether events occur only in Mitty’s head or in the world beyond (what exactly is the nature of his “secret life”?), we are seduced by the action and the wish-fulfilling adventures of this aspiring, perhaps delusional, salary man. If not an “everyman,” per se, he is representative of the alienated, urban wage worker, cut off from authentic experience and engagement and obliged to find fantastic, private and interior substitutes.

In this montage, though a cool palette remains the default, warmth and color invade the screen, especially splashes of red: Mitty’s sweater, his snow pants, his jacket, a shaman’s scarf, a brick building into whose windows Mitty dives–all echo the admonishment of “Life” which labels and signs his working environment so insistently, so ironically and, hitherto, so ineffectually.

With about 20 seconds to go, the title card appears as the song concludes. In a button that follow, as the final chord of the cue fades slowly from audibility, Mitty, in his beige/blue wind-breaker presents himself at a tiny car-rental kiosk in the Alaskan tundra (I’m guessing by the indigenous appearance of the agent) to ask whether any vehicles are available. The agent looks out his window before answering Mitty that he has a red and a blue one. We cut to a shot of two, economy sized cars on an otherwise large and desolate square of asphalt. Mitty says, “I’ll take the red one,” as the chorus swells and the trailer concludes.

Subtle? Not exactly. But effective? Certainly. In this trailer, color codes our understanding of Mitty’s character, circumstances and choices both as an effect of the well-studied psychological impact of Red (hot, happy, vibrant, emotional) and Blue (cool, sad, dispassionate, rational) and of the verbally overdetermined logo of Life Magazine. Mitty the office dweller is embalmed; Mitty the secret explorer and man of action is alive.

It’s a delightful and invigorating dream that a dysfunctional society and coercive economic system invites you to have during your coffee break or at the cineplex. Now back to work.

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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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