Mixed Emotions: On the ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ Trailer

Somehow, I’ve remained completely oblivious over the past few months to the news that a new version of Jonathan Swift’s timeless Gulliver’s Travels starring the ubiquitous Jack Black is coming soon to a multiplex near me. I’m not quite sure how I’ve missed this fact, since I don’t live in a cave and I do try to stay somewhat informed of culturally important movie happenings. However, my ignorance of the new Swiftian — or should I say Blackian — adaptation led me to an interesting observation upon watching the film’s theatrical trailer.

For the first minute or so of the trailer’s 2:26 running time, I was convinced that a new indie comedy in the vein of 500 Days of Summer was being promoted. Jack Black plays with action figures and works a dead-end job. Some interplay with an attractive co-worker on an elevator suggests an office romance in the works. We get the impression that Black will never advance beyond his lowly mailroom position. However, he is working on a writing sample and has been assigned a story about the Bermuda Triangle.

For the next few seconds, the trailer shifts dramatically in tone. It is no longer advertising a breezy romantic comedy about a geeky loser, but rather an action-adventure film on the high seas. While searching for the Triangle, Black combats a raging storm and gigantic waves.

With only 20 seconds or so to go in the trailer, we are confronted with the iconic image of Black as Gulliver, tied with strings to the ground while miniature creatures run about him. Only at this moment do we realize the nature of the product being advertised.

It occurred to me that modern movie trailers, rather than trying to strike a consistent, overriding tone, often try to depict as many different moods and cinematic genres as possible. The trailer for Gulliver is clearly reaching out to the indie crowd, the action crowd, and the fantasy crowd. My guess is a disproportionate amount of time was spent in the trailer showing the fantastic land Gulliver finds himself in vs. his mundane life at the office compared to the actual film. The studio is clearly reaching out to moviegoers who wouldn’t necessarily be attracted to a fantasy film by showing that the picture supposedly has a “human” quality.

Whereas some of the greatest film trailers from the past– the previews for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Dr. Strangelove come immediately to mind — try to promote a film by “selling” the target audience the movie’s main idea or mood, many modern trailers try to be all things to all people. I wonder if in the process they are becoming so generic as to render themselves meaningless.