THE BODYGUARD (1992) TRAILER — The Music Is the Message

After Whitney’s tragic death, I found myself watching Youtube videos of her live performance, mourning as well the prior destruction of that sublime instrument, her voice. I decided to blog about the trailer for THE BODYGUARD, a 1992 blockbuster that’s earned $400M since its release, while selling 44 million copies of the soundtrack (the highest total EVER!)

My interest in this trailer was also motivated by a personal brush with the marketing campaign nearly 2 decades ago: I vividly recall the astonished relief and delight of a Warner Bros Marketing Executive (now deceased and who shall remain nameless), who I knew socially, as he confided to my weekend host, Andy Kuehn that “we had put this piece of shit over on the American public.” I don’t think I’m offending anyone to say that The Bodyguard is on no ones list of great films, but it was a cultural event and triumph of casting and concept. Houston portrayed a superstar vocal artist. Costner, on the heels of his Oscar winning role in Dances with Wolves and impressive work in important films like Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and JFK, inhabited the role of Frank Farmer like a Snuggie.

Watching the trailer, I could tell that the film would be a guilty pleasure, and in retrospect, an especially poignant one, since you can’t help but think that if only Whitney had had a man like Frank in her life—to protect her and rescue her—whether from herself, Bobby Brown or Johnnie Walker, she and THE VOICE would be with us today.

But I digress. I am here to discuss the trailer, not parade my grief. And the trailer is an interesting one. Twenty years ago, anticipating the style of current coming attractions, the trailer makers eschewed copy and voice over, relying instead on dialogue to tell the story and lyrics from the music cue – “I Have Nothing” — to convey the emotion and the romance. The music cue is also a diegetic source, since it is one of the big numbers Houston’s character performs.

In this 2:04 second trailer, the premise of the film emerges quickly and without reserve: Rachel Marin, superstar recording artist, hires a veteran security specialist to be her bodyguard, and he in turn protects her from a violent stalker. He falls in love with her as she does with him, the man who literally saves her life and carries her to safety. Whitney looks gorgeous, sings like an angel and delivers a convincing version of herself. Kevin is seriously appealing in his understated, man-of-few-words confidence and competence. The romance develops amidst the existential threat posed by an unseen, but persistent and capable killer. Professional boundaries are crossed and then demolished.

We know they’re falling for each other from dialogue: Costners, “I don’t want to get confused…” and “You’re paying me to protect you,” and “Everybody’s afraid of something…that’s how we know we care about things, when we fear losing them.” Houston’s “How about you Frank Farmer, out there on the edge?” and “I’m not confused.” But even more instructive and certainly more evocative are the lyrics of the music cue which plays beneath the trailer. Ms. Houston sings:

Share my life, take me for what I am
Coz I’ll never change all my colors for you

The lyrics occasionally become unintelligible beneath dialogue and action, but return to audibility to serve the emotional and narrative needs of the trailer:

I don’t really need to look very much further
I don’t want to have to go where you don’t follow

Well, don’t make me close one more door
I don’t wanna hurt anymore
Stay in my arms if you dare
Or must I imagine you there
Don’t walk away from me…
I have nothing, nothing, nothing
If I don’t have you, you, you, you, you, you.

The editing, approximately 75 decisions in 120 seconds, consists of a combination of close-ups (of faces and reactions) and medium shots of action and event. The pacing is slower when presenting relationship scenes and quicker when capturing the excitement of the action-thriller components. (There are no fades or dissolves; just clean and brisk shot to shot cuts.) In keeping with the title and subject matter, tight shots establish intimacy and personal space, the distance at which a man like Farmer works with his clients. It’s a subtle, appropriate and effective marriage of form with content.

Interestingly, the MTV Video for “I Will Always Love You,” the mega-hit from the film’s mega-soundtrack, functions as an alternate trailer for the film, although it shows a different set of dangers from which Houston needs rescuing by Costner. In the official trailer, the stalker (who’s never identified or identifiable, but whose P.O.V. is used) appears to be hunting his quarry in a domestic setting, with an attack occurring in a nightclub (prompting the famous shot of Costner carrying Whitney) and a final assault and explosion taking place in a lakeside setting. In the video for the song, we see Ms Marin at the Academy Awards, where she has just won a Best Actress statuette, enter the kill zone of her deranged assailant as bodyguard Farmer races to intervene.

In this Video, music promotion and film promotion merge and become indistinguishable. It’s a synthesis notably displayed in the 1986 Valentine to Naval aviators, Top Gun, whose “HIGHWAY TO THE DANGER ZONE” was a huge hit for Kenny Loggins and a marketing bonanza for the film.

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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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