Final Paper Proposal
November 10th 2008 @ 5:59 pm Final Paper,Uncategorized

As I stated in my paper topic post, the trailer’s main function is to entice the viewer to view the upcoming film. The generalized beginning of “In a world where …” applies to all trailers, but most especially to the science fiction/fantasy genres. Not only do these trailers have to provide a narrative hook for the viewer, they must construct and legitimize a world, often in opposition to our own. To introduce us to the world of the film, these trailers rely heavily on genre conventions but must simultaneously leave clauses hanging to engender spectator curiosity. For the subgenre of action/science fiction/fantasy, the trailer must also include a montage of exciting shots/stunts/CGI that straddle the boundary between a narrative and a “cinema of attraction” function. In this specific case, identifying the viewer as a spectator is not far off–at points these trailers are closer to fairground attractions than solid narratives. 

My paper will examine this phenomenon in the specific cases of the trailers for Men in Black, Lord of the Rings, Blade Runner (the original release), The Matrix, and The Terminator. Most of these use a narrator to guide our brief trip into the films’ realities, either in the form of voice over, or intertitles, or both. They also include a “montage of attractions” that details enough story to maintain interest while simply advertising the “thrills” to be had during the feature presentation. The Matrix emphasizes it’s unique graphics, The Terminator relies on the construct of Arnold Schwarzenegger (as Men in Black does on Will Smith and Blade Runner on Harrison Ford), and Lord of the Rings plays on the classical plotlines of the epic quest and the hero’s journey. This is obviously a simplified picture, but these are a few of the ways that these trailers operate within the larger fantasy/science fiction/action framework.

Using Bordwell’s schemata as a model for viewer interpretation, I intend to examine how genre, star texts and the device of the narrator function in each of these trailers to construct a fantasy world apart from ours and set up a typical narrative within that world (romance, the quest, personal awareness etc.), while occasionally sliding into pure spectacle. Most basically, my question is: How do these trailers work? Or, more specifically, how do they both participate in, and set themselves apart from, a tradition of storytelling in the science fiction genre, and in Hollywood modes in general, to (ostensibly) sell a narrative to the audience? 

Potential Sources:

Brooker, Will. The Blade Runner Experience. New York, Wallflower Press: 2005.

Gray, Jonathan A. Unpublished chapters from his upcoming book (how do I cite this?)

Horsley, Jake. The Blood Poets. London, The Scarecrow Press: 1999.

James, Edward and Farah Mendlesohn, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. New York, Cambridge University Press: 2003.

Kerman, Judith B. Retrofitting Blade Runner. Bowling Green, Bowling Green State University Press: 1991.

Kernan, Lisa. Coming Attractions. Austin, University of Texas Press: 2004.

King, Geoff and Tanya Krzywinska. Science Fiction Cinema. New York, Wallflower Press: 2000.

Lichtenfeld, Eric. Action Speaks Louder. Middletown, Wesleyan University Press: 2007.

Mathijs, Ernest, ed. The Lord of the Rings. New York, Wallflower Press: 2006. 

Perkowitz, Sidney. Hollywood Science. New York, Columbia University Press: 2007. 

Rickman, Gregg, ed. The Science Fiction Reader. New York, Limelight Editions: 2004.

Sella, Marshall. “The 150 Second Sell, Take 34.” The New York Times. 28 July 2002. 

Thompson, Kristin. The Frodo Franchise. Berkley, University of California Press: 2007.

-Leslie Stonebraker
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  1. November 15th, 2008 | 1:53 pm

    This is a good proposal, with a clear set of questions, strong research, and solid scope of analysis. It would be good to add another question, which is big but important: how do these trailer strategies impact our understanding of the entire film? Trailers follow particular norms & schemata, but also create other norms of consumption that frame our understanding of full films. These issues might be a secondary focus of your essay, but should be at least kept on the table as part of the bigger significance. Good luck!

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