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Open Thread: Are Movie Trailers Too Dishonest?

Over the past couple of months, your Flavorwire (and many, many, many other publications and websites) has been singing the praises of Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn’s brutal, brilliant, ‘80s-tinged existential action movie. But over the weekend, The Hollywood Reporter broke the story of an audience member who was litigiously less impressed. Michigan moviegoer Sarah Deming is suing Drive’s distributor, FilmDistrict, because they… hold on, you’re gonna love this… “promoted the film Drive as very similar to the Fast and Furious, or similar, series of movies.”

That’s right, folks: Ms. Deming is taking FilmDistrict to court because Drive couldn’t fulfill its promise to reach the artistic heights of the Fast and Furious pictures.

Drive bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film… having very little driving in the motion picture,” the suit contends. Deming is asking for a refund (y’know what, unless it’s a Malick film, you can usually just get that at the box office, ma’am) and an assurance that “misleading movie trailers” will cease. Let’s put in a pin in that last part, for just a moment, and take a look at the trailer in question:

Yes. It’s as if, at any moment, that trailer was going to cut away to Paul Walker and Vin Diesel leaping from a car to a semi, or crashing a car into a moving train, or whatever the hell happens in those lunkhead movies.

Does the Drive trailer amp up the action and play down the quieter, more contemplative elements of the movie? Of course. Has Ms. Deming ever seen a trailer before? Because I have. I watch an average of eight to ten a week for our “Trailer Park” feature, and I gotta tell you: that’s how movie advertising works. Even when a trailer conveys the essence of the picture in question (which, by the by, Drive’s does), the editors behind it are going to grab onto the most marketable elements and push those to the foreground. If there’s flying cars, the trailer’s gonna show it. If girls kiss, the trailer’s gonna show it. If Kate Bosworth goes for a jog in short shorts, the trailer’s gonna show it. These things sell tickets.

The presumption is that savvy moviegoers understand how the equation works. And sure, sometimes a trailer can be wildly misrepresentative; The American (action-packed!), In Bruges (Guy Ritchie-style fun!), and Sweeney Todd (not that much singing, promise!) leap to mind. But it’s part of the promotional machine, designed to build hype and get butts in seats. People don’t actually put that much stock in movie trailers.

Or do they? Does this disgruntled moviegoer have a point? Does Drive look like Fast Six? Are trailers dishonest? And if so, do you care?

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