I recently saw the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises at the cinema and knew I had to write about it. Now that I’ve watched it a dozen times at home, I see that my initial confusion was justified. Not only is the trailer incoherent in terms of story presentation (which is probably intentional), its ideology is reactionary and its emotional sensibility is fearful and paranoid. While only naïve viewers believe movie marketing to be truthful, there is, at least, an expectation it be conducted in good faith. That isn’t the case here.

The trailer advertises the concluding episode of Christopher Nolan’s franchise re-invention, wherein Batman defends Gotham against masked terrorist Bane (played by Tom Hardy) and an armed insurrection. As usual, Batman must first overcome public repudiation en route to his confrontation with evil. In the trailer, however, the “story” of insurrection borrows the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but exchanges democratic principles and non-violent practice for fascist and murderous ones.

“The Dark Knight Rises” is both title, plot summary and, as a homophone, a prediction of coming evil. 8 years since he was blamed for Harvey Dent’s crimes, Batman emerges from obloquy to confront the latest menace to city, nation and love interest. Images of falling bodies and rappelling attackers (defenders?) anticipate the final visual of rising through the thicket of skyscrapers (and falling glass, metal and concrete) toward the bat-shaped opening in the sky above. It’s a nice piece of CGI and graphic design.

But “rise” is also the term to describe popular revolt, the awakening from political slumber and quiescence. Beautiful Selina Kyle, (aka, Batwoman, played by Ann Hathaway) warns Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) as they slow-dance at a glamorous party: “You think this is going to last? There’s a storm coming Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

Bruce Wayne, an industrialist with a butler, mansions, fleets of luxury cars, and silver serving dishes (a lovely, albeit insignificant image to receive such prime position in the trailer) represents the 1% or more precisely, the .0001%. Though we know him to be a wise and good billionaire (honest and charitable, financing his high-tech vigilantism on behalf of all Gothamites, rich or poor), his class membership makes him a target of populist outrage over unjust distributions of wealth and political power.

But in the trailer, as in the movie, the people of Gotham—not just our noble billionaire– are under attack by a chanting “mob” of armed, violent and sociopathic felons. The menacing chant of the escaping convicts begins at the end of Hathaway’s warning and continues beneath scenes of terrorist atrocity during a football game (there’s a sporting cadence to the chant as well as a street protest one) until the final reveal of title and release date, when it is resolved into a stirring, major key chord and percussive coda that concludes the trailer. The chant—unintelligible as words but composed of four beats: two short, two long—signifies “rise” according to an inmate who responds to Bruce Wayne’s query. (Online synopses are infuriatingly vague, but the mise-en-scene, lighting, and wardrobe suggest that he too is imprisoned.)

Through its manipulative use of The Star Spangled Banner (hauntingly sung by a boy soprano before a packed stadium) as the music cue for its first half, this trailer establishes an American “us” threatened by a felonious, nihilistic and monstrous “them” (led by foreign-accented Bane) ready to commit spectacular acts of terrorism. (A football field is dynamited as a play is in progress; only the touch-down scoring running back outruns the televised slaughter at the stadium.) Yet contrary to Selina’s warning, Bane expressly desires only the reduction of Gotham “to ashes” rather than access to the wealth monopolized by the few. Apparently, these villains lack rational objectives—perhaps they “hate our freedom?” Regrettably, most viewers are unlikely to consciously note and reject the rhetorical bait and switch that has been perpetrated.

What seems apparent is that whether you agree with the socio-cultural and politico-economic frustrations of the OWS movement (or its Tea Party antecedents), no fair-minded observer could confuse their actions with the (per)version of protest and class-based critique presented in this trailer.

Yes, of course, the Batman story is notoriously laden with contradiction: Just vigilantism; billionaire populism; play-boy asceticism, etc. etc. But this trailer (regardless of what the film portrays) is a paranoid fantasy, a work of propaganda designed to exploit current events in the most cynical and fraudulent manner for the purpose of selling movie tickets.

But perhaps there is a darker purpose afoot: given the recent, well-documented and brutal attacks by hyper-militarized local and state police forces on OWS encampments nationwide, it seems clear that that the “counter-insurgency” of a sclerotic empire has begun. Is it my own paranoid delusion to think that a work of popular entertainment might be used to justify and reify violent state suppression of political grievance by conflating protest with mob terrorism, legitimate grievance with nihilistic destruction, and the interests of the 99% with the plutocrats who scorn them. It’s been done before.

I hadn’t intended to write about politics, per se, in this blog, but certain trailers leave me no choice. There will be no Gotham Spring when the Koch Brother’s have final approval on movie marketing.


Length: 2:05
Music Cues:
1) The Star Spangled Banner, sung by a boy soprano (app 58 seconds). While the choice of this cue is a matter of artistic freedom, I cannot but find it objectionable on the grounds of taste, decorum and decency.
2) Protest chant – four beats, two short, two long (app. 53 seconds). The chant evokes both public protest marches as well as the rallying cries vocalized by fans at sporting events. The analogy between the mob of fans and mob of felons makes seems not entirely accidental and is to be deplored.
3) Major chord—resolution of the chant. Followed by several percussive beats.

1) 68 or approximately 2 seconds per shot.
2) A slow paced trailer for the genre.
3) Cuts to black between sections;
4) Panning left to right.
5) This is unspectacular, non-virtuoso editing, which may be an indication of its quality.

Marketing Approaches
1) Provenance – Warner Bros, DC Comics, Legendary
2) Provenance – from Director Christopher Nolan
3) Provenance –the conclusion of a blockbuster franchise
4) Stars – Christian Bale, Ann Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
5) Source Material – Batman is a cultural icon
6) Spectacle: an exploding and collapsing football field beneath, into which two teams worth of players fall to their deaths. 9 seconds CGI
7) Spectacle: Gadgets
8) Phenomenon: Occupy Wall Street/ Arab Spring protest movements against elite interests.

Graphic Elements:
Undistinguished. Same blue/black palette as earlier Batman films. White text on black background for copy. Black letters on white background for titles. Final image of batman-shape (logo) framed by sky-scrapers is iconic and clever.

Copy: Graphic (text on cards)
Christopher Nolan
Next Summer
The Epic Conclusion
To the Dark Knight Legend
The legend
Experience it in Imax / Summer 2012
Credit Block / Credit Block / Credit Block

Comment: This trailer is not a tell-all. In fact, despite being called the “official” trailer, it reads much more like a teaser. Given the awareness of the film and its status as a blockbuster sequel to a blockbuster sequel– based on source materials that are nearly universally known—the clear presentation of story information is not critical. Atmosphere, spectacle and stars—including not only Hathaway as Batwoman, but Cotillard as a likely love interest and attraction for audiences beyond young and middle-aged males—are the emphases. Hathaway’s Batwoman is an ambiguous character. Batwoman has her own complicated relationship with Batman and vigilantism, and her potentially antagonistic agenda is in evidence. Audiences expect to see Michael Caine as Alfred the Butler, Gary Oldman as Commisioner Gordon, as well as a new and appalling villain (Tom Hardy as Bane) and a sidekick or ally (Gordon Levitt). The trailer offers glimpses of each, with only Bane and Alfred receiving development.

To a politically disengaged audience, this trailer is unexceptionable, which may be the most compelling evidence of how important it was deemed to be by the distributors. The danger of a trailer for this kind of entertainment event is that audiences might be turned off by too much story information and character development. Audiences already know what they want from Batman so the best trailer for the trilogy-concluding trailer is one that doesn’t disappoint them or challenge their own desires. This trailer effectively achieves just that quality of indistinctness and generic formulaic-ness.

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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