I'm sure you've heard by now (first spread by The Hot Blog and Movies.com) about the woman in Detroit, Michigan who is suing Film District over what she felt was a misleading trailer for the Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive (review). Basically, she feels that the film was sold as an action-packed variation on The Fast and the Furious, but instead delivering a well, I'm guessing most of you reading this have seen the movie or at least know enough about it to fill in the blanks (my additional thoughts).
The lawsuit has the added spice of accusing the film of anti-semitism, I suppose because both of the villains were Jewish (as a Jewish film fan, I'm all for more Jewish bad guys). While we may agree that the trailer was a little misleading, it is just a part of a longtime pattern of selling somewhat artier films as if they were just normal mainstream genre entries. But you already knew that. Actually, the trailer's biggest sin was blatantly revealing the entire movie (including nearly every action moment) in nearly chronological order, but that's another story. So in honor of this relatively absurd lawsuit (long story short -- there were no real damages behind the movie ticket and no real pain/suffering to merit additional monetary reward), let's take a stroll down memory lane and look at some classic examples of film-marketing misdirection.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
If you've seen the movie, you know it's a dark and depressing story about an alcoholic writer (Nicolas Cage, who won an Oscar for this film) who ends up in Vegas as part of a plan to basically drink himself to death. Along the way he meets a prostitute (Elizabeth Shue, who was nominated) and they have a somewhat complicated relationship that ends when Cage, indeed, makes good on his initial goal. But that doesn't exactly sell to mainstream audiences, so this trailer was cooked up to sell the movie as a redemptive and feel-good romance about two lost souls who find happiness with each other. Needless to say, they don't reference the rather violent rape scene that occurs about 3/4 of the way through the film. Despite, or because of ,this trailer, the film did gross a solid $32 million during its Oscar run at the end of 1995/start of 1996. In other words, mission: accomplished.
Batman and Robin (1997)
Point being, countless Bat-fans like me were up-in-arms about the apparently campy and kid-friendly Batman picture that was opening in just five months. So Warner Bros did a token amount of damage control, releasing this second trailer a couple months later that basically removed as much camp content as possible. The mood is grimmer, the potential of Alfred's death is emphasized, and the film highlights the various dramatic conflicts while removing any hint of humor from Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy (ironically, both trailers contain images of innocent people being frozen to death onscreen). If you recall, there were even rumors that Warner Bros. had severely cut the film down and removed most of the 'offending humor' as a result of the backlash. But, of course, the first trailer was the accurate one, as audiences discovered on June 20th, 1997. It was a good try, but the film still opened lower than the other Bat-sequels (a still huge $42.8 million) and took a then-astronomical 63 percent second-weekend plunge.
The Sixth Sense (1999)Call this one a master-class in the 'closing door' meme. The first time I saw this trailer, I was genuinely shocked by the opening reveal, partially because it was the first trailer before a given film (Entrapment if I recall) and I was convinced it was some kind of ad before the chilling 'standing next to my window' reveal. For the first 80 percent, this dynamite trailer set up the characters and the story, but the final 20 percent devolved into an action montage of sorts. I was convinced that the film would surely start well, but end up turning into a rote suspense thriller in the final act. But upon watching the trailer closely (it played a lot that summer) I noticed something a little odd. That action montage wasn't really action. It was merely a series of normal shots edited to make it seem exciting. In actuality, it was merely a series of scene depicting people standing in hallways, doors opening and closing suddenly, Bruce Willis accidentally walking into traffic, the film's lone scene of real violence, etc. How relieved I was upon the third or fourth viewing of this teaser when I (accurately) realized that the movie was probably an exercise in misdirection, selling a supernatural drama as a supernatural thriller. But said technique, editing mundane images to increase intensity, is a classic fake-out used to make dramas and/or more slow-burn pictures feel faster-paced or more conventionally exciting than they actually are (i.e. -- Nicole Kidman swiftly turning her head in The Hours trailer).